Bleeding Edge

Platform(s): PC, Xbox One
Genre: Online Multiplayer
Developer: Ninja Theory
Release Date: March 24, 2020


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XOne/PC Preview - 'Bleeding Edge'

by Adam Pavlacka on March 6, 2020 @ 1:45 a.m. PST

Bleeding Edge offers a one-of-a-kind experience that fuses third-person action combat with competitive online team gaming.

Bleeding Edge is scheduled for release at the end of the month, and with the launch around the corner, Microsoft invited us to play a few rounds against other writers and some of the dev team. It was my first chance to go hands-on with this comic- and anime-inspired team-based shooter, but I held my own and learned a few things along the way.

In Bleeding Edge, the core gameplay is centered around two opposing teams of four. Characters fall into one of three categories: damage, support and tank. Within each category, the specific choices vary in ability and style, but keeping a balanced team is important. A team of four damage players will almost always lose to a team that has two damage, a support, and a tank player. Why? Because the three character types all support each other.

The damage characters generally have the best balance between power and speed, so they're good for grabbing objectives and skirmishing with the other team. Support is another word for healer in Bleeding Edge. These characters are on the weaker side of the fence, but what they lack in pure attack power, they make up for when used to heal damage and tank characters. In the match-ups that I played, the support characters were the ones that everyone wanted to kill. If you could take out the enemy support, your team had an automatic advantage for the time it took for that character to respawn and get back out onto the field.

Playing as a tank means you're slower than everyone else, but you generally have a lot of health and can hold off opposing players at an objective point. With a support player backing you up, a tank can take an impressive amount of damage.

These character types alone aren't that original, as you'll find similar in many games. What makes them work well in Bleeding Edge is a combination of their balance and the tuned controls. Even though I was a brand-new player, I never felt like I was fighting the game or wondering what I was supposed to do. Sure, I might have fired off the wrong attack once or twice, but the core gameplay just clicked. Movement was smooth and responsive, map objectives were clear, and combat often felt strategic.

Unlike many online multiplayer games, time-to-kill in Bleeding Edge is pretty long. No one is one-shotting anyone else. To take out an opponent, you need a fair bit of focus, or you need to team up. This means making a conscious choice about how and where to devote your team's resources. Does one player split off to capture an objective on the far side of the map, potentially leaving the rest of the team without a support player? Do you take out the opposing team's support, or do you focus on the character who is about to score a whole bunch of points at the objective?

You might notice I'm talking a lot about objectives here, and that's because objectives are the whole point of Bleeding Edge. This isn't a solo deathmatch shooter, and the game doesn't reward players who want to be a killing machine and ignore the match goals. Yes, there is plenty of killing in Bleeding Edge, but it's coordinated killing.

I mentioned "comic- and anime-inspired" earlier, and that aesthetic holds true for all of the characters in Bleeding Edge. Each has a distinct look, as if they were all pulled out of a different source, but there is still an overall coherency to it. Despite their differences, Bleeding Edge never looks or feels disjointed. It somehow manages to be familiar and new all at once, with characters that hint at familiarity but still surprise you during play.

Most of the characters are already known thanks to preview trailers and the closed beta earlier this year, but one character was new for our gameplay session: Mekko the dolphin.

Mekko is a dolphin in a water tank that is in a mech. The slowest of all the tank characters, Mekko has health-boosting powers and a nifty push super ability. When I first read about the push ability on-screen, I thought it sounded pretty basic, and then I saw it in action (I was the victim). We were in the middle of an intense firefight, another character was about to launch an area-of-effect attack, I dashed out of the way, and just before the bombs hit, the opposing Mekko slid on by and used the push ability to knock me into the center of the impending blast radius, where I promptly died.

Mekko's other super ability is a bubble that can be used to temporarily take an opponent out of the fight. When an opponent is trapped in the bubble, they cannot be killed, but they also cannot attack. In some ways, it is equivalent to an insta-kill, as the player inside the bubble might as well be waiting to respawn. The opposing team can destroy the bubble to free their teammate, so timely use is key. For example, if you can bubble the other team's healer, you can attack the damage and tank players without worrying about them getting health refills. If the opposing tank is about to score, bubble them right before the objective and deny them the points while you regroup and counterattack.

In addition to choosing your preferred super ability, you can further customize your character via mods. Each character comes with three mods by default. New ones can be unlocked by leveling up or by using in-game currency. For example, one of Mekko's default mods adds an extra 100HP to the health bar. A different mod increases the duration of Mekko's bubble by three seconds. After unlocking the bubble mod, you can swap it out by disabling an existing mod.

It'll be interesting to see how players mix and match mod combinations in the weeks after release, or if each character ends up with various mod builds that give your team a real edge.

One element of Bleeding Edge that I didn't get to see but did hear about is the Watch Zone. Every single match in Bleeding Edge is recorded and can be viewed in the Watch Zone. This is because the game record inputs (not video) and then plays them back. This means you can watch other matches in full quality — you're running the replay locally, not streaming the replays — and rewatch your own team matches to see how you could have done better. During Watch Zone replays, you'll have full control of the camera, so you can move around and view the match from any point of view.

I only played a handful of matches in Bleeding Edge, but I walked away with an appreciation for what Ninja Theory has put together. Bleeding Edge is surprisingly accessible, but it hints at a level of depth that is waiting to be discovered. The character designs are visually impressive and easy to identify on the field. The game's biggest challenge will be how it handles the onslaught of random LFG players. If Bleeding Edge can survive that test and remain fun when matching you with random people, it'll be a hit.

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