When it was announced in 2018 that the team at Microsoft Studios, now known as Xbox Game Studios, had added developer Ninja Theory into their family, gamers were highly excited at the prospect of what was to come next. Would it be a brand new triple-A story-driven single-player adventure like Hellblade? Would it be a hack-and-slasher like DMC: Devil May Cry? Would it be a smaller, more intimate title that built on the mental health awareness foundations that Hellblade laid? The answer, of course, was none of these.
Instead Ninja Theory was going back to their roots, before Hellblade reinvented what Triple-I games could be and before DMC reinvented a beloved series with a unique twist, and before Heavenly Sword blurred cinematic and gameplay boundaries. Hell, they were going back further to before the company was even known as Ninja Theory. Yes, the real roots of their next project would be found way in the company’s past, with a little game called Kung Fu Chaos. Developed by Just Add Monsters, the original name of Ninja Theory, this was a 3D brawling matchup with unique characters and a meta tone; funded and distributed by Microsoft. It’s really kind of fitting that the first game Ninja Theory and Xbox Game Studios should release as a unit would be in many ways a modern take on that forgotten classic.
Yes, it’s pretty safe to say that few people were expecting Bleeding Edge from modern-day Ninja Theory. An over the top 4v4 hero slasher/shooter with MOBA elements thrown in, it is in many ways the opposite of the heavy, single-player, grounded, story-driven Hellblade. This lead to a wide variety of accusations from fans such as one theory that Microsoft forced Ninja Theory to only make multiplayer games (not true, it was in development before the acquisition was even an idea), or another that Ninja Theory had strayed too far from their comfort zone. However, now that the dust has settled, the game has spent almost a year in testing and the final product is in our hands, were these concerns valid? Did Ninja Theory pivot too much from what made their name? The answer, my friends, is a big, fat, candy-coated, bacon-wrapped no. While Bleeding Edge is in many ways the opposite of Hellblade, it is pretty much every bit as good!
Beginning with the gameplay, and this is where Bleeding Edge truly shines. Starting with levels, and as of the time of writing there are 5 maps, and each of them is a joy to play on. Each one is distinct, with unique map obstacles, different objective behaviours and unique environmental touches. Hands down my favourites are Skygarden and Boneyard, with the former being especially pleasing on the eyes with tight-level design, and the latter playing up the “fight-club” tone of the game to an insane degree. The other 3 maps – Aquaducts, Landslide and Jersey Sink – are also pure fun to play on. While comparisons will be made to Overwatch for these maps, they actually reminded me more of Splatoon’s maps, expertly tying together fun design with bigger open spaces.
Moving on to the characters: there is somebody for everyone. For example, Buttercup is an absolute beast in terms of damage dealt and taken but suffers in evasion and movement. In contrast, Daemon is a brilliant stealth unit with a number of useful evasion moves but can struggle to dish out a big hit or take one. Also, Nidhogg is an all-around type, whereas Gizmo kills it from a distance but struggles in close quarters combat. All 11 characters (soon to be 12) are incredibly well-balanced, and there is no real weak-link on a team.
Speaking of which, teamwork is dreamwork in Bleeding Edge, and can easily make the difference between a win and a loss. Each unit has a specific niche they fit beyond the three class types (healer, tank and damage), but none of them will win on their own against a team of 4. What is of the utmost importance is knowing what niche a team member fits and how to take full advantage of it. For example, Daemon’s talents are best suited for objective stealing, stealth kills/incapacitations and stealthy drops of power cells. Meanwhile, Zero Cool is a defensive healer who is best kept close to his team, but distant enough to make a real dent in the competition’s health.
Because of this, communication is key in Bleeding Edge, especially when you aren’t on the same page. Thankfully, the game utilizes a ping feature not dissimilar from the one found in Apex Legends, as well as text-speech options for those without a mic. Mics, of course, are accepted.
Continuing with gameplay and Bleeding Edge, as of writing, only has two modes: Objective Control and Power Collection. Both are similar and their names speak for themselves, but they are incredibly fun and rewarding to play. The only issue is that not everybody is playing the objectives. While this is not the fault of the game (the game is balanced more in favour of objective play and less in PVP), it would be nice to see a third team deathmatch mode added, as some players have yet to grasp the requirements objective play entails.
I’d also like to touch on the presentation of the game. Bleeding Edge looks great, with support for HDR and 4K. While it is nowhere near as jaw-droppingly realistic as some of Ninja Theory’s other works, it is a case of intentionally unrealistic art-direction perfectly executed. Even better is the soundtrack, which is stuffed with genuine headbangers. Seriously, if they release it for sale I will buy it, full stop.
Unfortunately there are some issues which have to be raised against Bleeding Edge, and the elephant in the room is lag. This may vary from player to player, and was definitely present in the technical alpha, but with each subsequent test and game it has become less and less of an issue until now where I have experienced only minimal lag in the final release. Still, it is worth addressing, as your mileage may vary.
All in all, Bleeding Edge on Xbox One is just pure fun. It’s a tight, fast thrill-ride that keeps me playing which, as someone who predominantly plays single-player, is not easy to do. While it certainly isn’t what some fans of Ninja Theory may be expecting, it is still a great first collaboration from what will likely be one of Xbox Game Studios’ finest teams. I sincerely hope fans and Ninja Theory stick with the game, as this has laid a solid foundation for what could be a new multiplayer juggernaut the way Sea of Thieves and Forza Horizon 4 have become.