Team-based action games had their heyday a few years ago, when Battleborn and Overwatch tussled with more MOBA-influenced games like Paragon. But those have largely fallen off for battle royales and whatever the next hot setting for a shooter is. Bleeding Edge feels like it never got the memo.
Ninja Theory's first game as an Xbox Game Studio is a four-on-four arena combat game, where two sides vie for control of certain areas of the map while collecting power-ups, avoiding environmental hazards, and fighting the enemy team. It seems tailor-made to inspire esports commentary and analysis, with assigned roles like DPS, healer, and tank. It uses mechanics like "mounting up," where characters can hop on a vehicle to move faster after a short charge time, and lets you charge up an ultimate that can shift the tide of battle.
Bleeding Edge also feels like a game I've played many times before, and it didn't do anything for me that those games didn't. Jumping through the roster in the dojo, each character seemed overly familiar: The frail but deadly ninja, a support with a heal beam, and a tank who focused on area control were among the few that seemed just like any other.
I eventually settled on Gizmo, the punk-rock kid with gatling gun whose ultimate summoned a robotic teddy bear mech. Her kit was a mix of utility and escape mechanics, mostly to accent her gatling gun's gradual spin-up. The longer I held the trigger, the faster I could spit out damage, so it played to my advantage to keep foes at a distance.
While Gizmo was mostly about holding down the triggers, which was par for the course with other ranged characters I tried out, melee fighters get a combo out of mashing the X button. Each character brings their own special abilities and ultimate tailored to them, and some were pretty fun to use, like Nidhoggr's powerslide. Most of the heroes, on their own, are fairly interesting. While some have a Borderlands-esque level of "love it or hate it" loud aesthetic, it gives each fighter enough character to not only make them visually distinct on the battlefield, but in playstyle as well.
I lost interest as the match wore on, though. Big team fights in Bleeding Edge amount to a visual and aural cascade that's hard enough to dissect in the moment after just a few minutes with the game. I frequently felt like I didn't know what I was doing or who I was targeting, even when I was getting kills. Each character was individually interesting, but in concert they felt disorganized, when I wanted more clear synergy and interplay rather than eight disparate combatants flung into an arena.
The objectives have very little notification, and it felt like the game had trouble communicating to the player the best uses of their time. Often, the developers had to shepherd us from fight to fight, objective to objective, because the cues were never clear enough in what we should be doing.
Taken by themselves, each of these things were just little nitpicks. But as a whole, Bleeding Edge just felt like a game that already came out. The clear tie-ins for esports-style metagaming and commentary, using conventional terms like healer or DPS, and an odd mix of control point and deathmatch mixed in with a Battlefield-style ticker at the top just felt too mechanical, too routine.
There are parts of Bleeding Edge I enjoyed; even though I personally didn't like the look of some characters, I appreciate that they went for style and stuck to it. There are some cool ideas scattered about the various combatant's arsenals, and I'm naturally inclined to enjoy anything with some MOBA concepts.
But I walked away from my time with Bleeding Edge feeling neither excited nor disappointed. It was an ode to a genre that's basically owned by Overwatch now, without much new to offer. Maybe it's the right blend for someone else who hasn't played so many games in the same vein, but it didn't show me anything to make me feel like I should jump into another competitive hero arena brawler.
[Take a look at our E3 2019 coverage for more hands-on impressions, news, and rumors!]