EGX 2015 – PlayStation VR, Kitchen Demo

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The Morning after the Fright Before

Picture the scene. You groggily come to, bleary-eyed, and find yourself in a dark, grimy kitchen. You try to get up and move, only to discover that your hands and legs are bound with rope to the chair you’re slumped in. The unblinking glassy eye of a camcorder stares back at you from atop a creaking tripod, recording your every wince and struggle against your restraints. A dishevelled man in a dirty suit lies sprawled out across the greasy tiles, and you can’t tell if he’s unconscious, dead or somewhere in-between the two sorry states. A typical morning after the night before in Huddersfield, you might say.

But no, this isn’t the morning after a particularly sordid night of bacchanal northern excess, or the opening to a new SAW film, but rather the opening to Kitchen, Capcom’s virtual reality horror demo for Sony’s PlayStation VR. While in Birmingham for EGX 2015, I got the chance to try out this sleek blue-tinged helmet to see what Sony is bringing to the virtual reality table…and find out what horrors were waiting for me in Capcom’s scary scullery.

Though I’m still yet to be truly swayed about VR gaming in general, from my hands-on with Kitchen I can safely say that there are some very cool things to be excited about if you’re even just the slightest bit interested in the marriage of horror and virtual reality. Particularly so if, like me, you’re also a cheery masochist who happens to enjoy having virtual sharp pointy objects thrust close to your virtual eyeballs from time to time, Dead Space style. Oh yes.

Before we get to the juicy bits though (quite literally in this instance) it’s time for a quick recap on Sony’s VR device itself. Initially revealed to the world at the 2014 Game Developers Conference as Project Morpheus (named after the Grecian God of dreams, and sadly not Lawrence Fishburne’s pill-popping pugilist), PlayStation VR is an in-development virtual reality visor designed for use in conjunction with the PS4 and due out in the first half of 2016. With a 1920×1080 display capable of running at speeds of 120fps, it’s a beefy piece of kit, and one that many of Sony’s first and second party studios are busy creating games and experiences for. There’s already a fair few decently fleshed out VR demos that are currently available to play on the device, many of which have been doing the rounds at previous events such as E3 and Gamescom. Sony followed suit with EGX in the UK, and so the usual suspects such as The London Heist and Battlezone were among the titles available for people to try out over the course of the event.

Sadly, due to the way the public appointments were scheduled, you couldn’t actually choose which demo you’d like to try in your PlayStation VR demo slot. Instead, it was simply down to the potluck of getting whatever demo just so happened to be free at the moment you strolled up for your allotted time. Luckily for me however, finding out that I’d be sampling Kitchen was pretty much the ideal personal scenario; after hearing Lucy O’Brien positively detailing her experience with the demo on the IGN AU Pubcast, I was keen to strap on a mental apron of bravery and check out this kinky kitchenette simulator for myself.

There’s an Onryo in My Kitchen, What am I Gonna Do?

Kitchen

Okay, so here’s how things played out. After an extensive wait in a Sony holding pen (seriously), I’m eventually collected, stripped, sheared, hosed down and deloused (not seriously) before finally being seated for my demo session. As my demo assistant carefully adjusted the PSVR unit for my noggin, I was pleasantly surprised to find that the PSVR headset is way less bulky and heavy than I expected. Although the only other hands-on experience I’ve had with VR tech was with the Oculus Rift earlier in the year at March’s Rezzed event, I can’t exactly remember an awful lot of how the Rift physically felt on my head, but that’s most likely because I was having a lot of fun running for my virtual life in the fantastic Monstrum at the time, but I digress. Having said that, the PSVR felt both lighter and comfier than the Rift from what I can remember. Of particular note is the fact that Sony’s headset has an adjustable slider to set the position of the internal cushioning around your nose and eyes, which is great if you’ve got a bit of a wonky ol’ konk like mine.

With eyes, ears and proboscis all sealed in my virtual sarcophagus of headset and headphones, it’s finally time for the fun to begin. A brief title screen appears, which is quickly replaced with the decrepit kitchen of my first paragraph. I’m told to hold my hands out, and shortly after I feel the warm clammy contours of a DualShock 4 placed in my palms – nice. I’m then instructed to keep hold of the controller with my hands loosely held together in my lap (to simulate being kinkily tied up), and to gesture forwards with it to begin the demo. I thrust my hands forward, clattering the camera tripod to the floor, and an unfortunate set of events are slowly set in motion.

So yeah, you’re sat in this grungy kitchen (think something along the aesthetic lines of The Evil Within‘s environments and you’re on the right track), and for a while, nothing happens – which is good, as this gives you ample time to have a good look around. Looking down at my virtual body, I see that yes, my hands (and also presumably my virtual feet) are trussed up, hence my current immobility.

However, unlike my virtual body, my physical one is under no such restrictions, so I can actually turn round in my seat and get a 360-degree view of the room. It’s hard to overstate just how impressive this basic motion is, even though it’s an extremely basic tenet of pretty much any VR experience, but it really is quite something. Even though it is sort of immersion breaking in this instance – surely if these bonds are loose enough for me to fully rotate around in my chair, I could wriggle out of them in no time right?

Another small point on the visuals was that while the overall fluidity of motion of PlayStation VR was very slick, the picture quality of the display did seem a tad grainy and fuzzier than what I had previously experienced in Oculus. This may well have just been a visual filter added for a gritty horror aesthetic in just the Kitchen demo itself, but it was hard to say for sure.

Anyway, I’m just nit picking here – time to go back to the demo. Eventually, the man on the floor slowly starts to get to his feet, looking dazed, confused and, perhaps most importantly, not hostile. In fact, he looks scared. No idea why though, as nothing has clearly gone wrong already, and surely nothing could continue to go wrong in a kitchen in such fine upkeep as this. Nonetheless, he picks up a rusty knife off the floor and gestures for me to hold out my hands – AKA the controller – that he can cut my bonds. Gulp.

As someone who gets a bit queasy thinking about things like wrists being in close proximity to rusty knives, this next section is a tad uncomfortable to say the least. Holding up the DualShock 4 doesn’t really feel like holding one’s bound hands together at all, yet somehow the sensation of holding the controller out in front of you whilst your eyes are simultaneously seeing your virtual hands held aloft in the visor is surprisingly immersive.

This immersion becomes even more effective when this dude starts hacking away at the messy tangle of rope lashed between your wrists. Seeing the blunt knife slip and slide through the thick ropey cords in quick jerky motions suddenly makes what you’re seeing feel all the more tangible and distressing. It’s easily one of the more uncomfortable bits of the demo, and it still makes me feel a bit queasy just thinking about it now as I write this. To make matters worse, with no warning at all, suddenly a ghostly Onryo woman raises up out of the floor behind your rescuer and shanks him up pretty badly before cutting off his head. Brilliant. Just brilliant.

From here on out, the final minutes of the demo involve this Hisako lookalike fiendishly toying with you in a number of dastardly ways, the most memorable of which happens in another uncomfortable section where this ghastly ghoul slowly points the business end of the knife closer and closer towards your eye. Even though it’s an ancient 3D film cliché at this point, it’s still effective and really unsettling to see something come within inches of your face. There’s a few more moments of her scuttling around the room while you rapidly try to locate her position, but eventually, a cold grey hand covers your eyes from behind, and it’s game over man. Game over.

Ghosts Versus Cockneys

VR Dude

The PlayStation VR unit in use by a bearded Zelda-loving chap (AKA not me), wielding a pair of PlayStation Move controllers, probably for The London Heist. Cockney rhyming slang not included.

So, what did I think to PlayStation VR and Kitchen? Overall, they’re both pretty neat. The PlayStation VR unit itself is an impressive (and surprisingly comfortable) piece of tech, and though it’s just a basic demo at this point, Kitchen certainly does make a compelling case for full-on VR horror experiences very nicely indeed. But…

Okay, so I’ve got a couple of issues here. First, there’s the classic problem of VR motion sickness. Just like with the Oculus, PlayStation VR it’s a device that seems to quite frequently make a significant number of its users feel sick, including yours truly. I started to feel pretty queasy only a few moments into the Kitchen experience – definitely from motion sickness I might add, and not the grimy aesthetic of the demo – and I continued to feel pretty grim for some time afterwards. Although Sony claim that the fast refresh rate (120Hz) of the PlayStation VR greatly reduces motion sickness in comparison to other VR headsets, I personally didn’t feel any noticeable difference on a user level and quickly found my stomach roiling with waves of nausea in no time at all. But hey, this technical wizardry is beyond my tiny little pea brain, and I’m sure this is the sort of the thing that will eventually be solved given the inevitable march of progress, technology and time.

Secondly on a software level, although Kitchen was a lot of daft fun, it wasn’t really what I’d consider an interactive experience by any stretch of the imagination. The only sort of interaction the game required of me as a player was to roughly gesture forwards with the controller on two occasions – that’s it. It’s immersive and visually impressive certainly, but Kitchen is basically just a short VR horror film. Not exactly the killer app you’re looking for in a new piece of gaming-specific hardware, right?

Perhaps if I’d got to try out Sony London’s The London Heist for example, my opinions here might be slightly different. In that game, I’d have needed to duck and crouch on the spot in reality in order to pop in and out of virtual cover in the game, and use PlayStation Move controllers to point and shoot weapons at incoming enemies. That’s while I’m also Benny Hill slapping burly Statham-like skinheads on their shiny domes, slurping down great salty bowlfuls of jellied eels and yelling “Cor blimey mate, get down them apples ‘n’ pears, faaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaackin’ ‘ell!” between each briny mouthful of moray. Typical video game stuff, in other words.

Yeah, I know, it’s pretty standard faire to want to shoot endless hordes of goons in a video game, but at least The London Heist‘s gameplay actually requires a significant level of interaction from me as a player, as opposed having me sit still as a passive observer like in Kitchen. A VR experience like that with a few basic mechanics and gameplay elements in play might have sold me on the use of PlayStation VR as a serious gaming platform, and not just a fancy supplementary VR cinema contraption. The small vignette demos and experiences on the PlayStation VR right now are very cool and exciting, but personally I need to see something more involved, more interesting and way more interactive to seriously consider buying a finished retail unit in the future (I’m looking at you, No Man’s Sky).

Speaking of which, there’s the cost issue. PlayStation VR is certainly a flash and exciting device for the PlayStation 4, and going forward we’re probably going to see Sony put a much greater emphasis on its VR headset as a premium way of enjoying its burgeoning catalogue of games. But damn, what a premium it’s going to be. The latest news on the pricing is that PlayStation VR will retail at somewhere around the $300-$400 mark, after Andrew House (President of Sony Computer Entertainment International) suggested to the press that the headset would have a price point comparative to the cost of a new next-gen console, and would be marketed as such. That’s one hell of a lot of money to spend on what’s essentially still just a console accessory, no matter how revolutionary it may be.

Obviously, developing this VR stuff is expensive – I’m an idiot (that’s a given) but I do understand that developing tech like this costs a lot of money. Hell, you could even say that the headset being priced at the equivalent of a new console is actually cheap considering how advanced this VR visor actually is. But the fact remains that $300-$400 for a secondary PS4 device is still a hefty price tag for the average consumer, no matter which way you cut it.

However, even with all those whiney concerns of mine, there’s still an awful lot to be excited about with PlayStation VR and the whole VR industry in general. If you’ve read this far (you poor misguided sod), you’ll have no doubt realised by this point that one of the inherent problems with trying to explain all this VR stuff lexically is that it’s a massive injustice to the whole concept. Particularly when it’s an idiot like me who’s the one typing all these lexemes out for you to read. VR is an experience which you really have to see for yourself in order to grasp it’s full potential – you have to get your head inside a VR unit and nearly have your eyes poked out by a knife-wielding wraith to see why it’s such an exciting concept. It’s way more fun than it actually sounds, trust me.

While I personally think a great game will draw in and immerse a player in its world regardless of whether they’re experiencing it with a VR headset on their cranium or not, I’m sure that one day VR will probably be the way most people experience and play video games. It’s a cool and exciting future, definitely, but I think for most of us, that future is still a way off from being a practical and affordable reality any time soon. In the meantime, I’m happy to be stabbed by ghosts and shot at by Cockneys in the place where I’ve always enjoyed those activities – on the TV. Now where did I put those jellied eels…

EGX 2015 – Halo 5: Guardians, Warzone Multiplayer

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Hands-on with Halo 5‘s Massive New Multiplayer Mode

Going to EGX is both an exciting and daunting proposition. On one hand, it’s a great opportunity for a regular punter like myself to be able to get hands-on access to the brand new shiny games shown off earlier at E3 and Gamescom. On the other, because you’re attending as Joe Public, what sounds like a fun-filled day of non-stop gaming action on paper is actually more like an eternity of queuing, pocketed by evanescent moments of virtual escapism. Don’t get me wrong; it’s an exciting place to be, but boy is it exhausting on the pins.

