How do you follow on from a game like Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice? Well, maybe you… don’t. Ninja Theory’s last game was a raw, heartfelt and impactful journey, but we all know the difficulties creators have with their second album (not that Hellblade was Ninja Theory’s first, of course). So time for a change, then. Time for something completely, wildly different, with the studio now in the warm financially secure embrace of Microsoft’s Xbox Game Studios.
Yeah, Bleeding Edge is about as different as you can get.
The first thing that strikes you about the game is that Bleeding Edge’s visual identity is absolutely wild. You have a hulking Maori warrior with a ball for a stomach in his cyborg upper body, a samurai-inspired fighter with gas mask filters built into his mouth, a 120-year-old corpse reanimated by a robotic snake, and most recently, the half human, half robot ostrich assassin called Cass.
These designs are fantastic; they’re diverse, they’re distinctive and easily identifiable, and they’ve got a bit of humour to them. Cass doesn’t just have robo-ostrich legs, she cocks her head and moves like one; Buttercup rolls around on a giant wheel with sawblades for hands, or to go a bit faster, flips forward, throws her ass up in the air and rides around like a bike; Zero Cool is a Brazilian pro gamer that just floats around in his hoverchair.
It’s all brought together in up close 4v4 team combat, and it’ll be no surprise to anyone that a multiplayer game with hero characters has more than a few passing similarities to other hero battlers like Overwatch. I know that Overwatch distilled a lot of other games and gameplay ideas, but when you ‘Barge’ as Makutu, you feel like Reinhardt. Heal beam as Zero Cool, and it feels like you’re playing Mercy or the TF2 Medic, while Gizmo drops T-Rut turrets like Torbjorn.
Within the greater mix of each character’s abilities and style, they’re absolutely different creations, but I think it underlines the problem that new hero multiplayer games have, where such comparisons are inevitable.
Still, it manages to have its own identity. For one thing, you’re playing in third person and not first (though there are other hero shooters out there that do the same), and there feels to be an even greater focus on close-quarters melee combat. There are definite roles to slot into, with tanks, assassins, and supports, and you can customise each character by picking between alternate Supers, shifting your role one direction or another. Bastardo, for example, can either focus on himself and become Unbreakable for a short time, or can trigger his Life Support to deal constant damage to nearby enemies.
This is also an out and out brawler, which makes sense considering Ninja Theory’s pedigree of crafting some great hack and slash and action adventures over the last two generations. Some characters are ranged, typically the supports, but if you want to deal some real damage, you want to be getting up close and personal.
Fights can go on for quite a while with strong healing players, and so winning each little battle will often depend on either grinding out an attritional win or catching the supports out to deprive the other team’s tanks and assassins.
There are two modes in the game at the moment, Objective Control and Power Collection, and we got to check out the first of these. There, between one and three objective points are opened up on the map at any time, with points scored while you can capture and hold them for your team. Killing the other team also scores points, of course. It’s a clever mode that has elements of Control/Domination game types and King of the Hill. As the active points change, it shifts the fight around the map, drawing the teams to battle in a particular spot instead of getting spread out and isolated.
It also helps that the maps have different hazards to be aware of, such as train tracks running right through the middle of a control point, forcing you to keep an eye out for an incoming train or risk getting splattered and sent back to respawn at base.
Bleeding Edge is a huge change of pace from anything that Ninja Theory has made before, and it’s great to see the freedom that being a part of Xbox Game Studios has given the studio to continue to experiment and push their own boundaries. Bleeding Edge won’t have the same impact that Hellblade did, but it is sure to be a cornerstone multiplayer release on Xbox One and Game Pass when it launches in March next year.