Killer Instinct is the upcoming 2013 relaunch of the fan-favorite Killer Instinct franchise originally developed by Rare. This new incarnation, developed by Double Helix in tandem with numerous top FGC personalities and voices, and published by Microsoft Studios, the 2013 Killer Instinct is being developed to modernize the sensibilities of the franchise and transform it into a viable fighting game.
As part of the digital focus of Microsoft's Xbox One system, Killer Instinct was made available exclusively as a digital release, initially titled Killer Instinct: Round One, which is completely free for Xbox Live Gold subscribers, but contains only one playable character- Jago, though he will be cycled out with a different playable character over time to give players a better feel of all the game's fighters. Players gain access to everything as Jago- solo Arcade mode, local versus mode, unlimited online play, all without paying a cent- allowing them to try out the game and decide which characters in the roster they'd like to purchase separately. Individual characters were sold separately for $5.00. A $20.00 pack got all 8 characters in the first season, while a $40.00 pack included all 8 characters, classic costumes, the original arcade game and numerous additional accessories.
Killer Instinct's gameplay is intentionally very different from its predecessors, which, while remembered for their charming style and insane presentation, have never been considered particularly good fighting games, especially on a competitive level. One of the biggest core changes is that every character now possesses a unique play-style, where as before every character was designed to fit into the mold as a "Rush Down" character. The characters are now designed around the "Killer Instinct Pyramid" of three core fighting game archetypes- the Rush Down character who charges in and gets up close to deal heavy combos and damage but lacking in ranged fighting, the Keep-Away character who has few options up close but zones and pushes enemies back and harrasses them from across the screen with projectiles, and the Grappler character who gets in to juggle and throw enemies and uses powerful mix-ups to punish approaching enemies.
One of the key elements of the original series has been preserved, despite the heavy character archetype changes: the emphasis on combos. Players must still rack up huge, many seconds long combos and can do so effortlessly like before, but the new Auto-Doubles system creates the ability for the player locked in the combo to predict the type of attack (light, medium or heavy) being used by the opponent to counter the move with a Combo Breaker. Likewise skilled players can actually counter these Combo Breakers, creating something of a combo breaker-breaker, allowing them to pick their combos back up and keep going. One thing designed to keep the game easily accessible is the ease of these combos- unskilled players are still able to hammer out 20-30 hit combos effortlessly by mashing buttons, but they still work at a disadvantage compared to players who know what they're doing because of a new "banking" mechanic built into the combo system. As combos are unleashed, the damage output is fairly low per hit- the damage scales up with each successful strike, the opposite of most modern fighting games, encouraging players to keep taking risks on bigger combos, but in order to maximize the damage done, players need to successfully end their combos with a strong or special attack, which "banks" the damage you've built up in the combo and rewards players the maximum potential reward.
Characters gain a few new mechanics in addition to their new diversified play-styles. Borrowing a mechanic inspired by Street Fighter IV according to the devs, each character will gain new Special Attacks that they can use in addition to their traditional normals. Returning from the original duo is the finisher moves, Ultra Combos. Ultras are still flashy, over-the-top, high damaging combos designed to create an impressive end to a match, but now they also effect the stage in sync with the attacks, doing things like blow up parts of the background. Each character also has a passive trait, known as Instinct Mode, that activates as time goes on, which varies widely from character to character. Glacius, for example, gains armor that causes him to resemble his classic appearance more and makes him more resistant until the armor is struck enough to destroy it. Jago, on the other hand, taps into the power of the Tiger Spirit, doing additional damage and becoming a more dangerous as he buffs his overall stats.
It is currently unclear how much of a plot this game will have, if any, in comparison to the originals. While originally thought of as a reboot, the 2013 installment has since been revealed to be a continuation of KI2's plot. Comments from the developers imply that while there won't be a centralized plot, each character will receive their own stories through Arcade mode.
Sabrewulf, seeking a return to his former self, ripped off the robotic arms that were grafted onto his body in Killer Instinct 2- using dark magic to literally regrow a pair of organic arms. The painful procedure was nearly too much for the Lycan, and in order to cope with the pain of the process, he was forced to take pain-dulling drugs until he reached the point of addiction. Now a twitching, drug-addled monster, Sabrewulf continues to seek a way to end his nightmare and return to his human form.
For years before the formal announcement, there was a great deal of internal murmurings of a desire to create a Killer Instinct 3 in Rare. According to Rare alumni Donnchadh Murphy, Microsoft was "More interested in broadening their demographic instead of making another fighting game, so it never got made." but that "We all wanted to make KI3". In September 2012, Microsoft sought to renew the patent on Killer Instinct, implying a desire to use the property again after years spent dormant, but they were denied in December of that year, as an unrelated 2005 television series produced by Fox shared the same name. Microsoft and Fox were forced to come to an agreement after months of negotiations in April 2013, where Microsoft was successfully able to renew the patent.
Finally formally announced a few months later at the Microsoft E3 conference as an Xbox One exclusive title, Killer Instinct received a brief trailer highlighting returning characters Jago, Sabrewulf and Galcius, followed by a live demo. The game received mixed to positive reactions at first, with many longtime fans finding the new artstyle and combat system something unlike Killer Instinct of old, and a great deal of disappointment that Rare themselves weren't working on the third installment- but the game's playable demo build won over numerous people at the show and it quickly became one of the most talked about Xbox One exclusive titles.
At the EVO 2013 Fighting Game Championship, a panel was held by Double Helix and Microsoft for the game, where they revealed a teaser for a new playable character- Chief Thunder, and announced an exclusive deal with popular Fight Stick developer Mad Katz to develop a custom Xbox One Killer Instinct stick. Despite a new demo build with a playable Glacius, and FGC famous personalities like Maximilian and KI veteran Ken Lobb, the panel was received extremely poorly. The crowd initially booed at any reference to the Xbox One exclusivity, and began to chant "When's Mahvel!" as the demo continued on, clearly upset that panel had interrupted the FGC's biggest game's Grand Finals. In the end, the Panel ended early, canceling plans for a Q&A session, leaving behind a great deal of negativity. In a separate interview, classic characters Fulgore, Cinder and Spinal were confirmed for returning, and that the team was interested in adding more female characters for diversity, and were very interested in creating brand new characters for the relaunch.
Initial reaction to the relaunched Killer Instinct was mixed to negative, with many longtime fans criticized the change in the art direction, the more Street Fighter inspired gameplay and the radical changes to the characters play styles and natures. While the game quickly began to earn strong praise from the quality of its show-floor playable demo and open invite play events, multiple press outlets generated controversy around the game's live E3 demo, where Ashton Williams, Xbox Community Manager, was told by producer Torin Rettig to "Just let it happen. It'll all be over soon." as she was trapped in a combo that resulted in his winning the game. Many took this comment as a rape joke, and extrapolated that the game and Microsoft by extension were supporting the "rape culture". Similarly, controversy raised around the game when it was shown off at EVO, where the game and console were booed multiple times, and the crowd began to chant for the demo to end so Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3 grand finals could begin.
- Shadow Jago skin (Xbox One console pre-order bonus)