In 2018, Ninja Theory was acquired by Microsoft as part of the company’s Xbox Game Studios series of teams. Bleeding Edge is the studio’s first major release since then – a Hero Shooter with more slashing than shooting, and a unique aesthetic to boot. This was a daunting task, especially in a genre which has recently seen a lot of competition from many AAA studios. A strong outing, Bleeding Edge has memorable characters and high-octane gameplay, but is held back from greatness by a few issues which show it could have been left in the oven just a bit longer.
Bleeding Edge is available for purchase on the Microsoft Store for $29.99.
Story is not at the forefront of the Bleeding Edge experience. The game is set in a near future in which human augmentations are a reality. You play as a cast of rebels battling in underground tournaments, in an attempt to find those strong and talented enough to challenge the ruling totalitarian government. Their gang is the eponymous Bleeding Edge.
Each character has a short bio describing their motivations and backstory, and they can be heard quipping about their past and present at the start of matches. There is little other story content to be found in Bleeding Edge. The true meat of this game is in the gameplay.
Bleeding Edge was touted as the close-range alternative to popular Hero Shooters such as Blizzard’s Overwatch. The game features a total of 11 characters, with an additional twelfth on its way in the near future. These characters belong to three categories: Damage, Support, and Tank. The range of characters available in Bleeding Edge allows for well-rounded, balanced competitive matches, with each character representing a particular gameplay niche.
Daemon, a melee Damage character, allows for fast DPS gameplay, with integrated stealth abilities to catch his opponents unawares. Gizmo, a ranged character of the same type, is able to extend her area of operations by means of deployable turrets and abilities suited to crown control. Miko is a melee Support character with chain healing abilities, as well as support abilities to protect allies and slow enemies.
Kulev functions similarly, but deals ranged damaged and has more direct ‘boon and curse’ abilities, rather than environmental support powers. Buttercup, a melee Tank character, has a pull ability similar to that of Roadhog from Overwatch. She has a hefty health bar, and several area of effect abilities to compliment it. El Bastardo, another melee Tank, uses a more direct approach, with high health and damage output to topple anyone in his close vicinity.
Each character has two ultimate abilities which charge over the course of a match, with the player selecting one of the two to use in any given match. Additionally, each character can be upgraded with a series of three unlockable mods, drastically altering how each character functions for each player. Miko can be modified to have a more powerful Kinetic Shield ability to protect her teammates from ranged attacks. She can also be altered to inflict more damage than usual, with each of her attacks decreasing her ability cooldowns. This transforms her from a Support character into a kind of light Damage character with Support abilities.
Unlocking these mods gives players a reason to continue playing, developing their own play-styles with which to dominate the enemies they encounter. It’s an enjoyable system to mess around with, featuring lots of room for individual experimentation. In addition, players can unlock cosmetics to further customize their fighters. These include character skins, hoverboard skins, and unique emotes.
Bleeding Edge features 4v4 matches. Having four players on each team allows for interesting combo gameplay between characters. Some of the game’s five maps often feel too large for the small team sizes, however. When playing, I was often unable to reach my teammates before they were wiped out by the enemy and forced to respawn.
And that’s an important point, since success in Bleeding Edge is incredibly reliant on teamwork. Your chance of survival is slim at best if you are caught alone with even two enemies. Teams with even a bit of communication or cohesion will wipe the floor with teams whose members refuse to group up. In large maps with small team sizes, this issue presents itself often in the game’s online matchmaking. When it works, though, Bleeding Edge features fun and intense combat, with no character feeling underpowered in contrast with another.
Bleeding Edge currently has only two gameplay modes. One is a standard Control mode, with players on both teams vying to secure three points across the map to gather points and eventually win the match. The other is a called Power Collection, and features two rounds. In the Collection round, both teams scatter across the map, picking up Power Cells for the second round. In Round Two, both teams attempt to deposit their Cells into banks without being killed in the process. If you are defeated while holding Cells, enemies can collect and deposit them for the opposing team.
With only two modes to play at present, fatigue sets in very quickly while playing Bleeding Edge. During my time with the game, this was not helped by the fact that both modes revolve around occupying control points. As a result, Control and Collection feel incredibly similar despite their marked differences. Additionally, there is currently no way to choose which mode you would like to play. When matchmaking, players are simply thrown into one of the two available modes, regardless of which they might be more interested in. While playing, I also encountered many issues with lag and stuttering. The development team has said they are aware of these and will fix them the near future, but they are still a hindrance.
In terms of the combat itself, Bleeding Edge’s gameplay has a great feel to it. This is especially true when playing as one of its melee-oriented characters. Each hit feels solid, with nice weight behind them. In situations where all 8 players are in the same area, this can result in close, skin of the teeth battles. When both teams are in close proximity, Bleeding Edge is at its best. Planning is required for each encounter. Use up your stamina too early in a fight, and you will likely get caught up in an enemy’s combo attack. Mastering this combat and working with teammates feels rewarding in the best way.
In one match, my team and I had to attempt to hold two points at once. We split off into two groups, each capturing a single point, before realizing the other team was heading en mass for a single objective. Rejoining into a single group of two Support, a Tank, and a Damage character, we separated each member of the other team off from the group, picking them off one by one. We went on to win that match. It is these moments which make Bleeding Edge stand out as a remarkable enjoyable experience; such moments are sullied by the tens of other matches in which half my team went off solo, making it impossible for us to triumph.
Graphics and Audio
The design of Bleeding Edge’s characters exceeds not just in the gameplay department, but in that of visuals as well. As mentioned previously, each character comes with a backstory. Each character’s design mirrors these narratives wonderfully. Kulev, for instance, is a robotic snake with the personality and memories of a dead professor. He puppets around his rotting corpse in a failed attempt to remain conspicuous. El Bastardo is a tried and true Western stereotype with a fun, futuristic twist. Nidhögger is a black metal rock star whose weapon of choice, naturally, is a bladed electric guitar. These interesting and wacky designs help give Bleeding Edge players the impression of a world beyond the gameplay. The designs succeed wonderfully alongside great color grading and varied environments.
As for the audio, Bleeding Edge utilizes a unique blend of techno, R&B, and hip-hop music which fits the game’s theme of futuristic rebellion perfectly, and it sounds incredible. I’ve spent a good while on the title screen just listening to the idle music playing while writing this review. High-quality combat sound effects compliment these tracks beautifully. The game also has a functional call-out system, with each character’s lines unique to their personalities.