Aside from the expected physical aches and pains, operating as an individual blogger at an enormous expo like this can also be quite a mental strain as well. From the second you set foot inside, it’s easy to quickly feel way out of your depth; everywhere you look there are these big professional teams of hip, young trendy YouTube personalities going about with their own personal harem of cameramen, boom-wielding sound engineers and lighting technicians that document every second of their time there. It’s a bit intimidating to say the least, particularly when all you’ve got for company during your hours of queuing are a notebook, camera and a half-eaten tuna sandwich – oh joy.

EGX 2015

However, such is the life of a solitary blogger, and despite this whingey and pessimistic pre-amble, I actually had a very enjoyable few days of checking out all that’s new and exciting in the gaming realm. EGX 2015 was held at Birmingham’s NEC as opposed to last year’s venue London’s Earls Court (which sadly is due to be demolished like a set piece in a Call of Duty campaign), and although the NEC itself felt like a rather bland backdrop for a video game convention, the important thing is that a lot of the games on show were well worth the long queues to play.

One such game that is very worthy of your attention if you like sci-fi first-person shooters is 343 Industries’ Halo 5: Guardians. My verdict? To paraphrase the all-consuming Gravemind, “There is much talk, and I have listened, through rock and metal and time. Now I shall talk, and you shall listen”. In other words, get a cup of tea, get comfortable, and I shall regale ye rotten with my thoughts on Halo 5‘s multiplayer.

Or to cut a long story short, yeah it’s pretty good (does the Ocelot gun gesture).

The Art of War…Zone

Halo 5 Xbox One

Like many other Xbox owners around the world, my fetish for seeing men and women in bulky combat armour clank into each other on virtual battlefields only intensifies with each new release in the Halo series. So, to indulge my insatiable desire for steamy power armour on flesh action, I headed straight to the big green Microsoft stand after getting my entry wristband to join the already massive queue for their marquee title.

Three hours of queuing (and heavy excited breathing) later (all the while enduring the dopey antics of some of the most punchable dudebros I’ve ever come across), I was finally able to pick up a controller and get stuck in to a 20-25 minute Warzone match on the ‘Escape from A.R.C.’ map. Before we get into the nitty-gritty details however, let’s back up for a second and go over the basics.

As already indicated by the title of this post, the mode 343 had on offer for the Halo-hungry hordes attending EGX was Warzone. This is the new large-scale competitive multiplayer mode debuting with Halo 5 which pits two teams of twelve players in a head to head (or more appropriately, helmet to helmet) battle of attrition, but with the added twist of also fighting off malicious mobs of AI attackers. 343 have playfully dubbed the mode as ‘Player Vs. Player Vs. Everything’.

Warzone is basically a riff on the familiar Big Team Battle mode from the previous Halos mixed with the point capturing of Halo 4’s Dominion and some choice MOBA elements that put an interesting new spin on the series’ traditional multiplayer formula. If the use of the word MOBA makes your stomach churn in panic, don’t worry – Warzone’s objectives are simple. The first team to 1000 points wins; points are earned for killing enemy players, killing enemy AI characters and capturing and holding target zones on the map.

See, nice and easy right? Having said that, there is a very cool twist to Warzone, and it’s here that the MOBA influence comes into play (Don’t panic, this is straightforward too, I promise). If one team simultaneously controls all the zones on a map, then the opposing team’s power core will be exposed back at their base, leaving it wide open for an attack. If the power core is destroyed with, say, a cheeky proton torpedo or two (read: plasma grenades), then that counts as an instant win for the attacking team, irrelevant of the current points total – yippie-ki-yay motherfucker indeed. It takes a lot of hard work and close co-ordination with your teammates to pull off a successful core detonation, but the sweet reward of a decisive on-the-spot victory makes all those gallons of blood, sweat and tears worth it.

Laptop

The culmination of all these different gameplay ideas working together results in a multiplayer mode that feels consistently exhilarating, regardless of whether you’re trouncing the opposition, or being completely dominated. There’s always hope of a last-minute comeback victory for the losers, but also the ever-present danger of defeat for the winners at any moment, which serves to keep both teams on their toes right to the very last second of the match.

Okay, so that’s the theory of Warzone out of the way – let’s crack on with the practical.

Spring Cleaning

Big Halo Sign 1

At the start of a Warzone match, both teams have to first clear out the pesky AI Forerunner squatters that have taken up residence in their respective bases. With the stern yet dulcet tones of Jennifer Hale’s Sarah Palmer in my headphones, my Red team chums and I drop into our base via Pelican dropship and prepare to fuck up some ferrous Forerunner ass.

These starting enemies mainly comprise the canine-like Forerunner Crawlers first introduced in Halo 4, but there were a few of the new Armiger enemy types amongst their number too. Sadly I completely missed this early engagement with the Armigers as I had to readjust my settings to invert my aiming and look controls, so I can’t really say much about how these new enemies operate as they were all wiped out by the time I properly joined the fray. From what I could see though, the Armigers appear to operate as a sort of much-needed intermediary enemy in the Forerunner ranks – stronger than the Crawlers, but weaker than the Knights.

With our base secured and free from enslaved human robots, the next few minutes see our team slowly wander out into the map to butt heads with Blue team and try to capture zones along the way. It’s all pretty low-key stuff at this early stage in the game; snipers volley short-range pistol shots at each other across the glinting metal rooftops, run-and-gun attackers clutch assault rifles and zig-zag across the dusty open ground from cover to cover, and explosive indoor corridor jousts flare up wherever the two sides meet.

It’s at this point that Halo 5‘s Spartan abilities really come into play and give you some interesting new map traversal options to experiment with. In particular, the new Spartan Boost ability that transforms what previously would otherwise be a rather dull and tired part of the Halo multiplayer experience – commuting across the large distances on foot to get to the action – into a high-speed adrenaline rush. Take a running leap off a platform and hit your thrusters mid-air and your Spartan is temporarily soaring through the air round the map like a bird. An ungraceful man-sized metallic bird with an assault rifle in its hands (or should that be talons?), but a bird nonetheless. Used in conjunction with the also new wall-clambering ability and the capability to indefinitely sprint (finally), it’s easy to achieve moments of kinetic (no, not that kinetic) grace as you swoop and soar your way across the map’s sandy orange dunes.

Aisle Shot

As both teams settle into the to-and-fro rhythm of capturing and defending zones, the interior spaces of these structures inexorably play host to the most intense firefights of the match. It’s here where the true benefits of the Spartan abilities come to the fore, as players clash in a crackling blur of extinguished shields and smoky thruster trails, a lightning-fast ballet of quick fingers and even quicker wits. The ability to hover mid-air, clamber up ledges and deal out deadly ground pounds give players access to a whole new vertical library of punishment, transforming a basic indoor scrap into a ridiculously exciting pressure cooker of claustrophobic indoor chaos.

In particular, mastering the nuances of the Boost ability in a close-quarters combat situation proves essential to survival. Learning when to rocket forwards to rapidly close distances and deal out crunching melee hits, or backdash with a reverse boost to escape a hail of bullets or the thundering blast of a grenade are vital manoeuvres to commit to muscle memory. With regard to the latter point, it’s hard to get an accurate feel of just how Halo 5‘s pineapples are balanced in this current pre-release build of the game, but they seem to pack a bigger wallop compared to the frag grenades of old, presumably as a means to compensate for players’ increased manoeuvrability.

Interestingly, as a final point on the zone capturing, whenever you move in to capture an enemy-controlled structure, a small readout on the HUD appears to let you know how many enemies are still occupying the building. This small detail is fantastic, as it helps you to quickly make important snap decisions; is it better to fall back and get reinforcements, or keep pressing on and find where that last dirty little cloaked camper is and rip out his thro…ahem, sorry about that, got a bit carried away there (deep breaths).

 Where the Wild Things Aren’t

Big Halo Sign 1

One of the slight disappointments with Warzone is that despite the mode’s inclusion of AI enemies, the truth is that there really aren’t an awful lot of them to go around. In addition to the handful of standard enemies occupying the bases at the start of the match, there’s a few straggling outliers huddled near each of the zones, and…that’s about it. Whether the AI population is an ongoing balance issue that’s still being tweaked, or whether it’s simply the case that the Escape from A.R.C. map simply doesn’t have many standard AI enemies to hunt, I’m not sure. Perhaps I just went in with my expectations set too high, expecting to see swarms of enemies rushing both teams in numbers comparable to Halo: ODST‘s excellent Firefight mode, but thankfully it’s not a big deal. The exciting part of Warzone is, of course, taking the fight to the enemy human players à la Big Team Battle.

However, what the AI troops lack in number, they more than makes up for in might. As both teams are racking up kills and holding down zones, Palmer occasionally pipes up to announce that Covenant and Forerunner boss enemies have spawned into the map. Simply put, these things are fucking beasts. These bosses are essentially souped-up versions of the standard Covenant Elites and Forerunner Knights found in the campaign, but don’t let their appearances fool you. Though they might look like the typical enemies you’d encounter in a Halo campaign, they have significantly better shielding and health to draw on, and can pack a much heftier wallop compared to their story-based counterparts. I repeatedly tried to take down a big Elite commander lurking in an out of the way construction tunnel by myself, but after being melted one too many times by its plasma rifle, I quickly decided to focus my efforts on helping my team hold down zones instead. Teamwork is essential to taking these big baddies down, but for those who enjoy a bit of bounty hunting, there’s a hefty jackpot of bonus points to bag for felling these fierce foes.

Check Yourself Before You REQ Yourself

REQ Station

To even think about tackling the enemy AI bosses, you’re going to need some serious firepower, and this is where 343 have decided to mix things up a little. Warzone differs from the rest of Halo 5‘s multiplayer in that it utilises the new REQ system as the primary means for players to get their hands on better gear.

Unfamiliar with it? Let me bring you up to speed. REQ is a vehicle and weapon requisition (get it?) system that 343 have designed specially for Warzone as a sort of middle ground between traditional first-come first-served weapon and vehicle distribution of the older titles, and Halo 4‘s controversial loadout system. Players earn energy points in Warzone by killing enemy players, AI troopers, capturing and holding bases etc. which they can then cash in at REQ terminals in their base to get a shiny new weapon or vehicle to kick ass with. Each item you can order belongs to a specific tier, and these tiers gradually unlock over time according to their energy requirement; basic items with a low energy requirement (such as pistols and rifles) will unlock sooner, while the power weapons and big vehicles will unlock later on in the match. It’s a clever and elegant way of allowing the player to pick the weapons they want, whilst still keeping the competitive playing field fair for everyone else.

Come to think of it, why am I trying to explain the ins and outs of the REQ system, when I could have the sage-like Mister Chief do a much better job of it for me:

It’s a difficult equilibrium to achieve, but I think on the whole 343 have got the balance between player choice and competitive fairness pretty spot on (though I still have some major concerns, but I’ll get to these later). A lot of Halo traditionalists disliked 343’s first foray into personalised weapon distribution in Halo 4, as they felt it negatively impacted the classic map and power weapon struggles they adored in the older games. Others disagreed, and enjoyed the more flexible approach to basic weapon acquisition, seeing it (alongside the inclusion of a standardised sprint function) as a progressive and considerate step in contemporising the Halo franchise to its industry peers and bringing it up to speed with the expectations of the modern FPS player.

As one of the minority of players of Halo 4 who actually appreciated the ability to spawn in with your preferred low-tier weapon of choice ready to go in your hexagon-riddled gauntlets, I think the REQ system will satisfy both schools of Halo thought. The timed unlock tiers of the arsenal mean that players can’t just instantly spawn in with top-tier armaments and wipe the floor with everyone else, and the energy requirements encourage players to think wisely about their purchases. Should you cash out on a Covenant Carbine, or save your energy and splash out on a Spartan Laser a few spawns later on? Go for a Gungoose early on, or splurge on a Scorpion tank further down the line? The choice is up to you (and the contents of your sizzling green energy wallet).

 Unfortunately though, as my Warzone match progressed and piles of dead Spartans started to pile up in crumpled heaps around the map, it gradually became apparent that hardly any players were making use of the REQ system. This was probably due to the clownish oafs Microsoft employed to man the Halo booth being more interested in dancing to the tunes thumping out of the nearby Rockband 4 stand than, you know, actually telling people how to play their fucking game, but hey, that’s just my guess. For whatever reason, a lot of the players I encountered didn’t seem to know how to get hold of a new gun or vehicle – either that or they were perfectly content to just go running out into the map with nothing but the standard issue assault rifle and pistol combo. This was a shame, and as a result the match I played didn’t really have the same level of intensity and pandemonium that the pre-release trailers have hyped up to the max. I’m sure when the final game comes out and people are familiar with the new systems that things will quickly start to feel more jam-packed and manic, but my first Warzone match definitely felt weirdly quiet at times.

Fortunately for me then, the noticeable lack of other vehicles and power weapons on the field meant that when I took to the skies in a Forerunner Phaeton I met very little anti-air resistance (cue Kenny Loggins’ ‘Danger Zone’, and pull on a pair of tinted aviators).

Phaenting the Town Orange

Player Close-up

Being a long-time Halo wheelman, I knew instantly from the second I picked up the greasy display controller that I wanted to get behind the controls of Halo 5‘s coolest new vehicle ASAP. I made sure to frugally hold back enough energy points for one so I could deploy this new toy as soon as the time-restriction passed, and it was certainly well worth the wait.

