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Killer Instinct PC Review – Better than Ever
Killer Instinct is a fighting game franchise that gained a cult following in mid 1990s due to its gorgeous graphics and emphasis on brutal combos.
In spite its reputation, it was never able to match the popularity of series like Street Fighter and Mortal Kombat, and thus was never taken up after Rare Studio’s sale from Nintendo to Microsoft.
After 17 years of absence, the series saw resurgence in the shape of a reboot that was released in 2013 as a free to play launch game for the Xbox One.
What was then criticized for its initial lack of content and started off as a bare-bones budget fighter for Xbox One, has now come to PC packed with 2 years’ worth of content and improvements.
This is certainly not a broken port of an old fighting game. This PC version is essentially Xbox One’s brand new Killer Instinct Season 3, which is built on the great foundation laid by Double Helix Games and now Iron Galaxy Studios has filled in the gaps present in the game’s initial Xbox One release to make it a robust fighting game experience for its launch on the PC.
Killer Instinct retains its service model in its PC release as a free-to-download game, where players are given access to all the modes with one rotating free character and ability to buy characters individually or in packs of 8, 17 and 25.
On top of that, due to its integration with Xbox Live, all in-game purchases and saves are now Cross-Buy, so if you own characters on Xbox One then they will transfer over to PC and anything bought and earned on the PC app will be unlocked on the Xbox One version.
The game furthers its cross-platform features by allowing PC players to Cross-Play with Xbox One Killer Instinct players, with an added benefit that Microsoft’s paid service; the Xbox Live Gold membership, is not required to participate in online multiplayer gameplay for the PC version of the game.
Online play is divided into competitive ranked matches that feature leaderboard support, and casual matches; that can be played via quick exhibition match or by getting in player lobbies that allow for up to 8 players to play and spectate in a group.
The quality of online play is not just maintained by making players begin with 10 qualifying matches to determine their rank and optimize matchmaking, but also by minimizing lag experienced in a match via implementation of the roll-back Netcode.
The game takes stability of competitive online play so seriously that it requires players to pass an in-game performance test before giving them access to ranked battles.
If a player’s PC specs are not capable of maintaining 60 frames-per-second in the most heated circumstances then he or she will not be allowed to participate in ranked matches and be forced to make due with casual play.
Killer Instinct also features the ‘Shadow Lab’ mode, where players can create a ‘Shadow Fighter’, which is an A.I. that studies how the player plays a specific character and then maps player’s playstyle and mannerisms to adapt its playstyle accordingly.
Shadows can be used to play against other players online, even in the absence of the player. The Shadow Fighter for a player’s specific character grows stronger the more that character is used by the player in their playtime.
Speaking of playing the game, Killer Instinct has a very distinct, combo heavy playstyle that hearkens back to the roots the original two Rare games of the mid-90s. If you try to play Killer Instinct like Street Fighter or Mortal Kombat then you are bound to get slaughtered.
Killer Instinct’s primary game mechanic is its Combo system, which is based on Openers, Auto-doubles, Linkers and Enders.
An Opener is an attack that start combos, Auto-double is a move that continues the combo by providing multiple hits, Linker is a special attack that ‘links’ two auto-doubles to extend the combo and finally an Ender finishes the combo.
These Enders are important to cash in the damage incurred, otherwise the combo is dropped and the opponent recovers the white damage which accumulates on every hit of a combo. This disincentivizes players from needlessly extending their combo strings.
Another disadvantage of extending combos is the risk of opponents realising a pattern in the ‘Auto-Linker’ combination and execute a combo breaker.
And while these breakers are easy to perform, they require timing. If players try to mash combo breakers, it can lead to timeout situations barring the player from trying anymore breakers for a time.
If that wasn’t enough, the game also allows combo breakers to be broken. These Counter Breakers allow players to bait combo breakers and punish them with an extended lockout and start of a new combo string.
Thus the close range game in Killer Instinct is all about landing that opener to get maximum possible combo damage without getting your combo broken or dropped.
