Bleeding Edge is the sort of game where you can tell that everyone working on it is having a creative blast. Every sound, animation, and detail oozes with charm, bolstered by superb execution, lavish polish, and a cohesive sense of identity that drenches it from head to toe. Nothing feels out of place from this central vision for the online multiplayer combat game, except for the fact it’s remarkable to see such a street-avant-garde-styled game coming out as an Xbox exclusive. There are no grim sneers or even all that many angry remarks between the playable characters. It’s a bouncing, exuberant experience that’s like if Splatoon, DmC: Devil May Cry, and Unreal Championship II all had a baby.
As of this writing, Bleeding Edge boasts an eclectic selection of 11 heroes to choose from: everything from a cyborg Maori bruiser and a mech-piloting Tank Girl wannabe to an occultist’s mind crammed inside his pet snake piloting his body and an elderly technomancer grandma. These are not your average playable characters, which makes their accessibility all the more impressive. Ranged fighters automatically lock on to targets, and melee combat boasts dodges and parries that can turn the tide of a duel in a snap. Every 4 vs. 4 battle is a tense test of skill rather than numbers, with even healers able to go on the offensive when needed.
As opposed to using traditional combo moves, every ability and attack is a single button press away. Maps are just as elegantly designed, constantly directing players back to the flow of combat with ease. Bleeding Edge is effortless to get started with, featuring one of the best tutorials I’ve seen for a game of this type, walking players through every objective type, mode, and even their heads-up display. While the two modes available in the beta are fairly familiar, they’ve got their own twists to compensate.
When capturing control points, a timer is always counting down that moves the target zone, sometimes activating multiple zones. Sometimes those zones might be rotating around the map through lethal lasers, or on the train tracks of two freight trains that’ll turn you to paste. Alternatively, when collecting batteries, you’ve got to scramble and gather them from across the map before the opposing team does, then stay alive long enough to drop them off at designated zones. Kill an opponent also carrying batteries, and they’ll pop like a piñata.
Each mode makes you weigh the risks and rewards of splitting up your small team, leading to all manner of team compositions and strategies. You can stick it out without a healer by grabbing health packs, but your team had better be coordinated. Tanking requires backup lest you be overwhelmed when on your own. Focus on mobility, and you’ll need to rely on the game’s hoverboards and platforming around the levels to evade damage dealers. A few characters have unique mobility abilities, like deploying a jump pad, but most will have to work with what the level offers. You can also further tweak characters via three mod slots between matches, unlocking new mods that alter abilities and character stats over time via a straight progression system.
Out of what’s on offer in Bleeding Edge, my only real complaints at the moment are the hoverboards and the character El Bastardo. Hoverboards are the game’s stand-in for a sprint function, yet they require a surprisingly long wind-up time. Their presence makes sense but often actually disrupts fights and pacing rather than aids it. If you could activate them while moving or if the transition were faster, it might match the smoothness of everything else.
By contrast, El Bastardo is simply too powerful at the moment. Like McCree in Overwatch’s beta, El Bastardo often takes two-to-three opponents to successfully eliminate, and that’s assuming he doesn’t have any friends to support him. When the game officially launches, I’ve little doubt he’ll become the first to be nerfed.
To be fair though, these blemishes are to be expected of a public beta. The frame rate didn’t skip a beat, matches were practically lag-free, and you can even fully rebind the controls in addition to having a suite of accessibility settings. The presentation is marvelous, with every menu spray-painted on and a constant flow of hip beats filling you with anticipation as you wait for your next match. Like its stylish heroes, everything is so gorgeously off the wall. Mechanically tight, ambitious as hell, and a world you just want to get lost in — what more could you want from a multiplayer game?
Bleeding Edge demonstrates not only Microsoft’s willingness to enliven its lineup of exclusives, but that Ninja Theory’s first official foray into multiplayer isn’t an amateur effort. Rahni Tucker and her team have produced something truly special. With such a solid foundation, the title has the potential for even greater growth down the road. I can’t wait for the full release on March 24, but until then, at least I can jam along to the game’s fantastic main theme.