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Eurogamer Expo 2013: Killer Instinct hands-on

Eurogamer Expo 2013

Killer Instinct is one of Xbox One’s launch titles, being released digitally and in various packaged tiers. It resurrects Rare’s ‘90s fighting game series and aims to achieve a harmony between both old and new with equal vigour, a notion not uncommon with many videogames at this year’s Eurogamer Expo.

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“In love with particle effects”The hands-on preview time for Killer Instinct was shy. Sat with another gentleman in the closed off demo area we got straight down to it on the provided arcade stick controllers. For the first round it was Glacius, an alien made of an icy liquid composition, pitted against Jago, a protein shake consuming Tibetan monk. The fight took place in an arctic environment. There was possibly a crashed plane in the background, my memory is a little hazy on this aspect.

What I do know is that Killer Instinct is in love with particle effects (the next gen difference, some may sardonically say). At every opportunity there’s something superfluous and ultimately irrelevant to the fight swirling around the screen and looking rather pretty in the split second moments that all eyes aren’t focusing on the combat. In other words, it looks nice as the announcer introduces the match.

Using Glacius was not easy. Falling back on typical quarter circle + attack button commands was not fruitful and no combos were stringing together. My misunderstanding of the combo system, special attacks that open up the opportunity to string together moves, was central to this. The result was I had my bottom handed to me. Unable to link together any meaningful offensive the oncoming barrage of short combos and projectiles attacks from Jago soon had me defeated.

The fighting itself was tight and responsive. There was no noticeable disconnect between the commands entered and what unfolded on screen. It was silky smooth. The character size in proportion to the screen gifts them with a large and powerful sense of presence, allowing the many combo attacks that will inevitably happen the screen space they deserve. It encourages a fast, confrontational style.

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“Linked up a clear run of combos”For the second fight Sabrewulf was up against Sabrewulf, selecting from one of four colour presets to separate them. This time we took an initial break to review the move list unlike in the antecedent round where we leapt in naked. Several screens of combo-this and combo-that later and he seemed a simple character. A back-forward movement and double attack button combination would link or start up most combos.

This second battle was a clear victory for me as I linked up a clear run of combos thanks to an inkling of button combination understanding and then a furious button bash as soon as there was a visual indication on screen that a combo was unleashed. Linking a few ‘Brutal’ combos in a run appeared to lead into a “Shadow” attack. Sabrewulf became covered in a stylish, swirling dark shadow and discharged a powerful close combat offensive. That resulted in a combo, naturally. This character is a button-basher’s dream. Then our time came to a prompt end.

The short hands-on preview provided no time to gain a broader understanding of the rudimental combo structure and further depth. There are plenty of combo types to master – from “Combo Breakers” to “Shadow” moves – and the barrier of entry doesn’t appear to be initially high. A method that worked to NetherRealm Studio’s advantage in Mortal Kombat, a recent example of a successful resurrection/reboot of a once prominent series. However, that may also be a signal of warning to those who want to eschew button-bashing antics from fellow challengers. The depth could come from the vacillating counters that may balance this and provide tactical advantages to the knowledgeable.

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Double Helix Games’ Killer Instinct is clearly all about the combo attacks and keeping in with the series’ tradition. While the particle effects that swirled around the fighting stages were pretty eye candy they don’t have any bearing on the technical mechanical progression of the genre. It’s the consistent and smooth frame rate – sense of movement in plain English – that evidences any ‘next generation’ hardware in the background. A short, fun blast but one that’s hard to judge in any larger scope.

The author of this fine article

is the Deputy Editor at Thunderbolt, having joined in December 2010. Get in touch on Twitter @shaneryantb.

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