Killer Instinct is a reboot of the classic 1994 Arcade and SNES fighting game created by British developers Rare. The reboot has been around since the launch of the Xbox One in 2013, but it was only in late March that the game was launched for Windows 10—it’s also an integral prong in Microsoft’s triple first-party assault on its own app store, along with Gears of War and Quantum Break. If the time I spent with the free version of the game is anything to go by, it’s arguably the sharpest prong of the three, but there are several things to consider before giving Killer Instinct a download.
First, there’s its massive file size—21GB to be precise (it takes up 29.5GB on your hard drive after installation). This includes the base version of the game, which means any purchases, updates, patches, etc. will likely throw some mean punches at your ISP’s monthly download limit. And for 21GB, you get access to a single character with whom you can experience all of the game’s content, be it the story, player vs AI, offline and online multiplayer modes.
The free version of Killer Instinct is not as much free-to-play as it is a dynamic monthly demo. The game features a monthly rotating roster; a good idea but by no means a new concept. The frequency seems less than ideal as well—I would argue that a weekly roster, more in line with League of Legends’champion rotation, would have served better. Moreover, even by demo standards, only one playable character in a fighting game seems like there is one less character than there should have been.
There’s no denying that Killer Instinct feels like an excellent competitive fighter, however. The game is ultra-responsive to input (be it on keyboard or controller), the action is fast paced and intense. Every blow you land and every combo you execute feels satisfying. Then there’s the utter helplessness you experience as you’re given the beat-down of your life by an opponent as they string together a series of unstoppable attacks. I’ve played a fair bit of Street Fighter and followed its competitive scene, and I can say that Killer Instinct certainly feels like it belongs in the big leagues as a competitive fighter. If you’re still not convinced, witness high-level play in the Killer Instinct grand finals of the 2015 Evo Championship Series.
For casual players, Killer Instinct can start off as an adventure of epic button mashing proportions and later transforms into a rewarding fighting game experience. In addition to its detailed Dojo tutorial, which walks players through the game’s various mechanics, the Combo Assist system allows scrubs such as myself to flawlessly execute Killer Instinct’s lengthy combos. Combo Assist removes the need to give your character complex directional input during a combo, which is split up into three components: An “Opener”, a “Linker” and an “Ender.” With Combo Assist enabled, each can be executed merely by hitting the right button at the right time with minimal directional input.
The game is surprisingly playable using a keyboard. I don’t own an Xbox controller, so I used my PlayStation DualShock 4 and a third party utility to get it to work with KI. Fight Sticks for Xbox 360 will function out of the box, but the game doesn’t natively support Xbox One Fight Sticks on PC yet (they will be supported in a future release, apparently). However, you should be able to get one to work using a piece of software.
It’s crucial for a competitive fighting game to constantly evolve, and the developer assures us that this will be the case with every successive update. While the game’s initial Xbox One launch only received a lukewarm response, each subsequent season has been praised for improving on the previous avatar. We’re presently in the game’s third season and both critics and the fighting game community are in agreement that this is the best state the game has been in since launch.
Killer Instinct’s gameplay is greatly complemented by its roster—getting beaten to a pulp by a variety of strange and unique characters and their seemingly endless, uninterruptible combos can be more fun than you can imagine. Gaining access to all of them and their various appearances to do the beating down yourself will require use of your credit card, however.
Despite the messy UI, Killer Instinct’s micro transaction system is well implemented. You can either choose to drop approximately Rs.300 on a single character or buy all of them as a bundle. You can also purchase KI Gold to purchase cosmetic upgrades, and progression boosters. For the record, I was ready to drop the asking price of Rs.2,230 for the “Supreme Edition” purely because Arbiter from Microsoft’s Halo series was being added as a playable character in 11 days’ time. Now, if only I had friends to play with.
Offline multiplayer is always fun, and an essential part of any fighting game, but the days of “hot seat” multiplayer are behind us and most players are dependent on the internet to provide them with a worthy foe. It wasn’t easy to find a game online, but when I did find one, I found very little latency related issues, and this is crucial for fighting games. Overall, the net-code seemed very strong. KI also features optional cross platform multiplayer with Xbox One. Players will also be able to play against their friends online, but Windows 10 exclusivity could potentially limit the pool of potential competitors. Even though you can invite friends from your Xbox Live friends list, PC players are likely to have all their friends on Steam, Origin and Uplay. It doesn’t help that the Xbox One doesn’t have the largest player base in India either.
Killer Instinct on PC is certainly an “all in or nothing” sort of proposition. The free version of the game is nothing more than a demo, but it’s undeniably a good one. Catering to both casual and veteran players, while priced at Rs. 2,230, I would argue that the Supreme Edition could be the one to get given the content on offer for its price point (Street Fighter V on Steam, for instance, will cost you Rs.3,499). In Killer Instinct’s particular case, the Windows marketplace isn’t necessarily holding it back, and Xbox Cross Play is a neat addition.