Microsoft surprised just about everyone during its pre-E3 press conference with the reveal of Killer Instinct. People have been waiting for this game since Microsoft acquired Rare over 10 years ago, and it's constantly denied the game's existence. Here it was, and not only is it going to be a launch title, but it is also being developed by Double Helix, a studio that has had no prior experience developing a fighting game. We got a chance to play the demo at E3, and we came away surprised and ecstatic.
There are a few hallmarks of the original Killer Instinct that make it stand out among fighting games both past and present, and thankfully, those elements were present in the E3 demo. Aside from the dual-level health bar, the game's big signature feature is the double-digit combos and the fluidity of the fighting. The feeling of empowerment gained from a casual fighting game fan effortlessly pulling off a 9- to 10-hit combo is something no other game can offer, and it looks like the developers nailed that aspect. There's no better proof than seeing some of the higher-level players pull off 30- to 40-hit combos and more; it's something you'd normally only see in the likes of tag-team games like Ultimate Marvel Vs. Capcom 3. Make no mistake, though, that there's some skill to creating these high-number combos, so button mashers will rarely pull off such feats. The fighting also feels very fluid, closer to a Capcom fighter fluidity level than a Mortal Kombat level, despite first appearances. It's safe to say that the team at Double Helix knows what it's doing.
Though the demo was limited to Jago and Saberwulf in Jago's temple level, the graphics were astounding. Both character models carried looked somewhat reminiscent of Street Fighter IV, minus the heavy black lines. There is plenty of detail in Jago's accessories alone, while Saberwulf's fur and jewelry are just as prominent. The attention to detail is also present in the level, with so many little things to notice. The particle effects are also amazing, especially Jago's fireball, which produces millions of tiny sparks once it finds its target. You can also see traces of sweat and drool when an impact is made. Most importantly, the game runs at 60 frames per second at all times at 1080p resolution; it's the current holy grail for any game, much less a fighter that requires precision movements. With this on display, the anticipation is building to see what graphical wonders await for other characters and levels in the game.
One thing that certainly intrigues us is the game's distribution. When it releases later this year, Killer Instinct will be available to everyone as a very feature-rich demo of sorts. Everyone who gets the demo can play online for as long as they want, but they'll only have access to Jago and his stage. Players can upgrade to the Season Pass to get every character, but they'll also be able to buy individual characters if they want a custom version of the game. When asked about this, the developer on hand stated that they know hardcore players tend to gravitate toward a few characters in the roster instead of playing with everyone at all times, so providing the ability to customize their rosters made sense from both financial and gameplay standpoints. It's an interesting take on the free-to-play model and different enough from what Tekken Revolution and Dead or Alive 5's free-to-play versions are proposing, so it'll be interesting to see if it'll work with fighting game fans.
Killer Instinct is penciled in for the launch of the new Xbox One console, and as it stands, it is shaping up to be a potential must-have for the new system. Look for more coverage of this title in the coming months.
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