There’s a certain profound feeling to experiencing Mirror’s Edge Catalyst almost eight years after the first game. The sensation of a first person platforming game that truly simulated balance, inertia and vertigo wasn’t exactly new anymore. In terms of tense running sequences and a game with constant momentum as a core mechanic, there have been titles like Dying Light and Assassin’s Creed which offered a whole lot more. Heck, if you want to talk advanced parkour and crazy movement possibilities, even Titanfall did a lot more with the mechanic. That being said, there’s a reason fans clamoured so much for a Mirror’s Edge follow-up – because no one has been quite able to replicate the sheer joy that the platforming provides. With the closed beta for Mirror’s Edge Catalyst, DICE have at least further honed in on that core concept, polishing it immensely while making it more accessible.
"You’d think Mirror’s Edge Catalyst is all about combat but it’s not. As easy as it is to get into, the game is about running through the expansive cityscapes and finding your own route."
Mirror’s Edge Catalyst isn’t a sequel. It’s a reboot/origins story of sorts in the City of Glass. Forget the faux futuristic modernism of the first game – this environment is properly futuristic, from the new AR-esque Beat device to the KrugerSec forces and their sleek high-tech outfits. Faith Connors is being released from prison after what seems like years and owes a favour to a man named Dogen. It isn’t long before she’s picked up by Icarus, a Runner working with Faith’s guardian Noah, and subsequently dodging KrugerSec forces left, right, above and below. This introductory sequence does an excellent job of familiarizing you with the mechanics of Catalyst without letting the narrative skip.
And there’s definitely a lot to cover. You don’t start off with the ability to disarm foes right off the bat nor can you pick up guns. Faith is able to execute light attacks which can finish off enemies with low health or heavy attacks for knocking enemies into each other. The latter is especially useful for creating openings especially when dealing with Protectors. You can also dodge from side to side, effectively maneuvering around your enemy to attack from behind. As for the movement, pressing in the right thumb stick activates Runner Vision showing you the optimal – but not always the fastest – paths through a level. Faith can still wall-run, bounce off railings and slide over obstacles along with chaining together specific movement options with attacks. This becomes most apparent with the Flow Attacks which allow you to attack enemies without losing any momentum (represented by a bar that keeps you Focus Shield up. Keep the Focus Shield bar from dropping to zero and you won’t be hit by bullets).
You’d think Mirror’s Edge Catalyst is all about combat but it’s not. As easy as it is to get into, the game is about running through the expansive cityscape and finding your own route. Partake in a time trial and sure you’ll stick to what Runner Vision has to say (or dictate with its pixelated red lines). Over time though, as you become more comfortable with your own movement and how to get from one point to another, you’ll be searching for alternate routes.
"Mirror’s Edge Catalyst is an open world experience and even with Runner Vision to guide you (which you can choose to switch off), it doesn’t force you down a particular path."
You’ll look at the best way to get from Point A to Point B during missions without cracking that essential package or letting the timer run out. Like the original Mirror’s Edge, it’s easy to fall down into expansive voids or fall from excessive heights, resulting in Faith’s demise. But it’s much quicker about getting you back in the action and with how much more responsive it all feels, not to mention the lack of convoluted button presses, the deaths feel more like learning experiences rather than frustrating mistakes. There are still plenty of mistakes to be made though especially when you’re trying to beat some one’s time, so don’t worry.
Also unlike the first game you won’t have all your abilities from the outset. Completing missions allows you to upgrade Faith’s abilities including a roll forward just before hitting the ground (allowing for more sustained momentum), increased health and other neat tricks. It’s actually not as big a concern as you’d think since the game is effectively introducing these new mechanics and moves and allowing you to familiarize yourself with them rather than bombarding you with everything at once.
Mirror’s Edge Catalyst is an open world experience and even with Runner Vision to guide you (which you can choose to switch off), it doesn’t force you down a particular path. There’s certainly a ton to do, from collecting security chips to tracking down odd surges and assisting Birdman, an aged Runner, with tracking down his carrier pigeons. Don’t walk in expecting the story depth and meticulously crafted details of The Witcher 3, much less Fallout 4 – Catalyst‘s set-up is just an excuse to run around this spotless yet highly troubled cityscape. It can get a little disorienting at times as you try to figure out how to proceed to the next waypoint or distinguishing icons amidst the brightly lit buildings.
"Nonetheless, Mirror’s Edge Catalyst feels right. It seems like the perfect answer to how you follow up the original which, despite its innovation, was still very rough with its execution."
And while Catalyst‘s set-up is meant to feed into its awesome running, the characters don’t feel nearly as wasted as in the first game. Even with the hard-to-ignore jaggies, the facial expressions for characters like Noah, Faith, Birdman and Nomad felt believable. The dialogue itself felt a bit hit or miss, especially when it came to Faith but it’s better to have the full picture – and to understand for one’s self what’s going – before casting any judgment. It has to be said though – Faith has a personality and it’s actually interesting to me. Ditto for Icarus who is utterly unlikeable (and really, who doesn’t think he’s antagonist Gabriel Kruger’s son)? References to her family history, her relationship with Noah, her reputation as one of the best Runners in the City who’s nonetheless fallen in status, and so on do so much more to build her personality than a few animated cutscenes and trance artists remixing the main theme did for the original.
After playing the beta, it was easy to see why DICE pushed back to the release date yet again. While the core mechanics feel great and the visuals are pretty good (or as good as they’re going to be on the Xbox One), there are still issues with crashes. Granted, I experienced only one crash in my entirety of playing the beta so the game seems to be in a mostly stable state. Again, I’ll wait till the full game before really commenting on its performance.
Nonetheless, Mirror’s Edge Catalyst feels right. It seems like the perfect answer to how you follow up the original which, despite its innovation, was still very rough with its execution. Catalyst feels like a full game, one that’s discovered its calling and built a supremely robust world around it. While I do have concerns of the side missions becoming repetitive down the line, I’m still excited to explore the rest of the city and find out more of its secrets. Let’s see how the full game delivers on the closed beta’s promise when it releases on July 7th for Xbox One, PS4 and PC.
This game was previewed on the Xbox One.