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Stop us if you've heard this one before. So an undead rocker with a metallic snake for an arm, a fire- breathing ghoul who looks like that scarecrow thingy from Jeepers Creepers, and a grandma with boney talons walk into a bar... We'd tell you the punchline, but honestly, after a few rounds with Ninja Theory's chaotic arena brawler, our minds are mush.
Bleeding Edge is often that most dreaded of video game adjectives: 'zany'. Ugh. Virtual wackiness can be tolerable in small doses, but without solid gameplay foundations and restraint, titles that fall back on try- hard clownery can quickly grate. We went hands-on with this 4v4 MOBA- like customer recently, and right now, it's hard not to be concerned about Bleeding Edge's outright obsession with exhausting, scrappy spectacle.
Part of the problem is that there's just so damn much going on in any given match. With eight outrageous characters all hacking bits off each other as they vie to claim and control three capture zones, it can become hard to track what the hell is actually happening. Each of these expressively animated warriors is assigned a class before rounds – either assassin, support, or tank – and when you throw in a host of slashing melee moves and showy specials, it's easy for your tired eyes to become overwhelmed. It's all very well trying to hold point C, yet when one of your teammates is being trapped in a cage then incinerated by Maeve – or 'Granny Death' as she'll forever be known to us – it can be hard to keep your eye on the objective-holding prize.
The pace of Bleeding Edge's action also feels a little uneven at the moment. Sometimes plodding, sometimes blisteringly brutal, there's certainly a unique ebb and flow to the action if you're going in with a glass- half-full attitude. Why 'plodding'? Because none of the characters can actually break out into a full-on sprint. Instead, they have to occasionally rely on customisable hoverboards, which wisely, cannot be ridden constantly throughout matches.
At least the core skirmishes mostly hit the mark. From the outside looking in, a gifted storytelling studio like Ninja Theory taking on a brash third- person brawler seems an odd move, yet spend just a round or two with Bleeding Edge, and the developer's past history with scrap-happy titles shines through. While it may lack the precision and surgical style of DmC's juggling combos, fights often send characters into the air. There's even a tiny, deliberate pause between animation frames, reminiscent of the slight stutters in Dante's combat that give you that split-second's pause to assess your next pummelling move.
How varied the final game's selection of maps is may also prove crucial to Bleeding Edge's chances of nurturing a committed long-term community. Right now we've only played a single arena; an uninspired urban stage called Jersey Sink.
While the ability to use environmental traps is a cute touch – shunting an opponent into an oncoming train is an undeniable giggle – we hope the final roster of maps showcases more imagination than Jersey Sink's somewhat bland network of crisscrossing tunnels.
That Bleeding Edge is coming to Xbox Game Pass at least gives it a fighting chance to build up a following, because with Overwatch 2 on the horizon, this scrappy contender needs all the help it can get.