A Killer Fighting Game
HOLY CRAP IT’S KILLER INSTINCT ! This is what people were shouting when Double Helix announced its plans to resurrect the fan-favorite fighting game franchise at E3 last year. Ever since then, pro fighting gamers have been going out to location tests and special events like E3 to see how the game is evolving. Unfortunately, now that the game has released for the Xbox One, it appears as if there isn’t much more to the game than what we saw in these test versions. It’s still an incredibly fun game, but it’s likely not the blockbuster release that most fighting gamers were hoping for.
Killer Instinct utilizes the classic six-button layout that fighting games have been using since Street Fighter II . In fact, many of Killer Instinct’s mechanics are borrowed from this fighting-game mold, from the lack of air blocking to the quarter-circle special-move motions. Health is handled a bit more like Vampire Savior , however. You have two health bars to deplete, but the game isn’t divided into rounds. Instead, the match just continues after a short break when your first health bar is gone.
But any fan of Killer Instinct knows that this game is all about the C-C-C-C-COMBOS, and performing combos in Killer Instinct is really all about knowing your special moves. Special moves can be classified as openers, linkers, or enders. Openers start combos and give you a bonus to damage. After an opener, pressing any strength of attack performs an auto-double, a two-hit attack that can then be chained into a linker special move, which can be chained into another auto-double, so on so forth.
Each combo hit actually doesn’t do a whole lot of damage. Instead, longer combos build up “potential damage,” which you can see as a flashing potion of the opponent’s health bar. By performing an ender, you “cash in” this potential damage as actual damage, but you also stop your combo in its tracks. If, for some reason, your combo stops before you perform an ender, your potential damage starts slowly draining. But if you can pick up a combo again, i.e., reset the opponent, the potential damage continues building. Using strategies like this allows you to build up combos that take off half of an opponent’s bar or more.
Of course, Killer Instinct wouldn’t be Killer Instinct without a C-C-C-C-COMBO BREAKER! To perform a combo breaker, all you have to do is press two buttons of the same strength as the auto-double your opponent is performing. If he is using a medium auto double, pressing medium punch and medium kick at the same time, for example, will break the combo. You can make combo breakers harder to perform by using manual links instead of auto-doubles, which severely reduces the window your opponent has to combo break. Performing a combo breaker at the wrong time or of the wrong strength prevents you from attempting again for a short period of time, allowing your opponent to rack up the damage.
Counter breakers can be used to bait combo breakers. Counter breakers cause a combo to stop immediately, but if your opponent tries to combo break at that very moment, you get to continue your combo for even more damage.
There is also something called knockout value, which makes opponents fall out of combos automatically after a certain point, and also ender levels, which change how combo enders operate, depending on how long your combo has gone. There’s an Instinct mode too, which is Killer Instinct’s version of X-Factor. It gives you a bonus extra damage or super armor when activated and automatically returns you to neutral state. It also reduces your knockout value to 0. When everything is put together, the combo system is actually astoundingly complicated.
The roster of Killer Instinct is really cool. Street Fighter aficionados will likely pick up Jago and his fireballs and dragon punches with little problem, but everyone else is very, very unique. Sabrewulf is an agro character with command-dash cross-ups. Glacius is a zoner who can open up combos from full screen using humongous normals and disjointed auto-doubles. Thunder is kind of a combination between a grappler and a brawler, as his throws lead in to combo opportunities. B. Orchid is a straight up rush-down, in your face, multi-hit combo monster for the ultra-aggressive pixies out there. Finally, the new character, Sadira, has a ton of aerial options with grappling-hook webs, traps, launchers, and more. Unfortunately, six characters are all you are going to get, with two more coming as DLC later this year.
Past Killer Instincts were known for being more fun in single-player than they were in multiplayer. While this isn’t particularly the case in this new Xbox One version, there are still a couple issues that make the game less fun when you are facing a skilled opponent. For example, while the combo/counter break system seems like it would be fun and fair, really it just makes the game feel sloppy. Unless you are playing against a total newbie who loves to mash combo breakers and get himself locked out, combo breakers happen all the time. This means that those awesome killer combos that you have spent hours in training mode perfecting really rarely go off unless the opponent makes a stupid mistake. When that does happen, health totals swing heavily, which makes the game feel very random. In fact, I’d say that Killer Instinct is most fun when played at a new to intermediate level. High-level play is weighted so heavily on “did you combo break correctly” that it feels like a whole match can be lost on one simple finger twitch.
Visually, Killer Instinct is one of the more impressive games on the Xbox One. The 2.5D graphics run incredibly smoothly, and you can lose yourself in stage graphics when you should be fighting. Effects like the shadow effect on super moves are some of the coolest visual effects we have seen in fighting games yet. The game is also very impressive in terms of its audio. Stage music actually changes as you fight, ebbing and flowing with the tide of battle. Battle ending ultra-combos even change the stage music more, playing a small theme to whatever character won the match.
Killer Instinct’s biggest weakness is easily its feature set. The game doesn’t even have an arcade mode to speak of! There is no final boss, no story, nothing other than a barebones survival mode, versus mode, and training. That being said, the Dojo mode of the game includes one of the most comprehensive tutorials fighting games have seen so far, so that’s nice. The game also supports online play with some smooth netcode, but lobby play and spectator mode are not supported.
Killer Instinct certainly is a fun game that does everything fighting games need to do right. It just doesn’t have a whole lot to offer otherwise. So unless you have a dedicated group of fighting gamers to play the game with you, you probably won’t get the Killer Instinct experience you were hoping for, and even if you do, high-level play feels a bit shallow. Killer Instinct certainly has a lot of potential to become a great tournament fighter after we delve deeper into the gameplay system and the roster expands. It just isn’t quite there yet.
RATING OUT OF 5 RATING DESCRIPTION 4.5 Graphics
Killer Instinct really puts those next-gen graphics to work. 3.9 Control
The only reason this score is so low is because six-button controls don’t work well on a pad, and no one has Xbox One arcade sticks yet. 3.8 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
The music is interesting and dynamic, and the voice acting is pretty good too. 3.7 Play Value
The feature set is sparse, but the gameplay itself is very enjoyable. 3.9 Overall Rating – Good
Not an average. See Rating legend below for a final score breakdown.
|Review Rating Legend
|0.1 – 1.9 = Avoid
|2.5 – 2.9 = Average
|3.5 – 3.9 = Good
|4.5 – 4.9 = Must Buy
|2.0 – 2.4 = Poor
|3.0 – 3.4 = Fair
|4.0 – 4.4 = Great
|5.0 = The Best