Allow me to indulge in my obsession for this beauty. The Forerunner Phaeton is a beastly aircraft, and the first vehicle we’ve seen from the Didact’s Forerunner faction; it’s an angular gunmetal grey aircraft that combines the shape of a Harrier Jump Jet with the sleek contours of stealth bomber. It also has a lot of orange paint on it, because you know…Forerunners and stuff.

Mechanically speaking, it’s an interesting vehicle to get to grips with. Unlike its Human and Covenant peers, the Phaeton feels designed first and foremost for defence over offence. It manoeuvres and hovers in a similar fashion to the Hornet, though it’s increased size means that it handles more like a floating gun platform than nippy attack chopper, swapping speed for increased durability. It comes equipped with a beefy futuristic chaingun, which spits out a hail of hard light bullets at your target, which quickly turn enemy Spartans into fizzing puddles of Tango. These bullets are powerful, yes, but they’re also quite slow moving (compared to the fire rate of a Banshee’s primary projectiles for example), so learning to lead your shots just slightly in front of your target is essential to land hits.

The most unique feature of this flying Forerunner craft though has to be its ability to phase in and out of the air, meaning you can essentially juke out of the way of incoming projectiles. While I couldn’t figure out how to activate the dodge ability myself in this match, it’s definitely going to be a vital thing to be able to pull off in the heat of combat.

I spent the entirety of my time in the craft punching sizzling orange holes in ground-based infantry targets, so I didn’t get to see how the Phaeton holds up in an aerial dog fight, but I imagine the trick to taking on airborne vehicles will be to stand your ground and let your attacker come to you rather than give pursuit. While the Banshee and Hornet can probably outrun the Phaeton in terms of raw speed, the Phaeton’s phase ability gives it an unparalleled flexibility at short-distances; continually warping out of range of your attacker’s guns will be highly irritating, and also give you extra time to rake nasty orange bullet scars across their hull.

Alas, all good things must come to an end, and ultimately my airborne killing spree was cut short when I was rudely blown out of the sky by a particularly determined rooftop defender. It was time to get back to the fray on foot for the final few minutes of the match, but my next thought was, to quote the mighty 117 himself, “I need a weapon”. Again. Although I’d been regularly plucking out basic ranged weapons throughout the course of the match, I didn’t really have a full perusal of all the goodies on offer until I’d had my fun with the Phaeton.

Warzone’s arsenal consists largely of Halo 4‘s returning armoury (sadly minus the sticky detonator) along with a few new additions such as the Hydra, a homing RPG weapon that debuted in the previous Arena multiplayer Beta. Though my natural tendency was to stick to familiar favourites when ordering weapons (nothing comes close to speed, accuracy and satisfying thunk-thunk-thunks of the Covenant Carbine at mid-range sniping in my opinion), I did make an effort to sample some of the new tools on offer. One such newbie is the Covenant Plasma Caster; this is a purple crossbow-like contraption first showcased in the Gamescom campaign demo which has both rapid fire and charge-shot capabilities. It basically functions as a sort of hybrid between the Concussion Rifle of and Reach‘s Plasma Launcher – I’m sure it’s a lot of fun to use, but sadly, due to a deadly mixture of impatience and unfamiliarity on my part, I couldn’t really get it to work for me in the short time the weapon was in my grasp.

Indoor Ghost

The final few minutes of the game were a busy blur of running between bases, capping fools and dodging those fearsome AI bosses. Though we had a solid lead points-wise, our team still had a bit of a shock when all of the zones bases were suddenly under blue control, and we had to quickly scramble to capture at least one back to shut them out of our core. We managed it by the skin of our teeth, and before long we had all three zones under our control – touché Blue team. I’d just leapt into the bulky cockpit of a Mantis and was thudding my way across the map to launch everything I had at their exposed core when Red team won with a 1000 point total anyway. Sighing with contented relief, I turned my Mantis towards the sun and thudded into the distance as the monitors faded to black. Mission complete.

Oh, Just One More Thing…

Yes I’m doing a Columbo here, and yes I know this piece is really dragging on by this point now, but this last bit is important, trust me. Remember how I alluded to some concerns about the REQ a few paragraphs ago? Despite the delightfully daft attempts of Frank O’Connor’s scribbled Spartan to harbour goodwill towards this new system, having tried REQ out first-hand, I’m still uneasy about how the system will work in the final game. Specifically, I’m apprehensive about how it’ll impact on one of the key aspects of Halo multiplayer – vehicle and power weapon acquisition.

You see unlike the build of the game I got to try, when the finished thing hits store shelves and the Xbone marketplace later this month, the REQ system will have an secondary layer of virtual currency added to it – REQ cards (Mister Chief outlines how they work in the video I posted earlier, but for the benefit of doubt I’ll explain them again here). REQ cards are digital trading cards that players will use as a secondary payment system (on top of the energy level costs) to acquire power weapons and vehicles in Warzone matches. In other words, in order to call in a specific power weapon/vehicle in the retail version of Halo 5‘s Warzone mode, three conditions have to be met:

  • The player has the sufficient level of energy required to spawn in their chosen power weapon/vehicle.
  • The REQ system has time-unlocked the tier that the player’s chosen power weapon/vehicle belongs to.
  • The player owns the corresponding REQ card for that power weapon/vehicle.

Upon first glance, these conditions seem pretty fair and straightforward. However, there’s a catch. A couple of catches actually. As an old-school Halo wheelman, the initial worry I have with this system is that unlike the game’s basic weapon cards (which I believe are classed as permanent, unlimited unlocks once earned), Halo 5‘s power weapon and vehicle cards are categorised in the REQ system as single use cards. This means that whenever you order up your chosen vehicle/power weapon of choice, it costs you a card each and every time you want to spawn that item into a match. To put it another way, no card = no vehicle/power weapon. Out of Warthog cards? Sorry Spartan, you’ll have to hoof it on foot. The much bigger worry I have is the fact that packs of REQ cards will be available for players to buy with real world money as microtransactions. Want that Rocket Launcher soldier? Drop and give me twenty…pence.

Yup, we’re finally at the point ladies and gents – the mighty triple-A Halo series is soliciting microtransactions in addition to asking for your £60 upfront. Before you roll your eyes, no, I don’t think microtransactions are an inherently evil concept. Like additional DLC content, microtransactions can be well designed and fairly implemented in a game, usually offering purely cosmetic items for sale, or they are implemented in such a way that they don’t negatively impact the core gameplay experience of you or other players. Free-to-play games like Killer Instinct and Planetside 2 are excellent examples of games that positively use microtransactions in non-invasive ways, and most importantly, they don’t reward the players that do spend their money with unfair advantages over those who don’t.

Microtransactions absolutely have no place in a boxed £60 retail game like Halo though, and their inclusion is just unacceptable in my opinion. We’ll have to see exactly how these REQ cards work in the finished product of course, but from everything 343 has told us so far, it looks like the microtransactions are purely there to act as a tertiary barrier to encourage players to open their digital wallets.

To momentarily play devil’s advocate on 343’s behalf, players are said to be able to earn REQ cards for doing pretty much anything in Halo 5‘s multiplayer modes. Although we haven’t been given any solid info on frequency and drop rates for these cards, for all intents and purposes it sounds like players will be earning them at a steady rate, so I’m pretty confident that they won’t be given out quite as randomly and inconsistently as the engram rewards that the infamously tight-fisted Cryptarch in Destiny doles out (the smug blue-faced cunt). But the fact remains that although 343 have said that players will be continually earning plenty of cards for everything they do in Halo 5, these cards are an intrinsically unreliable resource by design. You won’t be able to 100% guarantee that you’ll have the capability to spawn in a Mongoose for that vital last minute rush on the enemy’s core unless you’ve paid cold hard cash for it.

Not getting the sniper rifle or Wraith you wanted exactly when you wanted it in the previous Halos wasn’t a big deal, as all the weapons and vehicles spawned into the map at once and were available on a first-come first-served basis. Missed out on getting a Banshee? No worries, just keep playing and it’ll respawn back in later. Conversely, Halo 5‘s REQ cards turn the process of getting into vehicles and getting power weapons into a random lucky-dip bag, unless you spend extra money. Why make a system that’s deliberately built to be unreliable in one area otherwise? If players can order up basic weapons at any point without requiring additional consumable cards (providing they meet the energy and time requirements) why can’t we do the same with the vehicles and power weapons?

It just feels completely unnecessary and tacky. In the Warzone match I played, vehicles and power weapons were already rationed out fairly to players with the energy cost and staggered time-based unlock requirements of the REQ system. These are more than adequate safeguards already in place to stop people abusing the system, and it simply looks like the REQ cards have simply been introduced to add another level of unnecessary complexity to the system, and a means of nickel-and-diming desperate players for extra cash. I’ll happily have my concerns proven overly-cynical, ill-founded and wrong – nay, fuck it, I’ll go one further and say I desperately hope I’m proven wrong – but until we get the finished thing in our hands, I’m definitely more than a bit worried.

Anyway, I’m just chuntering at this point, so I’ll climb off my soapbox for now and call it a day. Warzone is very cool, I had a lot fun with it, and I’m looking forward to vegging out playing more when Halo 5 drops at the end of the month. See you on the battlefield Spartan…or something like that, yeah? Oh, you’ve gone. Sadface.

Killer Instinct Season 3: Rash Beginner’s Guide

Rash Intro Pose
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There were myriad announcements to come out of Microsoft’s Gamescom conference last week, but  the one that put the biggest smile on my face was the official confirmation that Killer Instinct would indeed be getting a third season. I believe the exact words that came out of my angelic mouth were “Oh fuck yes!”, to be precise.

Officially announced as coming in March 2016, KI Season 3 will release in a fashion more closely following Season 1’s distribution model; rather than rolling out new fighters on a monthly basis, a selection of several characters will be available at launch, with a choice few extras released down the line as DLC.

Additionally, the other juicy nugget of info that dropped during the conference was that Season 3 will be featuring guest characters (presumably because there aren’t many original Killer Instinct characters left to draw upon at this point, let’s face it), one of which was revealed to be Rash from Battletoads – how todally awesome (sorry) is that? As a bit of an amphibian aperitif to next year’s third serving, Rash has been released right now to anyone who’s bought Rare Replay or those who have previously purchased content for Killer Instinct. Kowabun-oh wait, sorry, wrong franchise.

The addition of a giant anthropomorphic toadman into KI is an absolutely perfect first choice of guest character in my opinion. I know a lot of fighting game enthusiasts are generally very much against cross-pollination of their franchises, but come on! Look at him – this warty warrior could not be a better fit for Killer Instinct if he tried. Placed amongst a motley crew of cyborgs, werewolves, dinosaurs and ninjas, Rash surprisingly blends into the standard Killer Instinct character roster extremely well. If you didn’t know he’s actually from a 1991 NES game (and very likely about to star in an as yet unannounced Xbox One franchise reboot), Rash could quite easily pass off as one of the regular characters just because of how utterly ridiculous he is.

However, all this frog-based frivolity does come with a slight caveat; Rash is only temporarily available until the 8th September (presumably so he can go back to starring in that aforementioned potential Battletoads reboot in the meantime, isn’t that right Phil Spencer?). This means that although Rash will make a fully-fledged return when March rolls around next year, the KI community currently only has a month to get to jump aboard the Battletoads bandwagon and clamour over this new fighter’s command list like a writhing, sweaty knot of real life toads. Kinky.

So, in the interest of time, I decided to try something different with this guide. Unlike the more detailed guides I’ve previously put together for the Season 2 fighters, I thought I’d just give a quick whistle-stop tour of Rash’s whacky command list. Without further ado then, here are a few tips that should help separate the frogspawn from the tadpoles when it comes to playing Rash in Killer Instinct – let’s go!

Rekking Ball

Wrecking Ball

Goodness gracious, great balls of…oh, toad.

Miley Cyrus is a dab hand at wrangling with wrecking balls these days, and thankfully, so is Rash. However, while his twerking skills could probably benefit from some more practice, Rash’s ability to morph into a giant green wrecking ball certainly gives him a significant advantage over MTV’s favourite destruction machine jockey. Inputting Quarter-circle Back + Kick performs Wrecking Ball, which sends Rash hurtling towards his opponent as the aforementioned warty weight. What’s particularly useful about the move is that Wrecking Ball has one hit of armour, making it a great way of pressuring your opponent or getting around the stage quickly. It can also be used to create some useful cross-up opportunities when used in the air – just watch out for your opponent anticipating it and anti-airing if you spam the move over and over.

Tongue Twister

Rash Tongue

Poor Thunder – milliseconds away from the most traumatic ‘wet willy’ of his life.

