Killer Instinct Hands-On Preview (Xbox One)

The RSPCA wouldn’t be happy about this

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At Gamescom 2013 we got to play a few matches of the new Killer Instinct game, the only fighting game coming as a launch title for the next-gen consoles, specifically the Xbox One. Much has been said about the disappointing E3 reveal; this was a game many fans had wanted for years but when it appeared it looked underwhelming. The graphics made it look like an XBLA game (which it is really) and the gameplay looked shallow and basic. Coupled with that Microsoft announced a new pay structure where you get a single character free but pay to unlock anymore. Is it going to be worth shelling out for?

In our matches we got a choice of three characters, Jago (a sword fighter with strange attire and possibly the main character of the series; he’s the free character), Sabrewulf (a huge werewolf) and Glacius (he’s basically an icicle). We also had a choice of what looked like any of the stages. Playing on Mad Catz Arcade Sticks we didn’t get a sense of how the Xbox controller works with the game, but we launched into a couple of matches anyway to see what it was like.

First off, the graphics are definitely disappointing. There’s some fancy particle effects and Glacius looks great but for the most part it’s looks like a current gen game. Of course the resolution is higher and it maintains the all-important 60fps so it might not be a big deal in the long run, but if this is the first game you load up on your shiny new Xbox One you’re going to be wondering where that £430 went. That being said, the art style is definitely old-school in a good way, with huge characters taking up much of the screen and combos filling the screen with light. A few of the special effects look a tad anaemic (Glacius’s in particular seem to be showing off fancy particle effects but end up looking like he’s trying to drown his opponent in a slushie) but the actual fighting is animated well.

In terms of gameplay this is fast, brutal and ridiculous Killer Instinct as I remember it. There’s new touches like the ability to lock in to a combo with the button prompts appearing on stage (allowing for a certain amount of button mashing to get away with some quite long combos) and some ‘hyper’ attacks in a similar vein to SFIV. There’s also move cancelling and incredibly responsive controls allowing you to change your mind about an attack right before you strike. Due to the size of the characters, positioning is even more important and somehow the scale helps you to understand the importance of directing attacks and blocking. Everything is so immediate and you’ve constantly got your eyes on your opponent, I was playing better than I ever have in Street Fighter.

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Once your first health bar goes down, the fighters pause for a second and then start again, once you lose your second one you’re out. The other player’s health bar doesn’t recharge so taking a big advantage in the first round is even more important than normal, you could end up with two health bars going into the final round.

We came out of the Killer Instinct booth impressed. It’s going to be free to play as Jago anyway so hopefully everyone will give it a go, and you might be tempted to buy another few characters. While it certainly isn’t the prettiest game, it’s an old-school beat-em-up with some iconic characters and a control set-up that’s more accessible to casual players. It’s not what the hardcore fans want to hear, but for the rest of us it could lead to a great sofa game, something the Xbox has been missing for a long time.

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