Bleeding Edge Review
The new brawler is more style than substance
While traditional fighting games have enjoyed great popularity within certain corners of the gaming world, venturing out far enough will show that more straightforward genres, such as shooters, currently dominate the market. So while it's always a bit of a risk to make your game melee-based, the developers Ninja Theory, have opted to stick with their experience and create a fighting game, but one with a broader-than-usual appeal. Bleeding Edge is a multiplayer action game that focuses on clean design and streamlined mechanics in hopes of attracting fans from both sides of the aisle. While the nice presentation and lower price help, a few missteps bring it dangerously close to potentially going the way of other quickly forgotten titles that tried to enter the crowded genre, such as LawBreakers.
The story setup for the game is fairly thin, and doesn’t go beyond an introductory cutscene and some text character bios. In the distant future, it seems that human augmentation became available, and some folks got really into it by replacing their entire body parts for either function or just cool looks. Society at large didn't really think it was a good idea, so such people became mostly outcasts. However, they also found that they could entertain others by battling amongst each other, for whatever reason. This all lead to a seemingly spectator sport of having the augmented humans compete. It's all a bit thin and serves as barely enough background for the game's setting; while some maps feature a few rows of spectators, it seems largely like an afterthought.
Bleeding Edge is a 4vs4, third person, multiplayer brawler that focuses on melee, spread across two modes and multiple symmetrical maps. There is no solo component beyond a training area, which is also the only place you'll find bots, as they are not used in multiplayer matches. The maps are all fairly standard in design and usually just have one level of elevation above the ground. They are symmetrical, making them easy to learn and offer the same approach options for both teams. The developers try to spice things up by having a few moving components – one map features a large lethal train that drives across the center of the map occasionally, opening up a few gates temporarily. Another map has a floating objective point that constantly rotates around the circular map; elsewhere, players can trigger a ring of fire to damage anyone standing on the nearby objective. There are enough dynamic elements on the maps to prevent them from being entirely dull, though there's nothing exactly mind blowing about their designs.
All of the maps are used with the two game modes available - Objective Control and Power Collection. Objective Control is straightforward enough – there are three capture points on the map, and they randomly become active over the course of the match. The game changes up which of the three spots are available to be captured, moving the action across the map. Teams compete to try and hold these spots for as long as they can, while they are active, which earns points that lead to eventual victory.
Power Collection is a bit more tricky. In this mode, players first run around the map collecting power cells; once all are collected, they must be deposited at one of those same three locations, which again randomly become available. If you're killed while holding cells, the other team gets them. Further, during the deposit phase, it takes a few moments of standing still to drop off the cells, and you can be interrupted by an enemy attack, so strategy again comes into play. You must not only get as many cells as possible, but also deposit them within the available time frame.
Both modes can be fairly entertaining, and they are randomly selected when you play, as are the maps. In either scenario, the minimap is handy, as it shows which objectives/deposits are active, which will soon become active, where your teammates are, as well as any enemies. The map shows any enemies that are within line of sight of anyone on your team, which is handy for flanking maneuvers, or going to an uncontested objective.
While it's important to consider the nuances of each map and mode, the most important factor to success in Bleeding Edge is team composition. The 11 fighters available at launch fall into three categories: Damage, Support, and Tank. The Damage class is further split into melee and ranged-based fighters. Daemon and Nidhoggr are good for players who prefer the traditional hack and slash approach, with quickness combined with solid damage dealing up close and personal. A more advanced character is Cass who has a low health pool but high spike damage. Ranged fighters Gizmo and Maeve focus on staying on the outside of combat, peppering enemies with a ranged attack and spells. In the Support class, you've got a traditional ranged healer in Zero Cool, a fighting hybrid healer in Miko, and the more tricky effects-based ranged character Kulev. These characters have limited damage and low health pools, as you might expect. On the opposite spectrum are the Tanks, slower melee characters with lots of health, including Makutu and Buttercup, and the quicker El Bastardo.
It's very important to have a good variety of fighters that complement each other in order to succeed. The game flashes a notification each time your team lacks a Support hero, as that can make things difficult. It's equally hard though, even if you have a healer, when the rest of the team does not protect them. With just 4 players per side, individual skill matters quite a bit, but there's nothing more deadly than getting ganged up on, as you get decimated in seconds. The character health pools are enough to survive a few minutes in battle, especially with support, but retreats are often a valid option. Respawns take 15 seconds, and it takes some time to get back to objectives. Everyone does have a deployable hoverboard to help speed up the relatively slow character movements, but it takes a few moments to activate so you can't use it to run from battle; it's more useful to flank or go for distant objectives. In many ways, Bleeding Edge is similar to other titles of its ilk, or the likes of League of Legends, in that character positioning and movement are important, as even melee characters often have a ranged attack or two to finish you off if they can't chase you down. It's a tug of war, as you can see the enemy team grouping up before heading into the battle, unleashing all their attacks, and hoping to come out victorious.
