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"Bleeding Edge": Right Game for the Wrong Time?

Roberts has been a games enthusiast since 1997, a reviewer since 2009 and a cynic since 2014. He mains - and has - Zero Cool.

If you want blood....

No matter how much fun I have with developer Ninja Theory's Bleeding Edge I can't shake the myriad of questions I have surrounding its release, design and generally its place within the industry. Bleeding Edge is hardly unique: it's obviously inspired by Overwatch and its once main competitor Paladins: Champions of the Realm; its gameplay is akin to Apex Legends; and somewhere one can easily draw comparisons to the 2011 Splash Damage game Brink, among many other forgotten shooters that tried to up the ante beyond what Unreal Tournament and Call of Duty had nailed down. Technically this game shouldn't exist: it was announced in 2019 at E3 as the first game to be published under the developer's acquisition by Microsoft; and following that there was little gameplay to be seen. It was simply forgotten like a lot of its post-Overwatch ilk such as Battleborn, Lawbreakers and Gigantic, and even now it's struggling to stand out in reviews as anything more than being late to the party.

Bleeding Edge is in a strange place - it exists in an industry where hero shooters and MOBAs (Multiplayer Online Battle Arena) were previously thought done to death, and it couldn't have faired much better when Monday Night Combat was trying to capitalise on the resurgence in Team Fortress 2 popularity. It also has the unenviable task of committing to a release date (that it didn't need to) during the Corona virus crisis, and having to compete for attention when many online games are already vying for attention with freebies and reduced prices. Bleeding Edge released for £24.99 on Steam and Xbox, and my initial experience didn't do much to change my impression on multiplayer in general: these games need to be free-to-start.

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Bleeding Edge is a 4 versus 4 arena game where players take control of a variety of characters that, like most of its kind, don't really seem to be part of the same universe. They all look, feel and sound good in their own right, but beyond having rustic augmentations their only reason for existing is "cyberpunk". And I suppose it gets the punk part right: what is punk if not anarchy and incoherent design?Though I must still praise the characters and how the tech brings out each of their concepts. Kulev is a cybernetic snake coiled around the decaying body of a colleague, Buttercup's implants allow her to drive after a near fatal accident took away her lower motor functions, Cass' father gave her the ultimate ballet dancing form and Nidhogg (I'm not using all the characters that name has) can finally feel in tune with the heavy metal he so loves. It's one of the few games that celebrates the good from a cyberpunk universe rather than either merely hinting at it or showing how bad a late-consumerist/corporatist world it is, without the energy to see it through like the tabletop roleplaying game (T)TRPG) the genre is named after.

The zaniness blended with the incoherence becomes a problem for anyone trying to get into the game, as the game mechanics are almost completely seperate from the characters. Not even characters of the same "class" such as damage, support or tanks can boast to have the same playstyles, meaning one has to either learn all the characters and master none, or master only a single character whether or not the match you're in requires that sort of playstyle. To say the game encourages hero swapping, something that's loved and hated in equal parts in the genre's community, Bleeding Edge makes it very difficult to do so. What little training it can offer in its Dojo mode doesn't help as much as real world testing, latency and all. If you can't find a character you like in such a small roster you're done for.

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Not helping is the inevitability of victory or defeat. Thanks to a whopping 10GB patch on March 30th, many latency and matchmaking improvements have been made to try and put premade groups together, and keep the solo queues to each other. Whether the game uses skill-based matchmaking system (which never works, according to players who think they're better than they actually are) or not is at this time unknown.

But still you can either be put with a team that, despite trying their hardest or going against unspoken etiqutte, you either win hard or lose hard. In the cases where we are winning I'm focussing on the enemy team, and I find that even when they're chasing objectives or sticking together, they are divided and conquered in combat. The team play is a requirement, team being the operative word over group, and people are going to feel ripped off paying 25 quid if they don't manage to grasp this extremely early on. This makes the necessity for a Ranked mode all the greater, even though the player count is noticeably low when one sees how often they fight the same people.

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....you got it

Had it not been for Xbox Game Pass I never would've known how good this game - and others in Microsoft's large library - was, paying for my first month a single British Pound Sterling. Its progression (because what multiplayer game can go without a progression system?) is painfully slow and reminds me of the horror that was Warhammer 40,000: Carnage Champions when its pay-to-win economy was eventually stripped out for the Steam version with a price tag. Alas, there's not enough here to sail comfortably on the F2P seas with little customisation and even less in the way of retaining players.

Bleeding Edge is not deserving of its name and I doubt it ever will be, but I believe the developers are earnest - if woefully misguided - in their intentions. Their hallmarks are present and their ideas are solid but they entered the market at the wrong time. There's many cautionary tales to learn from this. I just hope we don't have to learn them soon.