Killer Instinct review

Tom Morgan
3 Dec 2013
Our Rating 
Price when reviewed 
inc VAT

A frantic introduction to fighting games that every Xbox One owner should download, although not everyone should buy it


Be sure to read our full Xbox One hardware review for and in-depth look at the system and its features

Killer Instinct is something of an experiment for Microsoft. Resurrecting the fighting game franchise last seen on the N64 back in 1996 for its next-generation console might seem like an odd choice, but it's the perfect way to test the waters with a new payment model.

The game itself is free; any Xbox One owner can download and play it without paying a penny, whether they are paying for an Xbox Live Gold subscription or not. This gets you access to the local multiplayer mode, along with single player practice, survival and Dojo tutorial modes, and a single character. If you want to play as any other character you'll have to buy them, either separately or in a pack containing the entire cast of six. You also won't start unlocking achievements until you buy either the £16 Combo Breaker pack or £32 Ultimate Edition, which also comes with a port of the original 1994 arcade game.

Killer Instinct

There's plenty to do before deciding whether to buy. The Dojo mode's 32 missions go in to more depth than any other fighting game tutorial we've played, breaking down Killer Instinct's various game mechanics perfectly so new and returning players alike can learn how to play. There's a lot to take in, as mastering the combo system at the game's heart is vital to winning matches.

Attacks start with an opener, typically a jumping attack or special move. Any basic attack then continues the combo, hitting twice automatically - these are known as auto doubles. From there, a special move 'linker' extends the combo, allowing you to add another auto and another linker. You finish the combo with an Ender move, which stops your opponent's health from recovering some of the damage you just dealt. Extending a combo for too long will cause the enemy to spin out, so you have to keep an eye on the combo counter and know when to go for maximum damage. Bring your opponent down to 10% life and you'll be able to launch an Ultra combo, a game-ending special move that becomes the highlight of every match.

Killer Instinct

If you're on the receiving end of an extended combo it doesn't mean the round is over - you can 'break' the combo by pressing the punch and kick buttons that correspond to your opponent's attack. This instantly ends their attack and puts them on the back foot. However, if you press the wrong combination of buttons, for example pressing lights when the opponent hits you with a heavy attack, you'll be locked out for several seconds. This gives the enemy time to land several highly damaging hits. Even if you guess correctly, they can then counter your break attempt, putting you at the disadvantage.

Killer Instinct

This all adds up to a frantic yet strategic fight system which will take time to master, but doesn't punish newcomers. Unlike other fighting games, the timing required to pull off complex combos or combo breakers is fairly relaxed, meaning you don't have to have split second reflexes or know exactly what frame to input the next command. It's very easy to pick up and play, especially as the developer has sensibly provided free players with the simplest character to learn. Jago should feel instantly familiar to anyone that has played a Street Fighter game before, as he has the same fireball and uppercut moves as Ken and Ryu.

The game itself has a lot in common with Street Fighter IV, in that 3D characters battle it out in a 2D arena, but the dark, almost gothic stages and lively characters help Killer Instinct stand out, even if there's some argument that they have all been seen before. As well as Jago's aforementioned similarities to Ryu, keep-away specialist Glacius plays like Street Fighter's Dhalsim, native american brawler Chief Thunder is very reminiscent of T. Hawk and the tricky Sabrewolf feels a lot like Blanka.

Killer Instinct

Sabrewolf is quickly becoming our favorite character with a rushdown-heavy play style

They still make an impression when battling on stages that come alive as you fight. The developers have gone to town on particles and special effects, using the power of the Xbox One to fill the screen with plasma when fireballs collide or rain when the heavens open on Chief Thunder's mountain stage. Killer Instinct looks gorgeous in motion, running at 60fps albeit at 720p and then upscaled to 1080p before it reaches your TV.

There's a lot of content missing at launch; with no story mode, no multiplayer lobby system and two additional characters not due to make an appearance for several months, it's as bare bones as fighting games come. We aren't convinced this is a game every Xbox One owner should buy, but it's definitely something they should download and try. Microsoft's scattergun approach to payment models may have come in for criticism regarding Forza Motorsport 5, but it is ideally suited to a fighting game. If you've just picked up a new console and want to try a new genre, or are a fighting game veteran looking for a new challenge, then it's definitely worth a look.



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