Killer Instinct is probably the greatest extended demo I’ve ever played. I’m sure that sounds like a negative comment, but considering the foundations the game was built on it’s actually a complement. It’s a game designed on free-to-play philosophy and serves as a springboard for new Xbox One users. Is Killer Instinct the only game you need during the launch window? Or is it the perfect compliment to Dead Rising and/or Forza 5? Let’s find out.
The Free-To-Play Philosophy
If you’ve never played a mobile game then the free-to-play model will seem foreign to you, especially for a fighting game. The first time you start the game you have one character and one stage, which is less than what I originally thought. Luckily, the character that is available, Jago, plays like a familiar character from the popular Street Fighter series. However, the FTP model begins to fall off the rails when you want to expand the roster. Characters cost $5 a piece or you can purchase the set with two future characters (Spinal and Fulgore) for $20. Of course you could spend $40 and get the characters, stages, costumes, and the arcade version of Killer Instinct. And the further you dig into the detail of what you pay for, you’ll begin to question your sanity.
Because Killer Instinct is free-to-play, what you pay for isn’t what you really get. Remember when I said that paying $40 unlocks the costumes and other extras? It only unlocks them, but you still have to pay KI points to actually “get” the extras so you can use them. What you paid for was a convenience. Most of the extras require you to complete a certain task (win 150 fights online) before you can unlock them. Once you unlock it, you can spend your KI points to actually get the extra. That $40 let’s you skip the objectives, but you still need to earn points to get what you want. The money you’ll spend doesn’t add up when you compare it to games like Street Fighter IV that have a roster of over 20 characters. Killer Instinct, even with the future characters, only has a roster of 8. $40 for 8 characters doesn’t make much sense compared to other fighters and it only gets worse if you think about it. Say the 8 characters are only the first set and a year later Double Helix begins the second set of characters. Does that mean I would have to put up another $40+? It becomes a slippery slope, and one that could actually hurt the game down the line.
Killer Instinct is easy to pick up, but hard to master. When I started playing with Jago it wasn’t long before I was pulling off combos and ultras. However, mastery of the mechanics requires hours of practice and study. You’ll need to know how characters start their combos so you can use the right combo breaker (light, medium, heavy). You’ll want to know how to counter combo breakers, use shadow combos and breakers, and the new instinct mode.
And more than just the system mechanics, you’ll want to learn how to fight using your character’s preferred fighting style. For example, Sabrewulf, who is a rush fighter, works great for me because I’m not one for defense. Understanding how to master the mechanics will be the key to moving up the ranks. But the great thing about this game is that it isn’t necessary to be a master to have fun.
You Need Xbox Gold
If there was any game that demanded Xbox Gold it’s Killer Instinct. Online gameplay is the core feature of this game and it works well. Finding an online match is as easy as pressing the A button. I’m actually surprised at how efficient online matches are initiated. This ease of use is probably the biggest draw for the game. Killer Instinct mimics the philosophy of a mobile game–a ‘time waster’ that’s perfect for those moments when you want to play a game, but don’t want to invest an hour plus for a proper gaming session.
I also used the party app during gameplay. It’s a flawed system that will hopefully evolve over time. As it currently stands, only two people can play KI during a party session. There is no spectator mode, or any type of player rotation where the winner continues to play while the challenger switches between party members. It’s a system that needs fixing to fully realize the potential of Kinect for group play.
And for those who enjoy recording gameplay, Killer Instinct works great with the game DVR feature on the Xbox One. One of my favorite activities is recording and editing a clutch victory. The process is very simple. Once I finish a match I snap the game DVR to the window and have it record the last five minutes. Once the gameplay is recorded, I edit the video and upload it for my friends to see. I also take the extra steps to save it to skydrive so I can upload the video to YouTube.
There have been a couple of instances where the internet connection dropped the match, however most matches go off without a hitch. Online matches run smoothly and there’s never any apparent lag. And when there is a problem with the connection, the game will “pause” before resuming match. It’s a simple failsafe that tries to keep players from capitalizing on a drop in connection, but when a pause does occur it breaks the momentum of the match.
What Happens When Your Not Online
So what is there to do when you’re not online? Not much. You can practice moves and combos in the training section, complete the dojo training, or compete in survival. There is no story mode, and the limited amount of characters makes the survival mode repetitive. The game attempts to make up for the lack of variety with challenges that you can complete for more KI coins. The challenges require you to complete certain objectives using a specific character so you’re never stuck using the same character for each challenge. However, you’ll still run into the same problem of the game feeling repetitive thanks to the limited number of characters. Of course you can always complete challenges indirectly by competing online.
With free-to-play games like Killer Instinct the question isn’t whether you should buy the game (because it’s free), it’s whether should you invest your time and energy. And when it comes to Killer Instinct the answer is yes. The game is easy to pick up and play, which is great for those of us who are casual fighters. And for those who are more advanced, KI offers a fighting system that requires time and dedication to master. There is always a match waiting for you online, and the ease in which you can find one of these matches makes the game the perfect ‘time waster’. Of course there are some downsides. The price structure doesn’t match the content, and the limited amount of characters makes the game feel like an extended demo instead of a full game. But when you look at Killer Instinct in the context of the developer’s intent, things begin to make sense. If you had ten minutes for a quick gaming session you could turn to your phone and play a simple mobile game. Or, you could switch from the TV to Killer Instinct and play a match or two online. And when you put the game in the proper context, it makes all the sense in the world.