The announcement of Killer Instinct’s revival was met with a mixed response 10 years ago. There were many pleased to see Microsoft Studios were finally listening to their demands. However, many more were ready to pick fault with the change of visual design and the fact that, despite Rare still being part of the first-party stable, it is an entirely new developer behind this third bloodline entry in the series. With the final version however, none of this really matters, as Killer Instinct proved that the Xbox One can cater for a genre that had been underrepresented for many years.

Killer Instinct screenshot

It was the revival of the genre brought on by Street Fighter IV that undoubtedly gave Microsoft Studios the push it needed to take Killer Instinct audiences seriously, but also the fact that the established conventions lend themselves to the free-to-play model so very well. Characters, arenas, gameplay modes and other incidental accessories can easily be divided into purchase tiers. Killer Instinct does exactly this: offering players just enough for free. The option to pay for additional content separately, be it through individual transactions or an overall package, is where the meat is. While Microsoft Studios weren’t the first to do it – Tecmo Koei Europe has taken already that honour with Dead or Alive 5 Ultimate: Core FightersKiller Instinct is most certainly an experiment for future free-to-play experiences on Xbox consoles.

It’s not a bad one, either. The packages are generous enough that you can still purchase the full game for less that a retail release, and though it doesn’t feature as many characters and gameplay modes as you might expect the promise of more to come is tantalising, to say the least. High hopes that these late additions didn’t break the delicate balancing act were justified. However, the game remained an addictive a combo-structure experience as it always was.

Killer Instinct’s auto opener system returns. This allows players to initiate two- or three-hit combos with relative ease. Once the basics have been learnt these can be combined with basic blows between. More complex combos are available through the inclusion of special moves and opener variation. However, all the while the player has to keep an eye on their combo meter. Make sure you time that final blow before it’s overcharged. Failing to do so could potentially leave you vulnerable to an easy counter. Of course, adding in a greater amount of hits will raise to damage dealt by subsequent blows. Adding in stronger attacks will of course raise this even further. The skill is balancing connecting blows and high damage attacks within that combo meter limit.

When on the defensive the player is given one opportunity to initiate a combo breaker. However, should you input the incorrect command or miss the appropriate timing window you’re left vulnerable to whatever damage the opponent can dish out. The system is far from perfect, but it does lead to some intense battles. Players of similar skill will meet to juggle not only their own movesets but also their retaliations to each other.

Killer Instinct screenshot

Killer Instinct on Xbox One offered further renovations to the fighting system of the original Rare developed titles. However the most notable will be that which comes after the fight. The players still fight with two energy bars regardless of the point at which either player gets knocked down. Each fighter still has block and counter-stall moves. All of the returning characters are instantly recognisable as modernised versions of their 1990s counterparts; however, Killer Instinct no longer offers a finishing move system. No kills, no humiliation, no knocking them off the roof off a fifteen story building onto a pink Cadillac.

While Killer Instinct does achieve a visual quality beyond the capabilities of previous-generation hardware, it’s not the best looking title on the Xbox One. It’s more than comfortable in it’s character model and background presentation, but the stilted animation of beat-‘em-up template based design is far more obvious because of this. The particle effects are fantastic however – from Jago’s fireball impact to Glacius’ shattering ice.

Killer Instinct never redefined the beat-‘em-up genre. At least, not in the same way as Street Fighter IV and the reboot of Mortal Kombat managed to do. Nor was it as progressive as Dead or Alive 5, but nonetheless it is an enjoyable skill-based experience. The free-to-play model was intended to open the door to many others, which for Microsoft took a long time. However for the game itself the opportunity to bring in further characters down the line was a wonderful premise to build a community with. As it stands, even 10 years on Killer Instinct is an enjoyable beat-‘em-up worthy of a successor on new hardware.

Categories: Games