For fans like myself, the second instalment in DICE and EA’s Mirror’s Edge franchise feels long overdue. By the time Mirror’s Edge Catalyst is released, it will have been more than seven and a half years since the first game hit the shelves, and that is a long time to wait. We were teased that Catalyst was in production almost three years ago too, making that period an even more difficult one to wait through. Thankfully, a lucky few of us have been granted access to a closed beta of the new game this weekend, offering us our first taste of the long-awaited new instalment. For those who didn’t manage to play for themselves, here are my first thoughts.
In terms of a timeline for Mirror’s Edge Catalyst and the original game, things are still ambiguous. Various suggestions have been made including this game being either a prequel or a reboot, showing the origins of our central character, Faith. The beta did not make it any clearer where on the timeline the events of the game will fall either, or even whether the two follow the same story at all. New characters support the story, with runners now being a much more common breed atop the high rise metropolis that is Glass City. If nothing else then, we have learned that this game will be bigger, much bigger, than the one that came before.
The size of the game is difficult to measure accurately against the first. Mirror’s Edge was a game set out into distinct levels, whereas Catalyst takes an open world approach to play. This new setup certainly compliments the free-running which is at the heart of the games, allowing you to take any number of different routes in order to traverse the city and finish a mission. You still cannot go down as far as ground level however, with the eerie experience of falling into darkness still being present should you lose your footing. The rooftops and even the interiors of certain buildings however are your new playground, and there is a lot to do within it.
Without giving too much about the game away, the story missions follow Faith getting back on her feet after being incarcerated for just over a year. It is implied that her arrest was due to an ongoing misunderstanding with shady villain Durgan, but the full details surrounding their relationship is yet to be revealed. Relying on old friends, Faith disregards the warnings of the authorities and immediately goes on into hiding. Knowing only one way to survive in Glass City, she quickly gets back into the runner business in the hope of squaring her debt with Durgan and continuing to help the people as her parents did before her.
The story is an exciting dystopian thriller filled with mystery. With only the first few missions playable at this stage, there are a lot of unanswered questions about both Faith’s past and the operations of the corporations who rule here. Glass City is set out into districts, which naturally aid the open world setup of the game. These districts are largely controlled by major corporations in a private war with one another behind the scenes, hiring the runners to steal from their competitors. Despite the dark background to the game’s story however, it maintains the gloriously bright facade which was distinctive in the original.
The first Mirror’s Edge game was unbelievably effective in its visuals, and was perhaps one of the most stunning graphical experiences of the previous console generation. The bright colours and impeccable lighting effects made the city glorious to behold, and nothing has changed in that respect. DICE have moved the engine of the game over to their renowned Frostbite 3 build, and this has only enhanced the detail of both the world and the characters within it. The feel of this setting is the same as before, but the scale and detail involved have both grown significantly.
The most important revelations to come out of the closed beta of course are the changes to the unique gameplay of the Mirror’s Edge series. In a game which focuses heavily on fast paced technical movement through the medium of free running, gameplay mechanics are unequivocally important. The new model draws heavily upon the experience of its predecessor, but some of the dynamic camera movement feels quite toned down. This is likely to attract more players who may have been put off by the issue of motion sickness that some experienced in the original game. Despite the visuals being slightly steadier however, the free running mechanics are as awe inspiring as ever.
Combat has seen some significant changes in Catalyst too, with Faith becoming much more adaptable in her abilities. You can no longer use weapons taken from enemies, but you are deadly in much cooler ways instead. Jump kicks, drop kicks and kicks off walls all feature in your skill set now, as do directional attacks and transitional moves designed to help you pass opponents rather than dispose of them. The combination of the core free running mechanics and the combat capabilities of Faith make for flowing and varied duels with each enemy you meet.
One new system in the game which is a little less suited to its style is the new progression system. Whilst some form of skill-earning element does fit the play style and give the player goals to reach, some of the talents on offer are, well, a bit silly. The abilities to roll out of a fall or turn 180° for example seem like odd ones to have to “learn”. Others are more fitting, like more advanced forms of combat for Faith to perform, but with such bizarrely simple skills on the tree the system seems a little forced.
The only other part of the game which I found difficult to bear was the control system. This was also an unattractive aspect of the previous game, with the buttons chosen to jump and slide whilst running and to engage in combat being pretty awkward. There are a couple of presets available in the new title, particularly on the console version of the game. None of these feel quite right however, and it might be more fruitful to allow players to customise their own bindings in order to give individuals the opportunity to decide what is most comfortable for them.
As a whole, I found the closed beta of Mirror’s Edge Catalyst highly enjoyable. I quickly completed all of the available content and found myself longing for the full experience, which bodes well for the quality of the game and its story. Despite having some key differences to its predecessor, the core mechanics have been maintained and the game certainly expands on what came before well. A more logical progression system and some tidied up controls would be nice but seemingly unlikely alterations before launch. Otherwise, the new Mirror’s Edge is definitely worth your time!