The Games of E3 2015: Mirror’s Edge: Catalyst

by Matthew Thompson

(Throughout the next couple of weeks, I will be posting impressions and reactions to some of the games shown off at E3 based on info I’ve gleaned from watching demos and interviews online. Enjoy!)

There was no game I was more curious to get info on at E3 than Mirror’s Edge: Catalyst. I’m a massive fan of the original and while I recognize its flaws, I also feel what it got right it got very right. With Catalyst, they are essentially rebooting the series which can be a scary proposition for any fan. But from what I was able to gather from E3, I can get behind where things are headed with it.

Mirror's Edge Catalyst 4

Developer DICE seemed keen on referring to Mirror’s Edge: Catalyst as a “Rebirth,” but for the story it is more or less a reboot. And you know what? That is perfectly fine. The story in the first was largely forgettable, but there were good bones in there which they seem to be keeping. Faith is back. The dystopian world is back. There are some other familiar elements worked in, but otherwise they are starting over, trying to tell a more compelling origin story for heroine Faith. While overbearing corporations and underground resistances aren’t the most original ideas for this type of fiction, I already find the story setup in Catalyst more interesting than the original and the move to more traditional cutscenes to help tell it is a plus.

One of the other weak points to the first game was the combat and DICE seems to be headed in the right direction here too. While it was possible to finish the original game without shooting anyone, it was often easier to just pick up a gun to get through certain situations. Unfortunately at times this could really ruin the pacing that was so integral to the game. So it is nice to hear that they have thrown gunplay out completely for this new entry. More importantly though is that they have developed the hand-to-hand combat in a way so that you can quickly dispatch enemies without losing your speed and the joy that comes along with it. If you are in the flow of movement linking together moves at high speeds, you will actually become invulnerable to enemy fire. This means you can either avoid enemies by smoothly traversing through the environment and right on by them without taking damage or take a more head-on approach by quickly knocking them out as a part of your line through the city. It is a clever solution that makes the combat an extension of the game’s true focus: freerunning.

Mirror's Edge Catalyst 2

The biggest change coming to Catalyst is the move to an open world and it is the one I am most wary about. Mirror’s Edge is a skill-based platformer and those are typically better on a more linear track. It is generally hard to keep the same sort of challenging level design in an open world that has to be traversable in so many different directions. On the other hand, part of the fun of Mirror’s Edge for me was finding the best routes through levels and which moves were best to hit these paths. If done right, the open-world in Catalyst could deliver that as well. But how this all comes together is something I may not know until I play it for myself. And while the game was playable at E3, they didn’t release footage of the demo which makes discerning much in this regard even tougher at the moment. But I was able to glean plenty of info from various interviews and impressions from the show.

Mirror’s Edge: Catalyst will take place in the city of Glass. Its look will be very familiar to fans of the original. It contains the same bright white landscapes accented by stark colors this time rendered via DICE’s beautiful Frostbite engine and it looks stunning. They are promising a variety of locations from underground tunnels to the highest skyscrapers with all manner of rooftops and building interiors in between. And it will all be load-free which is such great news. Much like the combat, loading elevators and doors in the first game could really bring the fast-paced adventure to a screeching halt. It is also worth noting that the world will be unlocked to the player portions at a time. This seems good for someone like me who is still on the fence about the open-world, but again I need to at least see this in practice to really understand how it will work out.

Mirror's Edge Catalyst 3

Along with an opening story mission, the E3 demo contained a small open world section with three side missions to play. One was basically like the speed runs from the first game, tasking you with getting from point A to point B as fast as you can, complete with star ratings and even a quick restart. These were where the original Mirror’s Edge shined brightest and while their inclusion was expected, it is still good to get confirmation. I also liked the sound of the billboard hack missions that have you trying to find your way up to a spots high in the city to display your tag. It sounds like a classic environmental puzzle and while ME thrives more at high speeds, these sort of platforming puzzles are certainly welcome. The final mission type had you delivering some information, but focused mainly on taking out guards along the way. This doesn’t sound as good as the other two, but I tend to like when open world games have missions centered around their various core gameplay elements, so I can certainly see why they’d do this. If the combat really does feel like an extension of the freerunning then it may turn out better than I expect.

I think it is pretty clear that Mirror’s Edge: Catalyst will be a very different game than its predecessor. But different isn’t always bad and Catalyst seems like a damn fun game in its own right. I still have a lot of questions regarding this new take on Mirror’s Edge, but its focus still seems to be in the right place: on its unique first-person platforming. So this first major showing left a good impression on me.

I gathered some other information from E3 that those who weren’t obsessively watching every interview might be interested in hearing, so I have added that in the bullets below:

  • For anyone worried they might just completely revamp the controls, they are still using left shoulder for general upward movements (jump, wall run, climb, etc.) and left trigger for downward movements (slide, roll, and so on). So that is good.
  • The little flourishes we see in some of the footage are new collectibles. I could see collecting them being really fun especially if they put them in tough to reach places that really put your skills to the test.
  • They also teased a character progression system along with gadgets you will unlock. Perhaps those collectibles I just mentioned act as currency? Having said that I’m not sure I’m keen on having skills or gadgets to unlock. Like I’d hate a grappling hook that would kill normal traversal. Hopefully it is nothing that drastic. Also you can see one of the gadgets on Faith’s wrist in the picture at the top of this post.
  • It seems it shifts to third-person for some enemy takedowns which sounds kind of meh to me. Hopefully it isn’t too jarring transitioning in and out of them.
  • There won’t be multiplayer, but there will be a “social” element. They didn’t really specify what this was. One would assume ghosts and leaderboards, but maybe something else. They also said you can not bother with whatever it is if you so choose.
  • They didn’t say that Solar Fields was doing the soundtrack, but they said on Twitter fans would be happy about who was doing it, so I assume that he is! Hooray!
  • It is releasing on February 23rd 2016!
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