I was at Microsoft’s Xbox One press conference on Monday, and no game — not Titanfall, and not even Halo — got as much applause as “KI,” the brand new, free-to-play Killer Instinct revival.
There’s been rumors of a Killer Instinct sequel ever since Microsoft purchased Rare from Nintendo more than a decade ago, but strangely, this new Killer Instinct is not being developed by Rare; rather, it’s being created by a team over at Digital Extremes, a company best known for creating the recent Star Trek game (which wasn’t very good, by the way,) and the multiplayer component to BioShock 2.
In addition to the new developer, KI is also adopting a new business model: free to play. All Xbox One owners will be able to download the base game with one character, Jago, who’s basically KI’s Ryu equivalent — he’s got the same arsenal of fireballs, dragon punches, and flying kicks as Capcom’s most famous Street Fighter, so anybody who’s played a fighter before should be immediately familiar with his moveset. Additional characters will be available for an as yet undetermined price. Strangely, Digital Extremes isn’t going to release the entire roster of fighters at once — characters will slowly be added to the game, one at a time, over the lifespan of the game. It’s currently unknown how many characters will be available at launch.
KI won’t be the only free to play fighter this Fall, as both Namco and Tecmo have announced that both Dead or Alive and Tekken are going “freemium” this Fall as well (on PS3,) but those games will have their entire line-up of characters available for purchase at launch.
As for the game itself, the game felt like a blend of KI’s old dial-a-combo’s and Street Fighter IV’s presentation. Combos are extremely easy to pull off — certain moves are designated as “combo starters,” and if you land one of these attacks on your opponent, all you have to do is mash any of the other six attack buttons in order to automatically chain a combo together. This simple combo system makes the game extremely easy to pick-up, but I’m worried that it might encourage button mashing: I had no idea what I was doing when I started playing, but even with just button mashing, I was able to pound out extremely damaging multi-hit combos without any effort. The old Killer Instinct games were never regarded with the same level of reverence as “serious” competitive fighters like Street Fighter and King of the Fighters, and I’m worried that KI’s easy combo system might limit its long term competitive appeal.
Graphically at least, KI was very impressive. The characters were detailed and animated fluidly, and connecting with a fireball or a particularly strong attack caused the screen to become filled with an impressive number of sparks. You wouldn’t expect a free to play game to be a graphical showcase, but KI was definitely one of the prettier games on display for the Xbox One.
“KI” will be available as a digital download for the Xbox One when the system launches this November.