Review: Killer Instinct

A launch day treat for the console generation that is going to mature free-to-play experiences for an eager audience, Killer Instinct graces the Xbox One as a reboot of the classic beat-‘em-up franchise. Formerly a Nintendo exclusive, the purchase of Rare by Microsoft Studios many years ago included Killer Instinct – and many other classic Rare franchises – as part of the acquisition. Long dormant, it’s actually Double Helix that has brought back Killer Instinct for a modern age, and they’ve done a fairly good job of it.

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Six characters are available at launch for those who buy the full package, but there is the option of simply beginning with one character and building your catalogue piece-by-piece. Jago, Thunder, Glacius, Orchid and Saberwulf all return alongside newcomer Shadira. Jago is your all-rounder, able to launch into combos with ease and withstand a reasonable amount of punishment, hence being offered as the free character for all players. Thunder is a heavy hitter that needs to get in close, while Glacius can cause damage from almost an entire screen width. Other characters all fill unique roles and, as with any beat-‘em-up worth its salt, learning their differences is part of the fun.

Another big part is human competition, as aspect in with Killer Instinct excels. The key component of the Killer Instinct experience has always been careful execution of high damage combos and this reboot is no different. Players must use openers to get started and then string together a series of blows to combo short automated two- and three-hit attacks into much larger combos. The longer the combos continue the greater the chance of retaliation, but also the greater the damage each subsequent blow will inflict.

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The player who is being struck by one of these combos has a single opportunity to initiate a combo breaker, thus turning the tide and giving them the advantage. However, doing so at the wrong time or with the wrong opposing input will lock you out for the entire duration of your opponent’s combo. This system encourages aggressive play but demands that the player can react quickly to changes also, as the back-and-forth of combos and breakers between skilled players can create for some very intense bouts.

Killer Instinct features many other additional mechanics – the Instinct Mode and counter breakers, for example – but none of these will surprise experienced beat-‘em-up players. Much of all else that Killer Instinct offers is familiar, from its roll-based specials to the Shadow variation moves. What’s more, Killer Instinct no longer features a final blow opportunity, meaning no finishing moves or other closing attacks.

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It’s not about to revolutionise the beat-‘em-up genre, but Killer Instinct is still a hugely entertaining experience. The videogame is made for human competition, as is the core of the genre at its best, which will excuse Killer Instinct’s lack of an arcade mode for many players; however others will cite Mortal Kombat’s hugely impressive story mode as a missed opportunity. Killer Instinct presents very interesting characters but does very little with them outside of your fights, leaving plenty of room to grow.

Score: 7