Fighters have a basic attack that you can spam, and some varied basic abilities like passive health regeneration, or ability to double jump up walls. Everyone also has three Special attacks, on brief cooldowns. These are all unique to each character. Zero Cool has his healing beam, Daemon can briefly disappear, Gizmo can deploy turrets for harassment damage, and Buttercup can helpfully drag an enemy towards her. Lastly, each character also has a choice between two Super attacks to bring into battle, which have a very long cooldown and usually deal lots of damage. This can be Makutu making himself and nearby allies invulnerable, or Nidhoggr stunning all surrounding enemies. All of the characters seem pretty versatile when it comes to attacking, but some are definitely better than others at survival/escaping battle. The roster seems fairly balanced in that no character is overpowered; but some certainly seem more useful than others with their abilities.
Once you've got a character picked out, the moment to moment gameplay can be fairly engaging. It doesn't have an overwhelming amount of effects, so it's actually possible to tell exactly what is going on, unlike some other games of this nature. The third person camera perspective helps, too. Each effect or ability is identifiable, so you'll want to avoid damaging area-of-effect spells placed in an area, and dodge incoming special attacks. Melee based characters can chain together combos that can knock down others. To counter and get out of the way, you have the ability to doge one to three times, which has a cooldown. Still, some mechanics are a waste, such as the ability to parry; the game is far too chaotic for that, and you're almost never in a one vs one battle for that to be useful.
To add some longevity and a sense of progression to the game, players will level up their profile and each of the characters individually with XP earned from matches, as well as earn two types of currency. With each character level, you unlock new mods. Each character has three slots to equip a variety of mods - passive buffs that boost your attack and ability effectiveness by a certain percentage, whether it's a damage increase, a range buff, or cooldown length reduction. If you don't wish to wait, you can also purchase new mods directly based on what you think is most useful. Each character can also be visually customized with new skins, hoverboards, and emotes.
While Bleeding Edge is sound is in its design, the amount of content feels a bit lacking. The two modes are somewhat similar, and they use exactly the same maps, of which there are less than 10. The mod system is pretty straightforward, but the visual customization has literally just a couple of things to unlock for each hero. Perhaps to avoid players unlocking everything too quickly, the rate at which you earn XP and currency is very slow. After over 50 matches played, you'll only have enough money for a few mods and maybe one or two visual customizations for a single character. Part of the problem is a low overall reward, and the bonuses between winning and losing, having the most damage and so on are minimal. Support characters especially get shorted, as they usually get no kills, and the game doesn't reward anything beyond having the most healing points. Some balancing is certainly needed here.
The game also needs a few quality of life improvements. For instance, while players that leave in the middle of the match are replaced at decent speed, bots would be helpful to at least temporarily give the team some hope of a fair fight. At the end of matches, you only get 30 seconds to see the scoreboard, the experience/money you earned, play of the game, and highlights. This is not nearly enough time, and afterwards the game dumps you to the main menu anyway (instead of searching for next match). Last, but not least, the matchmaking is apparently not restricted to regions, so some players get lots of lag and teleporting in some matches, which for a melee game is a huge problem. Speaking of matchmaking, the battles seem to end in blowouts the majority of the time. From the above-mentioned 50+ matches played, only a handful were close; most are either big victories or big defeats.
Bleeding Edge is a nice looking game. Its slightly cell shaded style fits the futuristic aesthetic, combined with a colorful world palette. The mix of Sci-Fi and industrial settings, graffiti, and a lighthearted atmosphere help give the game an appealing setting. All of the fighters fit this setting and visual style, with the spraypaint wearing ninja, the large lady with sawblades, the electric guitar enthusiast, and so on. The animations are all well done, as are the visual effects for the combat. The soundtrack also fits very well, with a few nice compositions and smooth techno beats.
Bleeding Edge has a solid foundation. Its mechanics seem well thought out, no characters are overpowered, and the intense encounters where you can still see what's going on help appeal to a bigger audience. However, the lack of content and the missing quality of life features may bring about a swift end. A multiplayer game such as this lives and dies by the size of its community, and without much marketing, the developers seem to hope that being included for free on the Xbox Game Pass program may earn them some leeway. During the opening week, the game seems healthy enough, but it needs to iron out the issues rapidly, and add some more content for players in order to keep some momentum going.