Just as Miley has a penchant for constantly sticking out her tongue for the camera at pretty much every given opportunity, so too does Rash. Unlike Miley’s human tongue however, Rash’s tongue can be used to latch onto the environment and his enemies as an oral zip line. Handily, it also allows him to gobble up incoming enemy projectiles to add to his Shadow Meter. Known as Wicked Tongue, you throw out the tongue by hitting All Punches + Any Direction; this move can be performed whether you’re on the ground or in mid-air. In fact, it helps to think of it a bit like a one-shot version of Cinder’s Trailblazer move, only with a lot less fire and lot more saliva and a ridiculously long reach. If shot out in a direct line forward, Rash’s tongue will pretty much go the full length of the screen. If it makes contact with your opponent or a stage boundary, then it will latch on and reel you in to where the tongue hit. This means you can use Wicked Tongue from afar to suddenly get in close for close-up rushdown pressure, or if mid-way across the screen, launching Wicked Tongue to the screen wall behind Rash will let you zip to a safe distance with much greater speed and range to his standard backdash. The key to using Wicked Tongue is to be aware of just how close the camera is zoomed in to the action at all times. As you get closer to your opponent, the camera will zoom in with a tighter focus, and Wicked Tongue will carry you over a shorter distance. Wicked Tongue does have a slight start-up delay to account for as well, so make sure it’s safe to start licking the screen or you might just end up eating a knuckle sandwich instead.

Autopilot Pugilism

Battlemaniac Combo

Rash’s Battlemaniac combos are easy to pull off, but also easy to break – use them in moderation.

Hitting Light Punch or Light Kick repeatedly will make Rash perform a basic auto-combo – or as the game likes to more descriptively put it, a Battlemaniac Beat ‘Em Up Combo. I presume Miley Cyrus has the ability to do this as well, but I’m sadly not too hip with her fisticuff finesse. These Light auto-combos will also recapture an airborne opponent, which makes them very useful pressure and punishing tools in Rash’s arsenal. For example, when used after successfully connecting an anti-air attack, these auto-combos are a great way to transition from defensive to offensive tactics quickly and smoothly. The fourth hit in the combo will also automatically trigger a Shadow Linker (proving there’s enough Shadow Meter in the tank of course). Just bear in mind that these autos are very easy for your opponent to combo break if they work out you’re using them. For this reason, I’d suggest using the Battlemaniac combos rather sparingly in your attacks as a means of adding variety to your game plan, rather than leaning on them too heavily as your primary method of attack.

Baa Ram Ewe

Battering Ram

Rash has no qualms locking horns with Season 2’s deadliest fighters.

Like a select few members of the Killer Instinct cast, Rash can run (or ‘RUN!’ as the move is listed in his command list) by hitting Forward twice in quick succession. When running, hitting Heavy Punch will cancel RUN! into Battering Ram – this move makes Rash instantly grow a set of ram’s horns and lunge at his opponent…because videogames! As a side note, I can in fact confirm that Miley Cyrus also has the ability to run, but as to what button inputs are required to initiate the running action or make her grow ram’s horns, sadly I have no idea. Battering Ram (alternatively performed with Quarter-circle Back + Punch) can be extended into a full combo if successful on hit, making it a good rushdown tool. When executing a combo, it’s worth noting that Battering Ram and Shadow Battering Ram are Rash’s only linkers (aside from the Battlemaniac auto-combos), so you’ve really got to be on point with regularly varying the strength of your attacks to prevent being combo-broken.

Das Boot

Big Bad Boot

Ouch. Just ouch.

Of course, Rash’s famous Big Bad Boot smash hit move had to make the cross over to Killer Instinct. Performed with Quarter-circle Forward + Kick, Big Bad Boot makes Rash’s foot morph into a giant spiked boot. While I’m sure that Miley Cyrus owns a plethora of boots and other such fancy footware, I’m pretty confident that she doesn’t have the ability to spontaneously morph her feet to giant proportions…yet. Okay, back to Rash – Big Bad Boot functions as an excellent decent anti-air when used on its own, and as his Damage Ender when used in a combo. As the move isn’t linkable, it can feel a bit cumbersome to work Big Bad Boot into your combos at first, but with a bit of experimentation you can utilise it in some neat ways. One of my favourites is to whack my opponent straight up into the air by inputting the Heavy Kick version of the move, and then recapturing your plummeting combatant by repeatedly hitting Light Kick to launch into a Battlemaniac combo – give it a try, it’s really fun (not to mention painful).

Biker Toads From Mars

Speeder Bike

Rash always had trouble remembering the correct stopping distances.

Activating Rash’s Instinct mode, Turbo Tunnel, gives his body cool glowing wire model highlights. More importantly though, it also allows him to summon his trusty Speeder Bike into the fray as a rideable projectile attack. Unfortunately though, it looks like Rash took his Speeder Bike driving test at the same test centre as Mr. Toad from The Wind in the Willows, as he’s a pretty terrible driver. If Miley Cyrus does actually own a futuristic hoverbike of sorts, I’m pretty confident that she at least knows how to pilot it better than Rash anyway. Mechanically, the Speeder Bike functions in a similar manner to Orchid’s Instinct Firecat projectiles; they careen in from whichever side of the screen Rash is currently occupying. While they aren’t particularly fast, they do have some interesting properties to be aware of. Rash can jump on a passing bike by pressing Up as it trundles past, and slow it down once aboard by holding Back, which allows you to juke your opponent. Once the bike explodes or goes off-screen, hitting the Instinct input (Heavy Punch + Heavy Kick) again while Turbo Tunnel is still active will call in another one. Just be aware that there is a slight delay between the destruction of the old bike and the generation of a new one to prevent you just filling the screen with hovering traffic, so be ready to hold your opponent off in the post-explosion cooldown.

Rash in the Rain

B-b-b-bad to the bone. ‘Bad’ as in pretty damn cool, of course.

When Rash stomps back onto the KI scene next year, it’s very likely that his command list will have undergone some major changes, so pretty much all of this information will be irrelevant when Season 3 drops. Hopefully this very brief look at Rash’s repertoire has given you a few key pointers to help ribbeat up the competition in the meantime. Time to crank up the Battletoads’ pause music and get thumping…or, you know, Miley Cyrus’ back catalogue if that’s more your thing.

Beyond Flesh and Blood Pre-Alpha Demo – First Impressions

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 (Played on PC)

Cotton and guns – two things that Manchester is most famous for according to Alan Partridge. However, if Alan Partridge was a keen PC player with a penchant for mechanised brutality, then I’m sure he’d be quick to add a third notable item to that rather brief list – mechs.

That’s thanks to Beyond Flesh and Blood, an upcoming third person mech shooter by Pixel Bomb Games, which is set in a future post-apocalyptic version of Manchester. While not the first game to design a shooter that features a virtualised Manchester – that honour goes to Insomniac’s Resistance: Fall of Man – Pixel Bomb, themselves a Manchester based development studio, have taken it upon themselves to combine their home city with their love of giant mechs to create an exciting new shooter for PC, Xbox One and PS4. Forget Madchester; this is Mechester (sorry, I had to do it).

The story goes a little something like this. The year is 2281 – after a catastrophic global war, the remnants of society have split into two groups – on the one hand you’ve got the United Global Remnant who now live in a space station in Earth’s orbit, known as the Tree of Life, whilst on the other you’ve got a group of rogue scavengers who still skulk about on the planet’s surface. When a meteor containing some nasty extra-terrestrial creepy crawlies hits the planet, you’re sent in as a mech pilot to retake key strategic cities back under U.G.R. control. Any guesses as to which city you’re sent to?

I’ve been checking out the latest pre-Alpha demo of the game (Version 0.04) which gives the player the chance to pilot two powerful mech variants in two large crumbling outdoor combat arenas. Each level is essentially a Gears of War horde mode style map; you’re pitted against wave after wave of human rebels and necromorph-like alien assailants and you need to blast them away before they can destroy your mech. The two different mechs that you can use each in combat (or Tactical Combat Frames to give them their proper title) provide distinctly different weapons, modes and attacks to use on the mean streets of future Manchester; each suit offers its own distinct flavour and style to the combat.

Smash

The Mark 1 is your prototypical bread and butter big mech; a bulky yellow powerloader-like robot, complete with a shotgun, lasers, pulse bombs and missile salvos to destroy pretty much anything that happens to piss you off.

Mech Landing

The Prototype Suit on the other hand is a smaller armoured battle suit, something more akin to the MJOLNIR armour that the spartans in the Halo games wear. This suit offers some more physical attack options than the Alpha suit, such as a powerful ground pound move (speaking of Halo, it’s similar to the move of the same name in the Halo 5 Beta) which delightfully chunks any enemies caught in its blast radius. Lovely.

The two maps available in the demo, Albert Square and Beetham’s Folly (Deansgate), which are, of course, modelled after the real life Manchester locations. As a player who’s already familiar with the city, it’s a delightfully surreal experience to see familiar sights and buildings from the city now turned into beautiful The Last of Us style decrepit ruins, overgrown with both natural and alien fauna.

Town Hall

There’s something particularly cool about robo-rampaging around these Manchester locations that I’m sure present day Mancunian gamers will no doubt enjoy. Plus, it’s great to see areas of England in video games that aren’t just set down south in the capital for a change.

Tower

Anyway, let’s talk about the gameplay. An interesting tactical mechanic that the Pixel Bomb team have implemented into the game is that your mech can only operate in areas of the level that are within the signal range of the U.G.R’s control towers. Start to move out of bounds and your mech will gradually start to lose signal, which ultimately causes you to lose a life/mech if you keep going. At first, you’ll only control one tower and you’ll subsequently find that you can’t venture very far into the level at all. Whilst this can feel a bit frustrating and limiting initially, you can quickly expand the boundaries of your fighting space by hacking new towers, which then grants you more freedom to move around the level and blast, scorch and demolish foes to your heart’s content.

So, one of the first jobs you’ll want to do when starting a level is to get hacking away at the level’s towers in order to give yourself more room to manoeuvre before things properly kick off. However, in the later stages of a level, you’ll need to be keeping an eye out for enemies trying to take your towers offline in order to restrict your movements, which creates an exciting tug of war power struggle between you and your cannon fodder. In addition, you can also hack various gun turrets and missile batteries in the area to aid in your defensive efforts, as well as activate force fields to close off areas to the attacking human and alien hordes.

From my time with the demo, the human rebel AI is good, but they have a tendency to feel a bit like cannon fodder after a while without ever feeling like much of a serious threat in combat; they tend to either run straight at you and make themselves easy targets in the process, or skulk behind cover in fixed positions and wait for you to come and finish them off. On the other hand, the alien AI is very aggressive and very much a threat; they will often make a beeline straight for you once they spawn on the map, and they can quickly tear your mech to pieces in seconds if you’re not quick to blast them, so together a combination of two enemy types definitely keeps you on your mechanical toes so to speak.

You can pick up your fallen attackers’ weaponry from time to time, as well as environmental debris and items which provide a temporary change from your mech’s standard arsenal, although it’s not always clear or apparent just how to use whatever you’ve just acquired. I found picking up and using rebel assault rifles and shotguns to be easy and straightforward, but for some reason I couldn’t seem to be able to get my mech to throw the molotov cocktails once I’d scooped them up. My mech would just keep them clutched in its arm like it was a fine bottle of Chardonnay that it was saving to swig down later at a quieter moment. It was probably just me being an idiot and not doing something correctly or otherwise it’s something minor that will be fixed in the final game.

Speaking of things you can find on the battlefield, the thruster pack power up you are sometimes awarded with adds some extra abilities to your mech that permanently increase its manoeuvrability for the rest of the match. These include the ability to perform short dashes which allow you to quickly get out of the line of fire, to perform mid-air boosts which allow you to zoom across platform gaps and the ability to charge up your standard jump so that you can reach greater heights. It’s just a bit of a shame that the thruster pack is a separate power up that you have to acquire, and not something that is inherently built into your mech from the start; it makes navigating around each arena much more of a smooth and enjoyable process. It’s a small point, I know, but without the thruster pack, your mech feels like it’s just missing a crucial element when you fire up a new level and it’s not automatically equipped.

Laser

Now, time for a bit of a confession; I’m primarily a console player who doesn’t play an awful lot of shooters on the PC these days (heresy, I know), so I accept that I’m not exactly an expert on how a shooter should feel control-wise on a mouse and keyboard. In my opinion though, Pixel Bomb have taken what could have been an overly complicated and fiddly set of controls (yes, I’m looking at you Steel Battalion and your 40+ button controller) and assigned them to a control layout which largely feels simple to use – even for a PC noob like me.

With a bit of practice in the tutorial, I was soon stomping around, darting around corners and piloting my mech with ease. The weapon system felt a little strange with this setup at first, as the majority of your weapons are fired all by using the left mouse button in different ways, but I actually found that this actually makes things way more concise and simple in the fast-paced nature of the combat so that you’re not constantly scrolling through a weapon wheel every few seconds. Perhaps it’s just because I’m primarily a console player, but I have to say that there’s just definitely something undeniably cool about playing a mech game with a keyboard, as it gets across that tactile feeling that you’re directly manning the controls of the mech in a way that you don’t quite seem to get when using a controller.

