Awash in a neon cyberpunk aesthetic and built around flexible third-person brawling, Bleeding Edge oozes style from every corner. This 4v4 objective-based action game wears its heart on its sleeve and isn’t shy about comparisons to Overwatch, but it tips its cap to Street Fighter just as often. After spending 30 hours with Bleeding Edge (across both betas and now the final release version), I adore its ferocious close-quarters battles and diverse lineup of characters. However, the erratic camera, insipid ranged combat, and a lack of encouragement for good team composition more than tested my patience.
Nothing piques my interest in a hero shooter quite like a colorful cast of characters, and the weird and often-loveable “fighters” of Bleeding Edge scratch that itch perfectly. There are 11 playable fighters currently, each filling either a tank, healer, or damage-dealer (DPS) role with their three special abilities, your choice of two charged super moves unique to that fighter, and lively personalities. They’re an eclectic mix, ranging from Maeve, an Irish grandma who has a habit of cackling at the death of her enemy, to Gizmo, the sassy Australian junk-tech with a fondness for building killer robots. I wanted to know everything about my favorites, so it’s a shame that background story details are startlingly sparse. The are brief character bios and a vague monologue in the opening cutscene about the cast forming an underground bloodsport, but that’s the long and the short of it.
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Bleeding Edge’s poster boy is Daemon, a graffiti artist DPS with a devotion to the blade, and he quickly rose above the rest in my eyes. He’s an absolute viper who’s able to dash in, slice some poor sod from stem to stern with his sword, then vanish before the rest of the enemy team knows what hit them. Setting the pizzazz aside, Daemon’s playstyle accentuates the fluid, third-person melee combat that makes Bleeding Edge stand out among its hero shooter peers.
Bleeding Edge referring to its cast as “fighters” is appropriate because combat sure feels like a traditional fighting game – just with eight combatants in the arena rather than two. If they catch you in a combo, use your sword to parry their follow-up, breaking their assault. Uppercut an opponent to the jaw and watch them fly backward into a wall. Falling flat on your butt is no big deal because a get-up attack will quickly put you back in the enemy’s face with force. I beamed from ear to ear at the symphony of chaotic thuds from all the bodies flying about during team fights. There’s even a training mode (a staple of fighting games) where you have free reign to experiment with a fighter’s toolkit on practice dummies. It’s mighty useful.
Bleeding Edge’s two game modes, objective control and power collection, lean more into the hero shooter side of things. In objective control, maps have three randomly chosen areas that you need to hold for longer than the enemy team to win. It’s a lot like the, well, control mode from Overwatch. Power Collection, though, is less derivative – like an ultra-violent game of football. Canisters sporadically spawn throughout the map, and it’s your job to crack them open, collect the power cells inside, and drop them off at touchdown points to score. If you’re killed while carrying power cells, they’ll fountain out of you like winnings from a slot machine, the spoils ripe for the taking. I prefer power collection to objective control, but both are excellent at bringing everyone together to trade blows.
In a particularly intense match, I realized just how deadly Daemon could be even with the deck stacked against him. Zero Cool, a Brazilian pro gamer with a healing touch, was doing a great job of keeping the opposite team alive during scuffles. His teammate, Nidhoggr, a black metal guitarist always looking to trade some licks for your life, was serving as a bodyguard for the healer. The pair were keeping watch at a capture point during a game of objective control, while I lurked in the shadows nearby, but Nidhoggr made the mistake of straying a bit too far from Zero Cool. I popped Daemon’s cloaking ability to turn invisible, sprinted in, and unleashed hell on poor old Zero Cool, carving off half of his health bar in the blink of an eye. Nidhoggr noticed me and bolted back, wildly swinging his axe guitar to and fro, but I dodged with a well-timed evade (a mechanic that lets you dash out of trouble). That’s when I activated Shadow Strike, Daemon’s ultimate, and the rapid series of strikes minced the injured Zero Cool into dust and shaved off most of Nidhoggr’s health, too. He tried to escape, but a couple of shurikens to the back took care of him.
Thrilling gladiatorial brawls such as this, unfortunately, come with a big caveat. Bleeding Edge is all about close-quarters combat, so it’s disappointing that the camera struggles to keep up with its lock-on mechanic. It’s incredibly disorientating when your target is bouncing around from one end of the arena to another, making the perspective frantically swing every which way. Worse yet, the camera often thought it was oh-so-important for me to see the inside of my character model while the entire enemy team wails on me in a corner. Of course, lock-on isn’t mandatory, but in my experience, most encounters are a chore without it. When I didn’t lock-on, all I did was fiddle about with the camera, trying to keep up with characters that can quickly zip around. It’s a lose-lose choice.
A Double-Edged Sword
Usually, healer characters are my jam, but playing as Zero Cool didn’t hold a candle to Daemon for me. In theory, Zero Cool should be perfect: he’s a ranged fighter, so he experiences none of the camera wonkiness from up-close fights. Unfortunately, he’s also the antithesis of everything fun and fresh about Bleeding Edge. Not once did I enjoy watching a battle unfold from afar, topping up allies with a cliche healing beam, occasionally chipping away at enemies with his pitifully weak pistol. He plays a bit too much like Mercy from Overwatch – specifically, the version of her after she was significantly nerfed.
