Killer Instinct Review (Xbox One)

The most excited commentator in the world

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Hearing ‘Godlike’ is exactly the kind of validation that games have been lacking lately. With the bleak end of Last of Us and the joyous ‘but you didn’t really have a part in it’ end of GTA V, games seem to focus more and more on pushing you through some kind of experience, rather than just testing how good you are like they used to. Killer Instinct doesn’t have a story so far, it just has six characters (2 more on the way), a lot of fighting, a pretty graphics engine and an announcer who is so unbelievably excited by everything you do that he needs to scream it at the top of his lungs.

Initial feelings about Killer Instinct were mixed at best. After a poor showing at E3, a developer with no experience on good games and a much loved series being taken away from what used to be a much loved developer, expectations were low. So it comes as a nice surprise that Killer Instinct is just as brutal, exciting and accessible as its namesake, with a few other improvements to boot. A fighting game based around a small selection of well-constructed characters, you are tested as a player, often against other players and there’s little more point to it than that. Racking up combo scores, beating more opponents, gaining supreme victories, just like a high score table the game is always egging you on, but then it’s doing the same to your foe. It’s just as excited when your opponent lands a game-ending ultra-combo on you as it is when you manage to reverse a combo-break, it’s all the same, the game just loves the spectacle and it’s infectious.

The core of Killer Instinct is in its combos. Combos have long been a part of fighting games, where players work out an ideal combination of moves that don’t allow for your opponent to recover. While the combo systems in games like Street Fighter and Soul Calibur can be quite complex, Killer Instinct makes it easier by separating moves into different classifications that make it clear what you need to do to keep a combo going. You hit them with an opener, use a few autos, follow up with a linker, a few more autos and then end with an ender to bank your damage. If you don’t use some kind of finishing move the enemy regains much of their health that they could have lost. It’s an elegant system and while it looks complicated, there’s a practical and fun training system to take you through it.

The ‘Dojo’ trains you up on basic moves and specials before building up complex combos step-by-step and then taking in other factors like framedata and hitboxes. It does all of this in simple steps, with videos to help you understand what they are trying to show. We got stuck around the time you learn to include manuals in your combos, but by that time we could string together lengthy combos on purpose and defend against enemy attacks with judicious use of combo-breakers. While an enemy is engaged in a combo against you, if you can identify the strength of the moves they’re using you can counter it and the announcer shouts ‘c-c-c-c-combo breaker!’ much to the delight of anyone who managed to pull it off.

There’s more to the fighting of course with ultras and move modifiers controlled by some kind of shadow energy, but within half an hour or so in the Dojo you’ll be ready to take the fight online and have a go against your enemy, or you’d better be because the only single player mode is survival against an infinite stream of enemies and that can get dull really quick.

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The online fighting is seamless with a ranking system and speedy matchmaking. We encountered zero observable lag in any of the games we played and while a lot of people are admittedly using Jago, there’s already a good mix of different skill-levels talking part.

In the way of characters there’s six fan favourites (two to come) already in the game and each of them is iconic and different.From Glacius’s ice-based space-control to Sabrewulf’s rushing every single character looks great and has a clear playstyle attached to it. Six characters might not be that many at the moment, but it’s more than enough variety for some interesting match-ups and they all seem balanced so far.

Much has been made of the micro-transaction nature of the game (along with others) on the Xbox One, but the best way of looking at it is that you get a demo for free, with one character and all the games modes. If you pay a bit more, you can have another character to play with, if you pay the amount of a full price game you get everything. This is the kind of pricing model I can really get behind and I’d loved to see a CoD where I din’t need to buy single player or an MMO where I didn’t need to buy fetch quests. Far from being a free-to-play rip off, this is simply a modular game that offers excellent value for money with a great production values and fine balance. The ‘demo’ is exceptionally generous but other than that it’s worth picking up the whole game for the sake of more things to do as for many this could be their way in to the world of fighting games.

Verdict 8

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