Drones

Having said that, I personally found that some of the keyboard controls could feel a bit awkward and clunky at times. In particular, activating the slow motion precision aiming ability on the keyboard felt like quite a convoluted procedure – you have to click the right mouse button as you simultaneously tap left shift, but if you hold left shift for slightly too long then your mech will start to race forward as it’s also the run key. This makes things a bit awkward if you’re wanting to snipe at fast moving targets from afar without your mech lurching forwards at a crucial moment. For a skill that you need to consistently use in order to take out targets at range, it definitely took a while to get the correct timing down in order to aim accurately in slow motion. Admittedly, the game is designed to be played with an Xbox 360 controller first and foremost, which probably elevates this issue altogether, or like with the molotov cocktails, it might be just me being an idiot again.

Charge Attack

In contrast to the issues I had with the long range shooting, the game really nails the up-close and personal mech on flesh brawling with flying colours. Perhaps I’m a bit too bloodthirsty for my own good, but in my opinion one of the game’s greatest strengths is its heavy emphasis on guts and gore. While Manchester is often (unfairly) labelled as the rainy city in real life, in Beyond Flesh and Blood, it’s certainly raining an awful lot of blood at pretty much any time of day. The ease with which you can eviscerate the attacking rebel humans and curb stomp them into nothing more than greasy red Deansgate pavement stains feels disturbingly great. There’s a hefty sense of weight to your mech, particularly when using the Mark 1, and it’s a real rush (pun intended) being able to thud into a frail fleshy human at speed and pulverise them into great big bloody chunks with just a single click of the mouse.

Corpse

Alright, look, I might be a tad bit bloodthirsty, but the liberal use of gore and giblets gives the game this old school Unreal Tournament sort of feeling which works surprisingly well within the game’s more serious post-apocalyptic aesthetic. In particular, the various animations that your mech performs when dismembering some poor futuristic Mancunian soldier always made me chuckle (I’m definitely not a psychopath, I promise), and they imbue what would otherwise be cold and unflinching robots with a gleefully malicious attitude. Despite this, the high frequency with which these zoom-ins happen did start to get a bit irritating after a while, as they greatly slow down the action and pull you out of the experience a bit, particularly when they happen to trigger every couple of minutes.

Sunset

Perhaps one of the greatest concerns I had before even playing the demo was whether a third person camera view would best suit a mech shooter? For a genre which is typically associated with intricate first person cockpit immersions, the decision to go with a third person perspective felt an unusual design choice. From my experience of playing previous mech shooters such as Titanfall, which places a great deal of its emphasis on the simulation of climbing inside and piloting the giant Titan mechs, I was worried that the third person perspective of Beyond Flesh and Blood would lose something by eschewing the traditional cockpit view.

The game’s curved onscreen interface and futuristic heads-up display certainly help to create the impression that you’re inside the mech and directly piloting it first-hand. Although I personally feel that you somewhat miss out a bit from not having an internal cockpit view that gives a first person perspective of the action, the game goes a great way towards capturing that feel of piloting a robust heavy mech through the way its gameplay mechanics and the controls nicely intermesh with one other. You definitely get that great sensation of having all of the mech’s weight and power at your fingertips when playing; you feel like you’re controlling nothing short of a walking death machine on legs as you romp around the crumbling red brick ruins and pulsating alien hives of post-cataclysmic Manchester.

Additionally, the developers have stated that one of their main intentions with the game was to particularly focus on the “visual atmosphere…we’ve made one of the most enhancing features of the game its environments – using visually stunning playscapes to accelerate your experience.” Using a third person camera allows them to do exactly that, as well as show off the majestic mechs in all their shiny glory too – even though when you’re using the Mark 1 mech, it does take up roughly a third of your screen’s real estate. However, like I mentioned earlier, the area of the screen that you can see shows off some great set pieces and environments to fight in which look very promising even this early on in the game’s design.

So, all in all from what I’ve played so far in the pre-alpha demo though, From Beyond Flesh and Blood looks to be shaping up into being a fun mech shooter that’s full of promise, lasers, and pints and pints of blood.

I’ll be talking to the Pixel Bomb developers later this week at EGX Rezzed and also hopefully getting the chance to try out the latest Unreal 4 version of the demo which they are debuting there, so stay tuned for an upcoming interview piece and further written impressions in the near future. Until then, if you want to get in on the Manchester mech mayhem yourself, then simply download the demo to start eviscerating humans and aliens to your heart’s content. Just don’t forget to wear an apron – it’s bloody up north.

Killer Instinct Season 2: Omen First Impressions and Beginner’s Guide

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Omen, Get A Load Of This Guy

Iron Galaxy kicked off the new year in delightfully demonic style with the release of January’s Season 2 character, Omen, or as he likes to proclaim, the one and only Herald of Gargos. Ooooh, well get you, Mr. bluey-too-shoes.

A crackling blue shadowy man-bat beast with a horned mask, Omen is an ethereal manifestation of Jago’s evil tiger spirit (previously revealed to be the demon Gargos in Killer Instinct 2) who has outgrown and overpowered his host’s body. Essentially then, Omen’s a sort of nightmare parasite; he’s been incubating and feeding off Jago’s powers as the notoriously brutal Shadow Jago (who collectively beat the shit out of the Killer Instinct community as the hidden Season 1 boss), and now he’s powerful enough to take the fight to his enemies face to shadow face as the demon spirit Omen. Wonderful.

Shadow Tiger's Lair

Shadow Tiger’s Lair – Omen’s newly metalled-up digs.

After such a dramatic divergence and rebirth, it’s only fitting then that Omen inherits the Shadow Tiger’s Lair as his own personal stage; one which now comes complete with a twisted new shadowy theme to compliment its new owner. Thanks once again to the awesome audio talents of Mick Gordon, Shadow Tiger’s lair now has a really nice metalled up version of Jago’s theme, complete with some great death metal screaming replacing the traditional monk chants, chugging palm-muted downstrokes and overall, a faster, punchier and more aggressive feel to all aspects of the track.

A Monument To All Our Sins

Crouched Wings

I’m Batman…no not really, I’m Omen.

Designed as an exclusive mid-season bonus character for owners of the Ultra and Combo editions of Season 2, Omen brings some interesting new shadowy things to the battered and blood-soaked table of Killer Instinct.

In terms of his fighting style, Omen has some pretty interesting mechanics to learn. He has a kind of hybrid fighting style which draws predominantly from Jago and Shadow Jago’s movesets (as you might expect) but also incorporates some Glacius-style long ranged projectile attacks into his varied repertoire, not to mention a dash of Sabrewulf, a pinch of Thunder, a sprinkle of Sadira and Orchid in there as well – just like there is in most fine cuisine, come to think about it.

I think that this idea that the Omen spirit has been learning the characteristic moves, traits and behaviours of the Season 1 cast is a particularly awesome idea. It’s as though through all those countless controller-breaking moments of frustration when he was collectively battering the Killer Instinct community as Shadow Jago were real within in the unfolding story and lore of KI; our combined failures to thwart Shadow Jago were instrumental to the character’s evolution. This separate manifestation of the fiendishly evil spirit into his own unique form incorporating aspects from all the fighters he’s vanquished is a really neat concept; allowing Iron Galaxy to pay nods to the Double Helix Season 1 character cast in an inspired and creative way.

Splash The Rash

Rashakuken

Rashakukens; individually wrapped balls of pain. Kind of like Ferrero Rocher, only with less chocolate and more searing agony.

So, let’s get down to business and have a look at Omen’s command list. Again, just as a word of caution for anyone who’s new to my Killer Instinct character guides; I’m by no means an expert player, so I can’t offer in-depth frame-by-frame analysis or pro competition tips. I consider myself to be a friendly and enthusiastic member of the baby pool of Killer Instinct, so while I can’t tell you how to dominate at the top level, hopefully I can steer a fellow beginner/intermediate player wanting to learn Omen somewhat along the right path with some handy tips and observations about the character.

All of Omen’s special move inputs have a classic fireball/quarter-circle motion to them, and aesthetically speaking, they can be roughly divided into kick and projectile attacks. First up, let’s look at the Rashakuken, which as the name implies, is a borrowing from Jago’s repertoire, but one that’s been mutated with some unique shadowy twists.

The Rashakuken is Omen’s offensive projectile attack, which launches glowing blue energy orbs at your enemy in a similar style to Jago’s Endokukens. Performed with Quarter-circle Forward + Punch, the strength of the attack determines how many Rashakukens you throw out – Heavy sends three orbs flying, Medium two and Light projects out a single orb.

What’s interesting about the attack is that the Rashakuken projectiles that Omen throws out all have randomly generated properties. This means that unlike Jago’s Endokukens or Glacius’ Hail balls, Omen’s Rashakukens operate on a random luck-based algorithm, and can’t be predictably relied upon to operate identically when in battle.

This adds an interesting Russian roulette element of chance to his projectile combat. While most of these Rashakuken properties are normally incredibly useful – such as homing, spinning or crawling projectiles – bear in mind that you can occasionally get a dud one which will just embarrassingly plop onto the ground, and usually at the most inopportune moments too.

To keep you from just filling the screen with countless Rashakukens, you can’t perform any form of the move again until all the current projectiles have hit their target or have disappeared offscreen/timed out, so bear this in mind if you’re wanting to keep your opponent pressured from afar. There is a way around this however, but we’ll come to that shortly.

Shadow Rashakuken

Games of catch the Rashakuken always ended in tears and agonising third degree burns for some reason. Who’d have thought it?

The Shadow Rashakuken does operate more predictably than the standard version of the attack however; Omen launches a volley of three orbs which, after a brief pause to line up, hurtle directly toward your opponent one after the other. Used at the end of a combo, the Heavy Rashakuken acts as Omen’s Battery Ender. In fact, all of Omen’s Enders are Battery Enders plus another quality, but this one appears to be his primary method of gaining shadow meter.

Orda Shield

Omen tried his best to teach Jago how to conjure up orbs, but frankly it just went in one ear and right orda the other.

As a defensive mirror to the Rashakuken, Omen’s Orda Shield is an arcing projectile move which sees Omen swipe a blue energy orb in an overhead sweep. The onscreen motion of the move is nicely copied by the controls; Quarter-circle Back + Punch makes Omen curve an Orda orb though the air.

Naturally, the Orda Shield operates most effectively as a great anti-air/wakeup tool, but it can take a bit of time to learn the necessary timing and distance of the attack to make the orb consistently connect with your mid-air opponent at a variety of angles. The Heavy version of the move has the highest but slowest arc, Light is the lowest and fastest, and the arc of the Medium attack lies – would you have guessed it – in the middle of the two extremes.

Shadow Orda Shield

Using energy orbs as defence tactic? I say, that’s bang out of orda!

The shadow version of the move generates a set of three orbs which circle Omen in a defensive perimeter. These act as both a sort of temporary armour for Omen, and a means of inflicting extra damage and points to the combo meter once in the middle of a combo. Used at the end of a combo, the Heavy version of the Orda Shield acts as Omen’s Battery and Launcher Ender.

Kicking Above His Weight

Face Kick

Oooph! Furious foot to the face, that’s gotta hurt!

Okay, so those are Omen’s projectile-based special moves. Time to look at his crazy kick attacks.

First up, we’ve got the Furious Flurry. This move is a lightning fast (and no doubt painful) series of kicks to the body and face of your opponent. Performed with Quarter-circle Forward + Kick, the move can be used as a combo opener, combo linker, and the Heavy version used whilst in a combo acts as Omen’s Battery and Keepaway Ender.

Ranged Shadow Furious Flurry

Omen; owner of the fastest fireball-spewing feet in the East.

The Shadow Furious Flurry is interesting, as it unleashes a flurry of five Rashakuken projectiles which shoot across the screen at various unpredictable angles. Used up close as a combo opener or linker, it looks and functions just like any other shadow opener/linker but when used from a distance, the Shadow Furious Flurry gives you even more ranged options to play with. This is the method I was referring to earlier about being able to fire off more projectiles if you’ve still got some stray Rashakukens floating around onscreen and you need to keep up the projectile pressure on your opponent.

Demon Slide

The ref didn’t approve of Omen’s dirty tackling. Red card!

Of course, the major move that gave so many players grief when fighting Shadow Jago has transitioned to Omen’s moveset – the Demon Slide. This deadly forward slide move that devastated so many players in the hidden Season 1 boss fight can now finally be yours by pressing Quarter-circle Back + Kick. Just like the Shadow Jago move, the move swaps you to the other side of your opponent when it hits, regardless of whether the move is blocked or it connects. The Shadow Demon Slide hits five times in total, switching to your opponent’s other side on the final impact. Like the Furious Flurry, Demon Slide can be used as a combo Opener, Linker and whilst in a combo, as Omen’s Battery and Heavy Knockdown Ender with the Heavy version of the attack.

Winging It

Flying

Is it a bird? Is it a plane? No, it’s actually a nightmarish inner demon of a Tibetan warrior monk, to be quite precise.

With such a cool pair of batwings, it makes sense that Omen has some interesting airborne abilities at his disposal. While you can’t fly per se as Omen (and the awesome batwings only appear when he jumps…sadface), the heraldic messenger of Gargos does have a very floaty jump instead – this, as you can imagine, is great for crossups and combo openers. You can dash forwards and backwards in mid-air to give yourself more airborne manoeuvrability, and even give Sadira a run for her money with the ways you can toy with your opponent on the ground.