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Zero Cool taught me that ranged combat isn’t fun in Bleeding Edge. Match momentum is about pushing forward, scraping by the skin of your teeth to secure an objective, and thrashing any fool that gets in the way. So while everyone else was doing just that, I was stuck observing it all from a medium distance. Close enough to heal, but not far enough away to employ any sort of interesting ranged tactics and too weak to effectively snipe. “They’re too far away!” Zero Cool constantly shouts at me, “I need to get closer.” That insistent barking serves as a reminder that ranged attacks straight up don’t register if you’re too far away. It’s an awkward middle ground, where you shouldn’t be in the thick of a fight, but you’re severely limited tactically at range. The distance seems to vary depending on which fighter you’re playing as, but all the same, Bleeding Edge is not a snipers’ paradise. There’s no nail-biting tension as you wait for the precise moment to pull off a headshot, just lock-on, and the auto-aim will do the rest. There was a tinge of irony to Zero Cool’s cries to get closer. I echoed the sentiment internally; not being in the thick of a fight as him was hideously dull.
Sadly, I had to adopt the healer role more often than I would’ve liked because Bleeding Edge commits the cardinal sin of not having a role queue. Role queues make sure you have a viable team composition by locking a player into a specific role, so if you chose the healing role before entering matchmaking, you must fulfill that role in the next match. If you’ve ever lost a match in the early days of Overwatch because no one on your team was willing to bite the bullet and play something other than a DPS character, you know why the exclusion of a role queue in Bleeding Edge is a massive bummer. Once the teams clash, whichever has the better role balance is likely to be the victor. I begrudgingly had to choose Zero Cool several times for no other reason than my team would get steamrolled by the opposition without that vital healing pillar of the holy trinity.
Living On The Edge
Being stuck in an undesirable role doesn’t mean you can’t tweak fighters more to your liking, though. Character customization is a lovely feather in Bleeding Edge’s cap that adds malleability to a fighter’s playstyle. Fiddling about with unique modifiers and doodads that add extra oomph to attacks is my jam, so the character customization available here sent me over the moon.
Carrot-on-a-stick progression systems in competitive games seldom hook me, but Bleeding Edge’s modification chips, which are unlocked by playing, are a different story. Each fighter has three augmentation slots for mods, which can grant either passive buffs like a health boost or ability enhancements like cooldown reduction. Think of the gem system in Diablo, only with a cyberpunk veneer. As a sucker for theorycrafting, I fell right into meticulously reshaping fighters to my liking.
My first diabolical concoction was Glass Daemon, a spectral burst-damage connoisseur. I threw away all physical defense mods, instead focusing my build entirely around Daemon’s Cloak ability. First, I installed Clippin’, a mod that reduces the cooldown of Cloak by 0.3s after each successful melee attack. Then came Ghostin’, which removes the time limit while cloaked. Finally, Trickin’ topped it all off with a nice 30% damage buff upon decloaking. The goal was to turn Daemon into a back-stabbing, slippery rogue, and it was oh so satisfyingly successful.
The match that followed completing this build was a laugh riot. Buttercup, a tough-as-nails biker lady with an unabashed southern drawl, was preventing my team from gaining a capture point. Being a tank, Buttercup is a tough match for a DPS like Daemon in 1v1 engagements, so a bit of cat-and-mouse would be necessary. I invisibly sculled about from a high rise, anxiously biding my time thanks to the Ghostin’ mod, before descending from the heavens with fury and knocking her to the ground at the opportune moment. She sprung back up, teeing off on me as if I owed her a gambling debt, and making sure I couldn’t just run away with her yank attack (similar to Roadhog in Overwatch). Buttercup was at about half health at this point, while I had one foot in the grave – but my Clippin’ mod meant I could already Cloak again, invisibly snagging a health pack before her, and the damage boost from Trickin’ let me slice and dice her into dust immediately afterward. Even managed to snag all the power cells she was carrying as a bonus. Were it not for my build’s proficiency at slippery assassinations, Buttercup may have been the victor rather than the vanquished, and I loved that I could see the effect of my mod decisions in action.
In the thick of a team fight, though, Glass Daemon’s skull frequently cracked on the concrete floor before leaving me face to face with a respawn screen. His base health is staggeringly low, no thanks to me removing default mods that increase HP. So squaring off against more than one opponent highlighted my build’s weaknesses. Thankfully, each character has three editable build templates that are swappable between deaths. When matches turned into all-out brawls, I made sure to have a less-squishy build at the ready.
Before my tinkering, Daemon was a brawler, but I wanted him to play like a ninja. There is significant potential for more wild builds, too, as every fighter in Bleeding Edge has a unique set of mods begging to be tailored to your liking. In one match, I met a Nidhoggr that specialized in chucking his guitar like a boomerang from hell. Typically, this attack is best for finishing off a fleeing opponent – it’s very situational. However, he was using it to deal significant damage from afar even if his opponents were at full health, and had mods installed to reduce its cooldown and amplify damage. That’s what I find so exciting about mods: they’re excellent tools of self-expression.