Note: I totally forgot to take screenshots while the beta was still available to me, so unfortunately I have none to post here 🙁
Last weekend, I was selected as one of the players for the Mirror’s Edge Catalyst Beta. As someone who enjoyed the original Mirror’s Edge, I was excited to give it a shot and I’m here now to share some of my impressions of it.
The story of the Mirror’s Edge franchise bears a sort of spiritual resemblance to Valve’s Portal series (and I’m not the first to make this comparison). Released in 2008, only a year after Portal, Mirror’s Edge was certainly larger and more ambitious than Portal. However, they both stood apart as experimental titles meant to diversify and disrupt the first-person game playing field. Both games picked up dedicated followings, who proceeded to pine for sequels. Portal‘s fans (namely, just about anyone who’s ever picked up the game) had their prayers answered fairly soon after with 2011’s excellent sequel: Portal 2. Fans of Mirror’s Edge, however, have been waiting a bit longer. Nonetheless, where Portal 2 doubled down on it’s strengths and delivered a bigger, improved game, Mirror’s Edge appears poised to do something similar.
While it’s been a long time since I played the precursor, Mirror’s Edge, I remember it fondly as an unconventional first person action game with a sleek minimalist aesthetic. The first Mirror’s Edge title had fun and novel gameplay and a pretty nicely designed single player campaign. While both its narrative and setting were a little sparse (though certainly very pretty), it always left me with this impression that there was more to be discovered and more stories to be told within this futuristic city, especially since it’s soundtrack and visuals really evoked the lonely dystopia in which the game took place.
Enter Mirror’s Edge Catalyst, a reboot of the original game. Catalyst follows the story of main character Faith Connors, explaining her origins and her grapple with a tyrannical government. Faith is an outlaw, making a living running messages between resistance groups via parkour along the rooftops of the city of Glass. The closed beta starts out with a linear tutorial level and then leads into a larger open area that contains a number of missions and collectibles. There are a few specific aspects of the beta that I’d like to explore in some detail: traversal through the game’s environments, the story and characters, and the setting and level design of the city of Glass.
When you get right down to it, this game is all about running. Acrobatically scaling rooftops and barrelling through buildings is the heart and soul of the Mirror’s Edge franchise and Catalyst remains committed to making it feel as good as possible. All things considered, the traversal feels pretty damn good. While the controls are awkward and unintuitive at first, it becomes clear after a while what they’re going for. Mapping jump and crouch onto bumpers and triggers is certainly odd at first but it’s clear that the game doesn’t want you to have to let go of a joystick to jump. Movement is meant to always be at the tip of your fingers, so that traversal takes priority over all other interactions.
Combat is somewhat of a departure from the game’s predecessor, doing away with Faith’s gun-wielding abilities and instead focusing on hand-to-hand combat. Different missions will expect players to either crush enemies by leaping from walls and ledges into heavy attacks or instead breeze past enemies, pushing off of them with light attacks that don’t interrupt Faith’s speed. The variety here is great and it actually feels really good to just glance off of enemies without slowing down. More prolonged fights with multiple opponents (on missions that demand that they actually be engaged and defeated) can be a bit awkward, albeit still not very punishing.
Catalyst also introduces a focus meter, a way to build up a sort of ability gauge by free-running successfully without slowing down. This adds a nice sense of flow to the traversal and gives some welcome incentive for efficient free-running, even when not engaged in time trials. Running into combat situations with a full focus bar enables some cool dodge-counter moves that consume focus charges, which was a fun way to be rewarded for effective running.
While both traversal and combat were entertaining for the couple of hours that I played the game, I’m left wondering what kind of longevity they’ll have for a full length game. Faith is able to acquire new traversal abilities by earning experience throughout the game, which should diversify players’ free-running kits, but I still find myself a little bit apprehensive about the lasting appeal of the parkour mechanics and, more so, the combat. While a little more refined than that of its predecessor, the gameplay still depends pretty heavily on the variety of the environments to keep it fresh.
Story and Characters
Mirror’s Edge Catalyst is definitely trying harder in this department than the original. The beta introduces a small cast of main and side characters who, while sometimes annoying, at least seem to have some personality. Voice acting is reasonably good and while the dialogue seems a little contrived and clichéd, there’s a show of effort here, even an attempt to give Faith some personality as well through her disembodied dialogue. Mirror’s Edge Catalyst and it’s characters seem a little uncertain of themselves though, and I hope that the narrative and characterization improve as the story progresses. It’s a rocky start, but there may be some potential here.
Setting and Level Design
As I mentioned earlier, the beta consists of a linear tutorial segment and a larger open space scattered with missions and collectibles. The first section seems, setting-wise, like little more than a higher-res version of the original Mirror’s Edge‘s levels. The open space, however, was an interesting collection of rooftops with all sorts of traversal opportunities and a respectable degree of verticality.
Towering over the city below, the rooftops have the same lonely serenity they had in the original Mirror’s Edge. This time around, however, the city around them seems more alive. Tiny people and cars bustle about below, The city is full of lights, glowing billboards and jumbotrons, and towering buildings etched with the names of fictional corporations. Futuristic monorails scoot around the city and strange airships glide past. All in all, it feels distinctly like what the original game’s setting wanted to be. It does a pretty solid job of conveying the sort of totalitarian, corporate-owned dystopia that it’s purported to be, and I have a sense that the beta holds back some of the most jaw-dropping visuals that the game has to offer, saving them to be experienced in the full release. I wasn’t able to finish the beta, as I didn’t have much time with it, but I did spend a decent while exploring the open space I was given free reign in, and I found the exploration to be refreshingly enjoyable. This sort of free exploration is one of the things I’d always wanted from the original.
Having enjoyed the original Mirror’s Edge, it’s pretty clear that Catalyst is trying to add everything that was missing. While I have my reservations about the longevity of the mechanics and the combat, the Mirror’s Edge Catalyst Beta showed me a lot of things I wanted to see. Detailed open spaces, enjoyable parkour mechanics that strip out gunplay to refine movement, and a lot of potential for the setting and characters makes for a pretty optimistic start. Personally, I’m still planning on picking up a copy at launch and I’m actually very excited to experience the rest of the game.
Mirror’s Edge Catalyst releases on June 7th. If the original game left you wanting more or if you’re okay with the potential risk that the novelty will wear off early, then this could be a title worth picking up.