Shadow Form

Jago quickly regretted not bringing his night vision googles to the fight.

Speaking of manoeuvrability, pressing all three kick buttons with a bar of shadow meter allows Omen to briefly travel in any direction. Known as Shadow Form, this sneaky move is fantastic for setting up crossups, and it gives you some limited mix-up potential – it effectively functions similarly to Thunder’s Instinct dash, only you can shoot off at any angle you press the control stick/d-pad. Combine a pair of shadowy bat wings with the ability to travel in any direction momentarily, and you can really catch people off-guard time and time again – trust me.

You Cheeky Devil

Demonic Despair

Now you see Jago…

However, if you really want to catch your opponent off guard and get them really sweating, then it’s time to go all out for the Demonic Despair. You may have already noticed in these screenshots that Omen (aside the fact that he’s a cool shadowy demon…thing) is the first character in the Killer Instinct roster to have not one, not two, but a massive three-bar shadow meter. Pretty neat huh? As you might expect, there’s a very cool thing you can do with a full three-bar meter, and Demonic Despair is it.

When you’ve got a full three bars of shadow meter, and you’re close enough to your opponent to grab them, press Quarter-circle Forward + Light Punch + Light Kick. This is an absolutely brutal move in which Omen grabs his opponent, hoists them into the air and unleashes a brutal pillar of energy into their body, before chucking them away at full screen distance, all the while chuckling mercilessly. Though the attack itself doesn’t technically inflict any real damage to your opponent, their entire lifebar is instead converted into 100% potential damage; this means that you only need to start a combo and immediately end it in order to wipe out the entire lifebar.

Demonic Despair Energy

…now he’s parboiled in ethereal flame. Ouch.

However, in the immortal words of Uncle Ben (Peter Parker’s elderly uncle and incidentally also the microwaveable rice pioneer), with great power comes great…risks, not responsibility. This move requires all three shadow bars to pull off, whether the move connects or misses, and due to its long startup animation, it can be interrupted really easily, all your meter can be wiped before you’ve even started by a timely punch from your opponent. Much like with Fulgore’s ‘Hype Beam’, it’s probably not wise to base your entire winning strategy around building up all your meter for just one powerful but risky move. Instead, it’s best thought of as another option to bear in mind if you’re fully juiced up and a good opportunity to grab your opponent becomes available in the heat of battle.

Instinct

Activating Omen’s Instinct reveals a ghostly projection of his master, Gargos. Neat – scary, but definitely pretty neat.

Rounding out this written crash course to Omen’s special moves and abilities, we’ve got Omen’s Instinct mode, the ominously named Shadow Gathering. When activated, Omen will throw out one additional projectile per Rashakuken attack, and an extra two orbs for the Shadow Rashakuken and Shadow Orda Shield moves. What’s particularly interesting however is that whilst you’re in Instinct and a Rashakuken or an Orda orb hits your opponent, they will actually get locked out of one of their shadow meter bars for a couple of seconds; hit them with two or more and they’ll get locked out of both. In other words, you can prevent your opponent from doing any shadow attacks for a brief window of time; an opportunity to swing a losing battle back your way. Very useful stuff indeed.

Additionally, you can also lock opponents out of their shadow meter by successfully pulling off a round of Demons Loop – this is Omen’s combo trait, and it effectively operates as the inverse of Jago’s ‘Around the World’ trait. Whereas Around the World lets you string together Jago’s autodoubles as long as you keep a descending strength pattern of attacks going (from Heavy to Medium to Light), Omen’s Demon Loop lets you string together the blue demon’s autodoubles by hitting attack buttons in an ascending strength pattern (Light to Medium to Heavy). As with any character-specific pattern of autos like Demon Loop however, it’s best not to constantly use the same pattern for all of your combos, otherwise you’ll be continually wrenched out of combos by your opponent’s C-C-C-COMBO BREAKER…s.

Rash Bandicoot

Lockout

The visual definition of the word pain.

From my own personal experience playing Omen over the last couple of weeks, he definitely feels like a very fun and relatively easy to use character with plenty of options to his moveset that will suit players who like both rushdown and keepaway tactics.

In particular, I found that Omen’s Rashakuken projectiles are incredibly good at playing a ranged game with your opponent – they’re so good that he’s even great at pressuring long-distance punchers such as Glacius and Kan-ra. As a primary Glacius player myself, I can say from bitter experience that you can quickly find yourself getting battered by Omen’s projectiles from afar, and unless you’ve got a stock of shadow meter to do Shadow Hail, then you can rather humiliatingly find yourself getting beaten at your own long distance game.

While Omen’s projectiles are all random, and while he can often potentially throw out a dud or two, they can still cause a lot of pressure for your opponent. As long as you’re launching two or more at a time then you can quite comfortably sit back and shell your opponent from long range. Just remember that if you do like to play a keepaway ranged game with Omen, always be aware of the spacing between you and your opponent, and consider how much time you’ve got to fire off Rashakukens. While the Heavy Punch version of the move spits out three orbs at a time, remember that you can only perform another Rashakuken move once all three of your projectiles have hit your opponent or disappeared offscreen.

This means that if you throw out a bunch of duds, then you temporarily won’t be able to use the Rashakuken to keep your opponent at bay, and you may need to think about using your Orda shield or going on the offensive instead. Don’t forget that you can also fire off additional projectiles by performing a Shadow Furious Flurry if you’re desperately needing to launch another volley of orbs at short notice.

Shins

Sparks, shadows and no doubt some absolutely screaming shins.

The Light version of the Orda Shield is a fantastic recovery tool, as it’s invulnerable on startup, meaning that you can throw it out without having to worry about it being interrupted. Again, as when throwing our Rashakukens, just be aware of how fast your opponent can close the distance to you as the Orda Shield leaves you wide open for attack if you get the timing wrong.

The Demon Slide is a great tool for closing distances and starting combos, but just like Orchid’s slide, it’s pretty unsafe if blocked. The Light version is generally safe though short range, and whilst medium and heavy versions can connect from further out, they leave you wide open for a counterattack if correctly anticipated and blocked, so just keep in mind what strength you’re using, and how far out you’re planning to slide into your attack from. If you’re looking at anything from over half the screen away or more, then consider getting into the air and dashing into an overhead combo as an alternative way of covering distance and simultaneously opening a combo.

From my own time in ranked and exhibition matches, while I didn’t particularly come across any specifically difficult character matchups for Omen, the rushdown characters such as Sabrewulf, TJ Combo and Sadira could sometimes give me trouble when I tried to rely too much on spamming them with projectiles from afar and they’d manage to get in close. While I’d personally say Omen perhaps operates best with some distance between him and his opponent, don’t be afraid to rush in from the air as well as the ground to keep your opponent worried about you whether you’re up in the face or at distance.

Fireball Explosion

Light versus dark. Who wins? You decide!

The main thing I’d say to take away from all this noob-level advice that I’m spouting is just to have a bit of an experiment. See what works for you and what doesn’t. Omen has a lot of interesting mechanics at play in his design, and while perhaps not as balanced and well-rounded as Jago, the other character’s influences on Omen’s command list mean that he has several varied options of attack to choose from at all times. I tended to play him as a keepaway zoner, but perhaps that’s because I normally play as Glacius and it’s my normal modus operandi. Try pressuring from the air like Sadira using your winged swoops. Have a go at playing a close-up rushdown game like Sabrewulf with your kicks and slides. Keep things unpredictable with your Thunder-like Shadow Form. Experiment, have fun, and above all, keep things Omenous…sorry, had to do it.

Spiritual Successor

Omen Win Pose

The hottest jazz hands in the business.

So that’s my paltry beginner knowledge and insight into Omen; time for you to have a go at wrestling with your own inner blue parasitic demons. We’ve got the goliath golem Aganos to look forward to later this month, so enjoy swooping, kicking and Rashakukening about in the shadows for the time being and be ready to rock out with Aganos when he drops (like a stone, probably) later this month.

Killer Instinct Season 2 – Riptor First Impressions and Beginner’s Guide

Riptor - Fulgore's Stage Stare
Standard

‘Tis the season to be jolly…and also very much the season to rip the flesh off your opponents velociraptor-stylee. Say hello to Riptor, December’s Killer Instinct Season 2 character.

A returning fan favourite character from the original Killer Instinct with some creative new twists to her original design, Riptor, or to give her full title, the ‘Riptor Advanced Combat and Infiltration Unit’, is a cybernetically enhanced velociraptor. I’ll repeat that again in caps for coolness’ sake; RIPTOR IS A CYBERNETICALLY ENHANCED VELOCIRAPTOR. Fuck yes indeed.

Developed as a rival bio-military asset to Ultratech’s Terminator-like Fulgore units, Riptors are designed to be all-terrain infiltration attack units that are used to attack as frontline weapons in jungle environments – i.e. places where the more expensive and delicate Fulgore units don’t function as effectively. In other words, she’s fast, lethal and absolutely one hell of a clever girl.

Her personal stage, Hatchery 09, is a dark mountainous rocky path outside a presumably top-secret Ultratech facility. The dark purple hues of the stage create a lush yet sinister mood, complete with the flickering orange embers from the burning wreckage of a crashed aeroplane and bright yellow phosphorus trails from a salvo of missiles which rain down on the stage when an Ultra is performed.

Mick Gordon’s music on this stage has taken more of an orchestrated and cinematic turn, which is great – it’s full of bold brass and jagged string strikes, which sound like something that could be right out of Jurassic Park.

In my opinion though, this is the first musical track in the game that is just ever-so-slightly disappointing; due to my own unhealthy fascination with dinosaurs and the knowledge that Mick has a consistently impressive track record of producing some brutally heavy robo-themed metal beatdowns, I was champing at the proverbial bit for some epic new metal chugs ‘n’ dubstep wubs. After the djent-flavoured hypnotic brutality that was Kan-Ra’s theme, the more subtle orchestral treatment of Riptor’s theme feels a little anti-climactic – but nonetheless, it still sounds very cool.

So without further ado, let’s tear open Riptor’s command list and feast upon the juicy moves contained within.

Dino-might

Riptor - Riptor's Stage Roar

My, what big teeth you have Grandma Riptor…”All the better to beat you up with my dear…”

As you might expect from a terrifying robo-raptor, Riptor is primarily a rushdown character – she wants to get in close to snap, claw and tear away at her opponents with her claws, talons and teeth. She’s extremely fun to play; you get to hit a lot of button combos very fast and frequently in a similar fashion to Sabrewulf, and completely overwhelming your opponent with a flurry of claw slashes, bites, headbutts and tail whips feels incredibly satisfying. However, thanks to that lethal techno-tail of hers, as well as some other tricks up her scaly sleeves, Riptor also has some interesting ranged/keepaway options, as well as some context-specific projectile attacks, making her stand apart from previous rushdown fighters.

Incidentally, Riptor’s command list is almost entirely preserved from her original one back in 1994, so those players who mastered her control inputs in the original game will feel right at home here…as long as home feels like a fire-breathing 6’2″ muscly mass of teeth and claws.

Everybody Walk…ahem, Run the Dinosaur

Riptor - Riptor's Stage Running

Run Riptor, Run!

Okay, so let’s start with the basics. The first thing you’ll immediately notice when playing as Riptor is that you’re actually playing as a fucking dinosaur – neat huh? Once that monumental fact has sunk in, the next thing that you’ll notice pretty quickly is that Riptor is the only character (so far) who can run both forwards and backwards. That’s great news for you, and not so great news for your opponent – i.e. Riptor’s lunch.

Known as the Primal Run and the Survival Run, these two run manoeuvres offer up some special and command attack options; this is naturally a fantastic thing, as it allows you to get in close, slash/claw/maim/tear/disfigure your opponent for a bit before running backwards to get some breathing room when you need it. I found that the two most useful attacks to pull off when in Primal Run were hitting Heavy Punch to get Riptor to shoot out a jet of flame which is great for opening combos, whilst Heavy Kick makes her lash out her tail to tackle your opponent to the ground for a hard knockdown.

What’s fantastic about the backwards-moving Survival Run in particular is that it allows you to apply pressure to your opponent even when retreating. Just like with the Primal Run, pressing different attack buttons when running backwards allows you to quickly get an unanticipated strike in – particularly useful if you’re being pursued across the screen. Heavy Punch makes Riptor spit out a slow moving downward fireball projectile behind her, whilst Heavy Kick performs a whip-like tail attack to a pursuer which can launch them into the air, arcing over your head only to leave them sprawled out on the floor in front of you like some kind of prehistoric buffet. Time to turn up the heat.

Heavy (Flaming) Metal

Riptor - Fulgore's Stage Fire Breath

Flames are a girl’s best friend…or, well, something along those lines anyway.

Okay so running around the screen is cool and everything, but just what can Riptor do when she’s up close and in for the kill? Well, her Light and Medium Punch attacks aren’t particularly spectacular, but her Heavy Punch causes her to shoot out a stream of Flame Breath from her viciously sharp jaws. This can be used as a great combo opener on its own, from both standing and running positions, or defensively as an effective and quick way of creating space. You can hold the button down/press three times to get a five-hit opener which you can then cancel into a special move and keep the combo rolling.

