Bleeding Edge was the game that I was most intrigued by during E3 2019. Lining up at the Xbox press event, I saw a team-based game with colourful characters and an interesting focus on melee combat.
Although I was only able to play one round of it, I was impressed by the snappy feeling and the various abilities that characters had. In many ways, it reminded me of Overwatch, a game that I have sunk hundreds of hours into and continue to play on a regular basis, but it also felt different enough to warrant existing. Fast forward to the game’s release and Bleeding Edge still has a fantastic sense of personality to it and some great ideas, but they’re unfortunately hampered by a frustrating gameplay loop and lack of meaningful options.
Right after you boot up the game, you’re greeted with a thumping, energy-filled techno track and a graffiti-laden menu screen. While there are a few various options to choose from, only one has to do with actually playing the game and that is Fight. Choosing Fight vaults you into one of two game modes, from a selection of five potential maps. The first mode is called Objective Control and as the name suggests, it involves gaining points by controlling various control zones. These zones shift every minute and you get one point per second for every command zone that you control at any given time. The match is played up to 600 and this allows for the possibilities of comebacks and tight matches.
The second is called Power Collection and involves facing off to collect power cells during a collection phase and dropping them off at checkpoints around the map after. It’s the more enjoyable game mode of the two, as it allows for more options than simply fighting your way to victory. I experienced a few games where my team lost almost every team fight but played the objective better, resulting in a win.
The maps all have their own visual flares and themes to them, with one of the standouts being Landslide, a Mexican based map featuring mini trains rolling around. Getting around the maps is easy thanks to the hover-board that every character possesses. The hover-boards are one of the best parts of Bleeding Edge and they can be activated at any time during a match, as long as you don’t take damage. Gliding around the map while controlling one of the fantastic looking fighters is a great feeling, and accentuates the game’s unique sense of style.
The character roster features five damage characters, three tanks and three supports, and they all have unique abilities and styles to them. From the twin sword-wielding El Bastardo, and hover-board healer ZeroCool, to the paint covered Ninja Daemon, and floating old witch Mave, there’s a lot to like about the fighters in Bleeding Edge. My personal favourite is Nidhöggr, a guitar-wielding cyborg who bobs and weaves to the in-game music. He’s simply fun to move around with and one of his ultimate abilities involves stunning nearby enemies with a guitar solo.
Speaking of which, every fighter in Bleeding Edge has two ultimate abilities to choose from, which allows you to cater a hero more towards your specific play-style. ZeroCool, for example, is a healer who gets to choose from 1 UP, an ability that allows him to come back to life and be invulnerable for seven seconds after dying, and Upgrade Protection, which temporarily increases armour for nearby allies. It’s a neat option to have, and one that theoretically allows for a more customized experience. The customization doesn’t stop there, as each fighter has a litany of mods that can be unlocked and equipped. These include mods that lessen ability cool-downs by three seconds, to ones that increase base health by 100hp.
Unfortunately, these abilities rarely get a chance to shine thanks to Bleeding Edge’s combo-centric combat. With only four players on each team, it’s easy to find yourself facing off against two or more players at a time and this all but always leads to losing control of your character and getting stunned to death. There are evade commands, and a parry system but when you’re facing off against more than one opposing player they are all but useless. It doesn’t help that respawns take 15 seconds, and staggering players one at a time often leads to extremely lopsided matches. This frustration often leads players to leave the game, and in my experience, people were quitting at least once every other match. The thing is that when you’re the team is on the giving end of the beatdowns it feels good, and using the various characters’ unique abilities is satisfying and enjoyable, but it’s so demoralizing to be on the other side that it ruins most of Bleeding Edge’s allure.
In addition to the in-game chat, there’s a coms wheel that features commands for grouping up, retreating, asking for help, and communicating your ultimate charge. There’s also aim based target callouts available on the scroll wheel, which do well to clearly single out an enemy character for attack. Unfortunately, even with two well-coordinated teams, the gameplay loop still descends into isolation focused stun-offs. The combat feels good one one one, but adding more character to it makes it chaotic and confounding.
The lack of any other game mode other than Fight and Training makes the frustrating combat all the more pronounced and there simply isn’t enough consistent fun to be had in the game at this point. It’s worth noting that Bleeding Edge is not a full-priced game, retailing at $39.99 CAD and it’s available free to Xbox Game pass Ultimate users. Still, the core gameplay loop is frustrating enough to overpower the many interesting ideas and stylish characters that make up the game. While it’s possible that the stun focused combat gets tweaked in future updates, for now, it’s enough to sour the entire experience.