Stop me if you’ve heard this one before.
Bleeding Edge is a fast-paced and class-based multiplayer shooter set in the near future where two teams of colorfully-dressed and personality-rich guns for hire fight for control over a series of objectives. Winning matches earns you new gear for your character or choice and each match ends with a highlight reel showing the best play of the game.
With Overwatch 2 and Riot’s Valorant looming in the distance, Bleeding Edge is Ninja Theory’s attempt to offer a slightly different take on a very familiar formula. Unfortunately, in addition to its own smaller shortcomings, Bleeding Edge can’t decide what it wants to be in a big picture sense. It’s competent when it comes to covering the basics, but that's not enough.
For all its posturing, Bleeding Edge plays things too safe to keep up with the heavyweights.
The first rule of cybernetic fight club….
If you’re one of those unsatisfied with Blizzard's (vaguely-interconnecting-yet-consistently-unsatisfying) approach to storytelling in Overwatch, then let me get ahead of the curve on this one. The lore of Bleeding Edge somehow manages to be even more infuriating and barebones.
Set in a world where high-end body augmentation tech hits the black market, the game follows the cybernetically-empowered competitors of an underground fight club.
That’s basically it. Each of the playable characters in the game has a backstory that you can read about in the Dojo section of the main menu but there’s not much to be said about the lore of Bleeding Edge. It provides a loose justification for the action - but only if you don’t think about it too much.
As is often the case with these kinds of games, everything else is secondary to the moment -to-moment gameplay. And while Bleeding Edge is a 4v4 affair rather than 6v6, comparisons to games like Overwatch really do invite themselves.
Depending on who within the game’s (current) roster of eleven characters you choose, you’re either a tank, a healer or a damage dealer. Most characters offer a degree of utility that stretches them into more than one of the above categories. Nevertheless, when it comes to the broad strokes, the structure here doesn’t stray far from the expected.
Coming to things as someone who has sunk hundreds of hours into Blizzard’s class based shooter, there was a definite novelty in discovering what each character on the roster had to offer. Even if some of the mechanics or abilities involved here feel like they’ve been pulled from Overwatch, most of the characters don’t.
There are some recognisable archetypes here, but, credit where it’s due, Bleeding Edge mostly does a decent enough job of putting its own unique spin on things - even if some of the game’s characters border on parodical. Case in point: there’s a zombified voodoo doctor who has a literal snake for an arm. He rules.
The sound design and sense of tone here certainly helps. If the orchestral theme of Overwatch works overtime to invoke the accessible or universal heroism of Marvel’s Avengers, Bleeding Edge sweats EDM tunes, tacks on plenty of piercings and dyes its hair once a week. Whether that alternative aesthetic hits more than it misses it going to vary from person to person, but I will concede that it did help make the moment-to-moment gameplay of matches feel less like the game’s obvious competitor.
While Overwatch saw Blizzard jump genres, Bleeding Edge sees Ninja Theory stick to what they know. As a result, Bleeding Edge plays a lot like the kinds of character action games that the British studio are known for. Characters have combos, blocks and parries. There’s also a real weight to the meaty back-and-forth of melee combat here that you don’t necessarily find in games like Overwatch, Paladins or Apex Legends.
Unfortunately, the reality of Bleeding Edge’s diverse roster is a little bit let down by the fact that most of the characters in the game lack the ability to make high-impact plays.
Sure, if you fail to dodge an incoming area-of-effect attack, you’ll take a hit to your health. However, that burst damage is barely lethal. You pretty much always have the time to escape and recover. While a well-timed ultimate in Overwatch can make or break a match, they feel as forgettable as everything else in Bleeding Edge.
As a result, the most tactically-advantageous abilities in Bleeding Edge end up being the least exciting ones. Stuff that provide static bonuses like passive healing, lifesteal or chip damage. The meta here might change as new characters get introduced or existing ones get rebalanced but, right now, Bleeding Edge is a game where optimised attrition wins the day.
The only thing worse than winning slowly is losing slowly. Where every second counts in a game of Overwatch, Bleeding Edge feels bloated by comparison. Even in a match where you’re utterly dominating the enemy team, even individual skirmishes drag on way too long.
Likewise, where Overwatch has really worked to fine tune the varying senses of mobility that each character offers, Bleeding Edge feels clumsy and imprecise. You’re running around 3D environments and there’s a “mount” system that lets you get back to you teammates after respawning but this all feels very superfluous.
With select exceptions, most characters can’t jump over or climb obstacles and there’s little to be gained in learning the lay of the land. Like most of Bleeding Edge, the level design rarely ventures beyond the forgettable.
The Bottom Line
Ultimately, I can’t tell you whether Bleeding Edge is going to be the next big multiplayer game. Right out of the game, though, there’s not a whole lot of reasons to recommend it. It’s perfectly serviceable and aesthetically-distinct but, for the asking price involved, that’s probably not enough.
Jumping into Overwatch itself or one of the many other class-based shooters Bleeding Edge evokes is probably going to be a better use of your time and money. Yes, being on Xbox GamesPass might expose Bleeding Edge at launch to a wider audience than it would otherwise garner. However, that can’t make up for the fact that Ninja Theory can’t seem to decide whether they want to try and beat Blizzard at their own game or offer something different entirely. As someone playing less Overwatch than ever before, this inevitable discord was worth a look but I hard to recommend sticking around for.
Even as a fan of the genre and pedigree involved, Bleeding Edge rarely manages to be more than a curiosity and an experiment.Bleeding Edge is available now on PC and Xbox One.