There’s no easing into making a competitive game in 2020. Already inundated with games like Overwatch, Rainbow Six Siege, the battle royales, the MOBAs, and the auto chesses, players have plenty of choices, so if you want to present an alternative, it had better be ready for prime time. Bleeding Edge, the new third-person competitive brawler from DmC developer Ninja Theory, doesn’t feel like it’s there yet. There’s plenty of potential: Its four-on-four scrums blend the mashy feeling of an old school beat-em-up with the tactical considerations of MOBAs and hero shooters, setting it apart from anything you’re going to find in popular competitive scenes. However, it suffers from “early days” growing pains that may push players away, rather than draw them in.
Bleeding Edge is a self-described competitive multiplayer “brawler,” but what does that actually mean? Depending on your point of reference, you could call it a “boots on the ground-style MOBA” or a “third-person hero shooter.” It’s an action game where two teams of four fight within the narrative framework of competing in one of two team sports–a King of the Hill-style “Objective Control” scenario and “Power Collection,” a resource-hoarding mode where players need to break energy canisters and return their contents to designated points at specific times. Though the two variants have their quirks, both boil down to dynamic point control. Whether you’re delivering energy or protecting your “hills,” you need to defend a position. If you’re trying to block your enemy from scoring in either mode, you need to take a position.
Both of these things require all four players to work as a team. Though some fighters are better suited for one-on-one combat than others, moving and fighting as a squad is mandatory because the team with larger numbers almost always wins, regardless of skill. Inevitably, each match becomes a series of teamfights for control of an area. In the moment, these battles can feel a bit mashy and sloppy as you rapidly jam on the attack button, but there’s a good deal of strategy involved around creating favorable matchups, combining skills to maximize damage dealt and minimize damage taken, and positioning yourself to avoid wide-reaching crowd control attacks. On top of that, all of the levels present some kind of environmental hazard around one or more of the key points on the map, which can throw a wrench in the gears of the most pivotal moments in a match.