Fun character designs and some long-term promise aren’t enough to offset a bare-bones launch and unfulfilling combat.
This review of Bleeding Edge is based on the Xbox One version. It’s also available on PC.
Bleeding Edge, developed by a modest team at Ninja Theory and released for free on Xbox One and PC Game Pass for reasons that’ll become clear, has a simple enough premise. It takes the outlandish character designs and team-based hero gameplay of Overwatch and tries to marry them to the fast-paced melee combat of games like Devil May Cry – Rahni Tucker, the combat designer of Ninja Theory’s own efforts in that franchise, DmC: Devil May Cry, was instrumental in getting Bleeding Edge off the ground in the four-ish years it has taken to do so. The (un)finished product is an unholy union that might have worked had there been a full suite of modes and features to take advantage of it, but there isn’t – and the combat is mostly rubbish anyway.
It brings me no pleasure to say this since I like the underlying idea quite a bit, and some of the designs of the eleven heroes available out of the gate, which includes front-line damage-dealers, giant damage-soaking tanks, and sneaky support medics, are really excellent. One can’t help but wish that some of their more unique abilities and playstyles had room to breathe in the messy 4v4 brawls that, regardless of which of the two game modes are randomly selected when a match starts, quickly descend into artless and often laggy battles over a single objective.
Yes, you read that right – only two game modes, a basic objective-control and another in which you have to collect power cells and deliver them to drop-off points that are, for all intents and purposes, not entirely dissimilar from the objectives you attempt to control in the other mode. The outcome is always the same, anyway; a gang of damage-dealers and tanks slapping each other in a big pile because nobody wants to play support – or indeed the objective. One of my favorite moments so far is listening to a player scream and complain wildly every time he ran into the opposing team and didn’t have any back-up because they were wisely dropping off power cells: “Where are y’all? Why aren’t you fighting?” Unfortunately, this was also the only match I’ve had in which this guy was the exception and not the rule.
See, Bleeding Edge’s combat mechanics are very shallow: It has third-person auto-targeting, one attack, which is a basic combo for melee fighters and a constant stream of projectiles for a ranged character, three specials governed by cooldowns, and a super move you pick from a choice of two before the match starts. One-on-one combat is strongly de-emphasised, since even the specific damage-dealing heroes don’t pack enough of a punch to reliably take down a single target (unless they’re lucky enough to corner a healer), so success comes down to team composition and teamwork, which is a concept most players haven’t grasped yet.
This is partly the fault of the players, who, at least in my experience, rarely use voice communication or the ping, and seem too eager to wade in and swing at everyone rather than focusing on healers or chasing down enemies attempting to escape with low health – despite the game’s advice. But it’s also the fault of Bleeding Edge itself; the combat is light and devoid of feedback, and often plagued by lag, so it’s difficult to have a real sense of what’s a winnable fight and what isn’t. This is a confusion I’ve experienced myself and see in other players all the time, as they blunder in and spam their abilities until they’re forced to retreat when it all goes wrong. The parry mechanic is useful but difficult to pull off in the elaborate pyrotechnics, and the evade is governed by a stingy stamina pool. The general squishiness of the support characters is probably why people don’t gravitate towards them – they can’t stay alive long enough in the chaos to actually support anyone.
Still, this hasn’t stopped me running Zero Cool as my main and doing my damnedest to play the objective, top up the tanks, put up walls and make clever escapes. Spend some time with a hero and mess with the mods in the Workshop and you can tweak their playstyle to something that suits you better, but the power of an individual character is limited by design and there’s only so much you can do on your own. Get a team of like-minded players together and there’s probably some fun to be had here, especially if Ninja Theory pad things out with new characters, maps and modes. But I’m not sure what they might do about the combat, which far from being on the bleeding edge seems to have missed the point.
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