While this emphasis on executing combos might sound like execution hell, the timing for combos is kept fairly lenient and accessible.
What’s more, the game also contains a combo assist mode which allows beginner players to remove any motion based execution from pulling of combos and making it all about pressing correct attack buttons.
The inclusion of ‘combo assist’ does not cheapen the gameplay, as it does not cancel out traditional controls or execution by complex motions, and the limits placed on the mechanic necessitate moving on to traditional execution for intermediate or advanced techniques.
However the gameplay here does not completely revolve around landing combos. The new Killer Instinct has decent neutral game options, good movement for footsies and great variety catering to rushdown, zoning and other gameplay styles.
Aside from character’s health bar, players are also presented with a Shadow meter, which is functionally the same as EX or Super meters from the Street Fighter games. It is the purple bar at the lower part of the screen, which builds up from attacking or blocking hits and can be utilized to execute more powerful versions of the character’s special moves.
Outside of the Shadow meter, another gauge that players have to keep a lookout for is the Instinct meter, which is the yellow bar right underneath the player health gauge. This meter fills up as the character takes damage or performs combo breakers.
Once it is filled, the Instinct Mode can be activated, as a character specific comeback mechanic, to grant a different ability to each character in the game.
Therefore, even though the gameplay in Killer Instinct is flashy and accessible enough to keep beginner and casual fans interested, there is a lot of depth to its game mechanics that provides a variety of options and complexity for consistently entertaining high level play.
Singleplayer portion of the game is split into four categories that include Fight, Master, Store & Collection and Fight Archive.
Fight mode allows players to interact with Killer Instincts computer A.I. with Player vs. CPU, Story mode, Survival mode and a spectator CPU vs. CPU mode.
Story mode is essentially a traditional ladder based arcade mode where players are rewarded with character specific ending at its completion. However the way it differs from standard arcade modes is in how it brings back the concept of multiple endings from the classic Killer Instinct games.
Each character has three different endings that the player can achieve by fulfilling different conditions that are specified before and during player selection. At the moment this story mode is limited to 16 of Season 1 and Season 2 characters, while story mode for the 8 Season 3 characters will be added at a later date.
The Fight mode offers a lot of variety in ways players can play against the CPU to entertain and challenge themselves through various CPU difficulties, of which the hardest one; named Kyle, features an adaptive and responsive A.I. which looks at player patterns and adapts to how players play, which makes the challenge all the more greater.
Master mode features multitude of training options including: Practice; which is a standard training mode, Trails; containing different challenges, Combo Breaker Training mode; which allows players to hone their combo breaking skills against opponents of different skill levels and the Dojo mode.
Dojo is a special training mode designed to teach players the basics of Killer Instinct’s mechanics as well as fighting games in general.
It is very beginner friendly and a fairly detailed hands-on tutorial that not only familiarizes players with beginner to higher level controls, but also terms like normals, mixups, linkers and juggles.
Fight Archive is a place that houses data on gameplay elements like replays, stats and leaderboards as well as player progression for each character in the game roster.
Store & Collection mode gives players access to the “service” part of this game.
Players can not only purchase in-game currency and new characters but also tailor the game to their liking by adding new music and customizing the appearance of each character with new costumes and accessories.
Each of these customization options is unlocked when the player reaches designated level for their profile and/or character.
Conversely they can also be purchased via in-game currency called KI Gold, however these purchasable items only provide aesthetic variety and have no bearing on the gameplay of these characters.
Killer Instinct’s roster features a total of 26 characters, out of which, 22 are currently available for play and 4 additional fighters are upcoming as a part of the season 3 package.
Anyone who has sampled the previous two seasons of Killer Instinct on Xbox One can attest to the fact that each one of the 18 characters is unique in how they play.
From Jago; who is a shoto-like balanced character to a rushdown character like Orchid, from a zoning character like Glacius to Aganos; who is a tank, the Killer Instinct character roster caters to almost every type of play style.