Hands on Preview: Killer Instinct (Xbox One, 2013)
Recently I got a chance to try out the new Killer Instinct game that will be available day one as a “free to play” downloadable title for the Xbox One this Friday, 11/22. Rare, in partnership with Double Helix, is being asked to revive this classic fighting franchise, and most importantly to make a game that doesn’t have “Kinect” in the title for the first time in recent memory. Read on for initial impressions of the Killer Instinct reboot, and make sure to come back tomorrow to check out my initial thoughts of the new Xbox One controller as well.
Two things to get out of the way first: One, I am by no means a fighting game expert. In fact I kind of suck at them, so keep that in mind. Second, it was pretty obvious that this was a basic/early build of the game and as such it should be remembered that things can change from the demo to the final product.
The first thing anyone is going to notice, and the first thing we are all looking for with a “Next Gen” game is how it looks. The game’s visuals were fairly impressive for a fighting game, the backgrounds looked downright fantastic and the characters themselves were impressive though far from ground-breaking. There were a lot of weather effects in a couple of the matches, with plenty of impressive lighting and other effects as well. I noticed no jittering or loss of framerate in the quick paced matches, and to put it in a frame of reference: it certainly appears that developers are doing better with the Xbox One’s graphics out the door than they did the Xbox 360’s.
Gameplay was pretty standard fighting game fare. Have you played Killer Instinct (Street Fighter, Mortal Kombat, etc.) before? Then you have an idea of what is going on here and there won’t really be any major surprises. I managed to land a couple of multi-hit basic combos right out the gate and ultimately won, but barely. A fair amount of hype has been built about improvements to make the game more intuitive and less of a button masher but I found myself still mashing buttons (and from what I saw I was not the only one). The AI seemed bi-polar, for lack of better description. The first round they would fight and react much like you would expect, but by round three, or even mid-way through round two it seemed the AI would stand back and mostly just block approach. This may have been a good thing as when the computer did attack it would launch some crazy 230 hit combo that I never figured out how to block or break in my short time with the game. It is possible that the game was scaling difficulty based on how I played (which is great for those who don’t play fighting games but the expert gamers will find themselves bored).
I’m excited to see Rare get a chance to shine in something outside of Kinect Sports for a change (even if they have to do it with another developer), and Microsoft certainly deserves some credit for putting such a big (classic) name in gaming out there as a day one “free to play” game for the Xbox One. That said, if you aren’t really into fighting games this probably won’t turn you into one. Impressive character models, eye catching visual effects and familiar game play style will offer many gamers a welcome distraction from the “ported from the last gen” selection of games at launch.
*Updated to reflex that Rare and Double Helix are both listed as developers of KI.