On the more defensive side of things, pressing Back + Heavy Punch shoots flames upwards in an anti-air fashion, and pressing Down + Heavy Punch arcs Riptor’s flame jets towards the ground. Crucially, Flame Breath can be used to destroy incoming enemy projectiles as well, which can be great when faced with an endokuken-spamming jerk from across the screen…grr…

Riptor’s kick attacks are similar to her punches in the sense that whilst the Weak and Medium attacks are okay, it’s the Heavy Kick which felt the most useful to me. Known as the Tail Zip, this is a powerful tail swipe which has really good range, making it useful as a poking tool/opener which can then be cancelled into combo, as well as having the additional benefit of slightly reeling your enemy in closer to you, regardless of whether the attack hits or gets blocked. Additionally, Pressing Down + Heavy Kick makes Riptor go for a low Tail Zip, which is a good way of quickly getting a heavy knockdown.

Having said that, to get slightly technical for a second, Riptor’s close-range Medium Kick (actually, it’s a headbutt if we’re being picky, but what the heck) is also worth bearing in mind when you’re in very close proximity to your opponent, as it is +1 frame advantage on block; meaning that if you’re opponent blocks the attack, it actually works out in your favour timing-wise. In other words, you’ll recover one frame faster from performing the attack animation than it will take for your opponent to recover from performing their block animation. It might not sound like much of an advantage, but trust me it is; without getting too technical, any time that you’re in position where you have frame advantage, no matter how small the number of frames, it’s always a good thing, as it means you’ll be able to potentially recover attack faster than your opponent will. So if you’re up really close to your opponent, that close-range Medium Kick could be just the thing you need to get a combo going.

Both Riptor’s flame and tail-based attacks become enhanced whilst in her Instinct mode, as we shall see later on. Before we talk about that however, let’s have a look at Riptor’s third movement state if you will; the Predator Stance.

You Got Time to Duck?

Riptor - Maya's Stage Tail Stings

Riptor – prehistoric robo-revenant and amateur labotomist since 1994.

By pressing Left Trigger (All three Kick buttons) Riptor crouches close to the ground in what’s known as the Predator Stance. This is a special attack position which opens some additional ranged options to Riptor’s moveset – it’s great because it provides you some alternative longer distance openers and attacks to contrast with your standard rushdown attacks. One of my favourite moves from the stance is the brutal Tail Sting move; pressing Medium Punch whilst in Predator Stance makes Riptor stab forward with a trio of overhead Tail Stings, which can be great for catching out opponents who are tending to just block your low attacks.

You can make one move whilst in the Predator Stance before Riptor reverts back to her normal position, meaning that you can’t indefinitely attack or run in this ranged position for extensive periods at a time. As a result, you’ll want to carefully pick when you want to use it. From my experience, it’s best adopting the Predator Stance when you’ve got a bit of space between you and your opponent, or you risk getting battered in the time it takes Riptor to transition from stance to stance.

Handily, you can still walk forward (just not run) whilst in the Predator Stance, which makes it a fantastic way of dodging projectiles and gradually getting in close on characters like Glacius, Kan-Ra and keepaway Jagos who would prefer you to be trapped at the far side of the screen.

Knowing when to drop to the Predator Stance is a vital part of using Riptor effectively; in fact, some of her moves automatically transition to the Predator Stance upon block, so knowing how to operate from this deadly crouched position is a must. Before we get to that however, (don’t worry, we’ll bring all these tactics together at the end) let’s talk about those special moves that Riptor’s been hiding up those scaly reptilian sleeves of hers.

Roar Power

Riptor - Riptor's Stage Shadow Shoulder Charge

Shadow Jago – mere milliseconds away from the world’s most painful headbutt…

Looking broadly at Riptor’s special moves, they can be roughly divided into two groups. You’ve got three moves which fall firmly in rushdown territory; Shoulder Charge and Talon Rake and Clever Girl, whilst Tail Flip is slightly more of a ranged option, albeit one that’s slightly easier to punish if blocked. Naturally you’ll want to be playing Riptor in rushdown mode, but the Tail Flip and some of her Predator Stance moves can be used as great poking tools to pressure your opponent from further out.

Let’s start with the Shoulder Charge (the following control inputs assume that the player is on the left side of the screen). Performed by pressing Back – Forward + Punch, this move sends Riptor lunging forward for a brutal headbutt; It’s a good combo opener, linker and when used as an ender, the move acts as Riptor’s wall bounce combo concluder.

What’s interesting is that if the Shoulder Charge move is blocked, then Riptor automatically transitions to Predator Mode, allowing you to potentially get in a rapid-fire mix-up before your opponent reacts; it’s essentially a second chance to land an attack if your first fails. If they blocked your Shoulder Charge low, then quickly press Medium Punch for some eye-pokingly painful overhead Tail Stings. If they blocked high, press Light Punch for some low and nasty Shin Bites instead.

Riptor - Riptor's Stage Clever Girl

Riptor’s always up for a good game of catch the ninja.

Clever Girl is a ground bounce attack, which is a great mid-combo linker, a decent opener, and (you guessed it) Riptor’s launcher ender. Performed with Quarter-circle Back + Punch, Riptor violently head-butts her opponent into the air, before grabbing them in her jaws to slam them back onto the ground, allowing you to recapture your opponent and keep on pummelling if you’re mid combo, or launch them straight up if you’re using it as an ender.

Riptor - Riptor's Stage Shadow Tail Flip

BUNDLE!

The Tail Flip is an overhead forward-roll attack, performed with Quarter-circle Back + Kick, that functions as Riptor’s knockdown ender. In addition to its use as an ender, the Tail Flip is also good as a combo opener from range as the move is one of Riptor’s further reaching attacks. Be aware though that move has quite a significant number of recovery frames, meaning that if the Tail Flip misses or is blocked by your opponent, you’ll be vulnerable to a battering yourself.

Riptor - Riptor's Stage Talon Rake

You know, I really think those toenails could do with a bit of a trim…

The Talon Rake is Riptor’s damage ender – Riptor launches up at her opponent and, as the name suggests, claws at them with her viciously sharp talons. Useful as a combo opener, linker and a hard-hitting ender, the move is performed by pressing Left – Right + Kick.

What’s really cool is the fact that if the Talon Rake is blocked, in a similar manner to the way the Shoulder Charge operates, you have the chance to potentially get in a sneaky mix-up attack immediately after. If your opponent blocks the attack, you bounce backwards back in the air – in a similar fashion to the way Sadira bounces off her opponent when her Heavy Widow’s Bite is blocked. Whilst you’re still airborne, pressing one of the Punch buttons launches a fireball projectile down at your opponent, which is a great way of making the Talon Rake a tad more safe, and potentially catching your attacker off guard in the process.

Riptor - Maya's Stage Fireball

Maya didn’t take too kindly to Riptor’s post-curry breath.

Heavy Punch sends the fireball flying fast at a long angle, Light sends it down in a slow but acute angle and Medium is somewhere in between at a steadily-paced 45-degree angle.

Alternately, pressing one of the Kick buttons whilst in the air after a blocked Talon Rake makes Riptor perform a Tail Flip instead. Light Kick lands the Tail Flip in front of your opponent, whilst the Heavy Kick version sends the move over your opponent’s head to land on their far side. Possibly the most useful option is the Medium Kick version; depending on your timing, the Medium Kick Tail Flip acts as a mix-up which can land either in front of or behind your attacker, making it a perfect cross-up tool. It’s a really effective way of catching your opponent off guard, time and time again – trust me.

Riptor - Riptor's Stage Instinct

Forget road rage – this is Riptor rage. Way, WAY worse, trust me.

Last but not least is Riptor’s Instinct mode – Rage. Activating Rage makes Riptor run faster in both directions, and her fire and tail strike attacks have increased range. Her tail starts sparking electricity and has an increased attack range for all her flame-based attacks and tail strikes; the extended tail strikes look particularly cool as Riptor’s tail segments into separate sections which reveal more of her intricate robotic skeleton. When you’re in your Instinct mode, you can play Riptor at a slightly extended range, which is great if a keepaway/zoning character is managing to keep you at arm’s length and you need a way of fighting back, or you can ramp up the rushdown pressure to ridiculous levels due to your increased speed. Both methods work pretty damn well at turning a battle in your favour.

Dino Crisis

Riptor - Glacius' Stage Shadow Shoulder Charge

To quote the great Arnie, “What killed the dinosaurs? The Ice Age!”

I personally found Riptor to be quite a hard character to get to grips with. She has a mixture of rushdown-style Left-Right-Punch/Kick special moves, but also some which require Quarter-circle Forwards/Backwards + Punch/Kick inputs. She’s pretty much the only character to have these style inputs in the same command list, and for quite a while this really messed with my head. I’d find that in the flow of combat I’d often struggle to pull off the moves I’d intended, and as a result, the first couple of hours spent getting to grips with the rhythm of her fighting styles was frustrating and awkward; completely whiffing moves after successfully getting a combo opening or dropping combos before I could finish them (story of my life).

Riptor - Fulgore Uppercut

Ultratech’s internal side-by-side product comparisons were always pretty bloodthirsty affairs.

However, even when I’d somewhat managed to get my easily perplexed head around her controls, playing online matches with Riptor was still pretty tough. Although Riptor is very adaptable to the various combat challenges thrown down by each fighter, I found that I would struggle against Glacius and Fulgore players in particular. In fact, up against a skilled zoning character, I sometimes found it difficult to get in close and dish out pain – such is the plight of any rushdown player when faced with an expert zoner attacker I suppose, as your only option really is to try and get in close. When you do manage to get in close to your attacker however, you can apply pressure pretty relentlessly; going for hard knock downs with the Tail Zip and Tail Flip, setting up recovery traps with the Flame Carpet and punching out fast chains of Shoulder Charge, Clever Girl and Talon Rake.

A Goddamned Sexual Tyrannosaurus

Riptor - Maya's Stage Head Cock

Snarl for the camera.

The main piece of advice I’d give to fellow noob-level Riptor players (like me) is that you have to be prepared to adapt to your mistakes as fast as possible. Like with any aspect of Killer Instinct (and fighting games in general) you need to be constantly thinking several steps ahead if possible, anticipating both your own mistakes as well as your opponents. The further that you can mentally plan ahead, the better. This is especially true when playing Riptor. I found that as I gradually became more confident and familiar with her capabilities, a key thing I noticed about my most successful Riptor victories was that they were the ones in which I managed to consistently seize upon the opportunities to get in cheeky second chance mix-up attacks that resulted from my Shoulder Charge and Talon Rake attacks being blocked. Don’t be disheartened if your opener attempts are blocked; you can quickly seize control back with some Shin Bite or Tail Stings.

The triple Heavy Punch attack of Fire Breath is a great combo opener (it’s also a great aerial opener as well), and it was the most common way I’d find myself starting off my dino beatdowns, but beware your opponent cottoning onto it. It’s an easy to recognise set of Heavy Punch attack animations, so you’ll want to avoid solely using it as way of opening your combos, or you’ll most likely find yourself being combo-broken very quickly.

Riptor - Riptor's Stage Tail Zip

Riptor’s certainly a very tail-ented fighter…I’ll let myself out.

Whilst we’re still on the topic of flambéing-based fun, Riptor’s Flame Carpet is a great tool to use immediately after you’ve delivered a hard knockdown to your opponent – if you time it right, it means they have to instantly block upon recovery. Whilst they’re blocking, you can go for a low/overhead attack and hopefully start another combo off, or attempt to land a cross-up as they’re stuck in block or hitstun. However, once enemies are in really close range you won’t have time to roll out the Flame Carpet as it has quite a long start-up animation, so just go for the standard Flame Breath attacks instead.

Like I briefly mentioned earlier, the Predator Stance is awesome for adding some ranged poking tools and combo openers to Riptor’s arsenal, but it can be hard to integrate into your plans on the fly. I found that unless I was at least half or full screen away from a character, it was often too risky to try and manually drop to Predator Stance when in close quarters combat. Better to stick to her normal and special moves when up close and personal I reckon.

Riptor - Maya's Stage Grab

Looks like Maya did find her worthy prey after all…

I think my initial problem with Riptor may have been that I was trying to play her pretty much identically to the way I play Sabrewulf; relentlessly rushing my opponents and hoping to overwhelm them with a barrage of non-stop attacks. Whilst this certainly is a viable (and successful) strategy for Riptor, I’d say that she’s probably best when operating ever so slightly further out than Sabrewulf; you want to be close enough to pressurise effectively, yet with enough distance to leave all your options open. Riptor’s a clever girl, and success with her will depend on whether you’re as clever as she is at exploiting not only your enemies mistakes and stumbles, but your own.

Rip-roaring Raptor Ruckus

Riptor - Riptor's Stage Win Pose

Insert ridiculously loud Jurrassic Park T-Rex roar here – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n3ylBgdURzs

So there we go – Riptor is another fun, interesting and unique rushdown character that compliments the existing Season 2 line-up. That’s all the Killer Instinct Season 2 characters for this year, but according to the classic ‘post credits’ tease in Riptor’s launch trailer, it looks like in January we’re going to be reacquainted with the delights of Shadow Jago in some form – or, to give him his full title, the Herald of Gargos. Gulp. In the meantime, enjoy Riptor and have a rip(tor)-roaring Christmas.

Killer Instinct Season 2 – Kan-Ra First Impressions

KI - Kan-Ra Lab
Standard

Mummy-Mia!

Another month, another new Killer Instinct character to learn; it’s time to peel back the bandages on November’s fighting neonate, Kan-Ra.

Despite being teased by Iron Galaxy as #NotAMummy on Twitter, Kan-Ra is, ironically, exactly that; he’s a mummified age-old rotting Babylonian sorcerer. His decaying body is held together by his multitude of rotting bandages, which he uses as useful fighting appendages, naturally. His stage, the Forbidden Archives is pretty nifty too, featuring a special Stargate-like ‘death portal’, as dubbed by fans, which acts as the special stage ender/ultra.

He’s a bit like a long range zoning version of Thunder (with a generous pinch of Spinal and Glacius thrown in for good measure), only with bandages instead of tomahawks for weapons. Kan-Ra has been described by the Iron Galaxy developers to be the hardest character to use in Killer Instinct so far, and he certainly can feel very complicated when you first pick up the controls. I’ve been learning Kan-Ra’s command list via that most instructive of methods – being repeatedly punched in the face – so hopefully I can offer up some noob-level advice for those looking to get to grips with this ever-crumbling combatant.

Everyday I’m Grapplin’

KI - TJ Bandage Grab

GET OVER HE- oh wait, wrong game. My bad.

Described as a ‘trap-grappler’ by the Iron Galaxy developers, Kan-Ra is definitely a bit of a challenge to get to grips with. Kan-Ra’s normal attacks are generally underwhelming, he doesn’t cash out an awful lot of damage compared to other members of the cast, and you’ll have to work hard to set up and pull off even the most basic of combo chains. However, much like Season 1’s most complex character, Spinal, those players who take the time to master this sorcerer’s skills will be able to maniacally cackle along with Kan-Ra himself as you absolutely dominate your opponents from afar.

Kan-Ra is a long range zoning character who has the ability to quickly divide up the playing field into heavily defensive zones with his traps, making it a challenge for those characters who have to get in close (like TJ Combo and Sabrewulf) to deal damage. Ideally, you want to be playing Kan-Ra at the full screen distance away from your opponent, zoning your opponent and putting as many traps between you and them as possible.

Unlike a mix-up character such as the aforementioned Spinal or Fulgore, Kan-Ra has to overtly block off areas of the stage with various environmental and projectile traps. Yes, you’re still hoping to catch your opponent off guard in a similar fashion to a mix-up character by making them stumble unknowingly into your traps, but there’s less surprise involved here, as your strategy is always visually apparent on the stage. The idea is to force your opponent through your tightly woven nest of traps; to make the other player really anxious about their character’s placement and proximity to your devious deathtraps, and to bamboozle them into having to decide between blocking, attacking and trap dodging all at once.

What a Load of Old Trap

KI - Scorpion Tail

Scorpion sand stinger to the groin. Poor TJ, I’m wincing just thinking about it.

The most important ace you have tucked up those rotting sleeves of yours as Kan-Ra is probably the Sand Trap. By simply pressing Heavy Kick to perform a Sand Punt, Kan-Ra will kick out a cloud of sand directly in front of him as an attack, which also places a Sand Trap on the ground simultaneously; you can also get a Sand Trap by performing an anti-air Sand Geyser by pressing Down + Heavy Kick, or Heavy Kick in the air to perform a plummeting aerial Dune drop attack, similar to sultry spider queen Sadira’s Widow’s Drop move.

The Sand Traps can grant you access to special attacks and moves, whilst also operating as hazardous no-go obstacles for your opponent to avoid. These Sand Trap moves range from manoeuvrability boosts (you can conjure up giant sand hands to springboard you super far across the stage) to extensive projectile and zoning techniques; performing the Whirl move (Quarter-Circle Forward + Punch) whilst stood on a Sand Trap for example, will send a fast-moving hurricane projectile across the screen, which is particularly useful when you want something to hurl at your prey from long distance.

Additionally, you can use the Sand Traps to really put pressure on your opponent in other clever ways; a favourite move of mine is to conjure up a barbed scorpion tail from a nearby Sand Trap to sting my attacker (Down-Forward + Kick), which if it successfully makes contact, inflicts a ‘Curse of Weight’ on your opponent, temporarily slowing their movements. The Light Kick version is an upward-aimed anti-air sting, whilst Medium Kick jabs the stinger out in a horizontal fashion, allowing you to prod and poke to your heart’s content from a variety of angles. You can only have one Sand Trap out at a time however, so being accurate and flexible with its placement is key.

KI - Swarm

Kan-Ra’s Swarm attack – delightful. Need a breathmint?

The other major trap attacks that Kan-Ra has are the rather disgusting Swarms (Quarter-Circle Back + Kick). Kan-Ra can exhale these clouds of locust-like insects which act as air traps/static projectiles for your opponent to avoid. The shadow version of the move gives the Swarm the ability to slowly home in on your opponent, which is great at putting the pressure on your attacker and ideally forcing them to move into another position; preferably one where you’ve already laid down a Sand Trap in advance. Unlike the Sand Trap, you can have up to three Swarms out at a time, one for each strength of attack, so you can be a bit more liberal with your sandy fly vomiting.

KI - Spike Kan-Ra

If you two don’t stop prancing around in front of that death portal right now, then somebody’s going to get hurt…

The best tool in your mouldy arsenal for creating space between you and your opponent is the Spike special move (Quarter-Circle Forward + Kick); as the name suggests, it’s a big spiky ridge of sand that you can use to shunt your opponent around the map with. Each strength of the attack launches your opponent slightly differently; Heavy Kick sends them away from you, Medium launches them towards you and Light version launches them really close to you, ideally, into a previously placed Swarm projectile.

KI - Antlion

Sadly, Kan-Ra’s aerobics classes never really managed to take off.

Performing the Spike move will also drop a Sand Trap at your opponent’s feet, regardless of whether they have blocked the attack or not, meaning that you can quickly summon a scorpion sting or antlion bite right on the finishing spot after the move. What’s particularly great about the antlion attack is that if it is unblocked and successfully connects with your opponent, it will instantly pull you in from across the map and allow you to go straight into a combo. Once you’ve finished dealing out your damage up-close however, you ideally need to quickly scuttle back to the far side of the screen as you can quickly feel overwhelmed when caught in a close-quarters brawl, particularly when fighting against an angry and pissed off Sabrewulf.

KI - Sabrewulf Leash

Kan-Ra – keeping dogs on their leads since 520 B.C.

Rounding out Kan-Ra’s special attacks is the Clutch move (Quarter-Circle Back + Punch), a vital part of your Kan-Ra pugilist vocabulary. It’s Kan-Ra’s damage ender, so you’ll be wanting to use it a lot as he isn’t great at dealing out really heavy-hitting combos; played correctly, victory will come from a series of smaller but well executed combos instead.

Kan-ra throws out his tentacle-like bandages for an extended grapple move, which hoists your opponent high into the air before slamming them back down onto the floor. Each strength of the attack alters the angle of the grab; Heavy Punch performs a high anti-air grab, Medium Punch is at about a forty-five degree angle from the ground, and Light Punch goes straight out in front. The shadow version is particularly nasty looking, as Kan-Ra will repeatedly slam your opponent back and forth around the screen for a five-hit combo, which is both hilarious and brutal. You actually have to be fairly close to make a grab with this move, despite what you might think from the screenshots – if you’re any further away than about quarter of the screen from your opponent then the grab likely won’t connect.

KI - TJ Wrapped

Sorcerer, fighter and excellent gift-wrapper too.

Finally, Kan-Ra’s Instinct mode is called the suitably biblical sounding Curse of Drought, which upon activation, the description delightfully notes that Kan-Ra’s body begins to continually leak sand. Although that is neither a pleasant mental image, nor something that sounds like a particularly useful trait to have as an Instinct ability, it’s actually great news for the Kan-Ra player, as it means you can temporarily use all of your sand-based attacks, leaps and traps without first having to place down a Sand Trap.

Threadbare

KI - Dog Food

Dog Food.

So what’s the catch? Well, as you might expect with a hardcore zoning character, Kan-Ra really struggles when up-close and personal in fights. You can definitely cope whilst playing him at short ranges from your opponent, but it’ll be hard work, and without the versatility and heavier damage output that other ranged characters such as Glacius and Fulgore have, things will start to feel pretty desperate if you can’t keep your opponents at arm’s (or should that be bandage’s?) length.

Kan-Ra’s throw is a bit weak in comparison to the other characters’, and it doesn’t particularly give you much breathing room for a specialist zoning character either. However, by performing a throw, you give your opponent a stronger version of the scorpion stinger Curse of Weight, which will noticeably slow them down for a slightly longer period, giving you time to get in and keep attacking, or fall back to lay more Sand Traps and Swarms. Slowing down your attacker also makes their combos a lot easier to read, giving you a much greater chance of getting correct strength combo breakers.

Although you do have a sort of teleport-like ability, Sacrifice (triggered by pressing all three kick buttons whilst a Sand Trap is active), whereby Kan-Ra can disintegrate into a cloud of sand only to re-appear at your last Sand Trap, it’s not really fast enough to particularly get the drop on your opponent unless it happens to be really close by, plus, as the name suggests, the disintegrating explosion actually causes damage to you as well as your opponent, so it’s not something to repeatedly fall back on. It’s more of a last-ditch escape attempt you can use to escape a beating in a corner…again, most likely from a very angry Sabrewulf.

Fight Like an Egyptian

KI - Back Pain

On the other hand, Kan-Ra found great success as a chiropractor.

So, here’s a few things I’ve picked up on a very basic noob level that might be helpful to a struggling Kan-Ra player to let you kick some sand in your enemies’ faces…both literally and figuratively.

From my own experimenting, Kan-Ra’s Whirl attack is remarkably easy to get air recaptures with, allowing you to quickly keep pummelling an enemy who’s been flung into the air with a Spike launcher, or stuck on a mid-air Swarm. If you can get your opponent stuck in a corner, then alternating between the Whirl and Swarm attacks is a fairly safe way of keeping the pressure up and keeping them wedged up in that corner whilst you deliver a beatdown before retreating. Alternatively, with a bit of practice, you can use the Spike ender to launch them up and out of a corner and recapture them mid-air with a Swarm or hurricane to continue the pummelling in the opposite direction.

KI - Buzz Saw

Bandage buzz saw beatdown. Ouch, ouch, ouch.

A particularly useful command normal that Kan-Ra has is a nasty-looking spinning bandage buzz saw move which can be performed by pressing Back + Medium Punch. This is a great combo opener, and also when blocked it’s a good tactic for creating a tiny bit of space if your opponent is trying to get in close. Another great way of getting into a combo is to use Medium or Heavy Punch on their own for some long-ranged normal attacks which you can cancel into a combo linker, or Down + Medium Punch, which can be cancelled into a Spike linker to combo from a distance.

Just fooling around with him in Survival matches like this led me to pull off several 30-hit plus GODLIKE combos with ease, which felt great. Online however, things were much more difficult as expected. Playing against the teleporting characters Spinal and Fulgore can be very tricky indeed. You’ll constantly be fighting to create some space on the screen, only to have them just pop up right beside you and dodge any traps you’ve laid. However, with a bit of practice (and in my case, a great deal of luck), you can still usually deal out a fair bit of punishment if you’re observant, and your Swarm traps are very useful for absorbing any ranged projectiles they might send your way.

The Long and Short (Bandages) of It

KI - Kan-Ra Laughing

I think what makes Kan-Ra difficult to use for me personally is the fact that you’ve got to be aware of a lot of separate systems all at once whilst simultaneously trying to read your opponent. You have to be totally confident with his full set of moves, and know exactly what angles your attacks will and won’t reach, plus, when you have an opponent in mid-combo punishment, knowing which direction the combo ender will send them flying off to is vital if you want to recapture them. Whilst all this is going on, you want to be aware of where your Sand Traps are, and where your insect Swarms will best be placed, and trying your best to keep your attacker at the other end of the screen. Not only that, all the while you have to keep track of what your opponent’s doing, what strength combos and linkers they are prioritising, when to try and throw in a cheeky C-C-C-COUNTER BREAKER! etc. It’s a lot to mentally juggle, but if you can get to grips with Kan-Ra’s fiendish trap mechanisms, then you’ll find yourself being able to totally dominate the screen space and your opponent with fiendish glee.

If you’d like some noob-friendly advice and observations on the previously released Killer Instinct Season 2 characters, TJ Combo and Maya, then feel free to click on the highlighted links to get my two cents on the first two fighters. As the comedically audio-gore heavy Ultratech advertisement teaser at the end of Kan-Ra’s trailer ever so subtly reveals, the next character to be released is the fan favourite dinosaur, Riptor. Well, I’m going to have a quick lie down in this comfy looking sarcophagus for the time being, but I’ll be ready to go exploring Jurassic Park with the cyber dino of the moment next month.