by Matthew Thompson
This past weekend I had the chance to log in some time with the Mirror’s Edge Catalyst beta and I’m here to give some impressions. Since this is a beta, I will forgo any discussion about graphics or performance and focus more on the mechanics, design and what new stuff Catalyst is bringing to the series. I’m going to break this into some Good and Bad bullet points for this post (worth noting of course that things I discuss here could change in the full game). Here it goes!
Good: Mirror’s Edge’s unique first-person freerunning is very much intact in Catalyst and it still feels great. There are some small tweaks to the control scheme, but it remains a deep and rewarding traversal system. New moves like the ability to swing quickly around corners while wall-running and rolling out of slides to keep your momentum are welcome additions to Faith’s moveset.
Bad: One thing that felt off about the freerunning was how light Faith felt. In the original, she had a weightier feel. It gave the game a more realistic slant and helped add to the sense of speed and momentum when you really got going at top speeds. I missed that here.
Good: Moving to an open-world was one of the things that had me most nervous about Catalyst. I’m happy to say that there were some nice linear sections taking place outside of the main open area in the demo with some really solid level design. I hope they allow you to replay these levels for speedrun purposes.
Bad: There was a bit of open-world bloat here. Tons of collectibles. Some of which could be grabbed on the run which were fun enough while others halted your movement. Those seemed like a bad call. The map is also littered with missions and icons. There was even an analog to the dreaded Ubisoft towers which will likely turn some off.
Good: On the positive side of the open-world coin is the fact that just running through the city and finding different lines was great fun. I spent a fair amount of time just running around for no particular reason. The movement is just so good that simply running and jumping around delivers its own form of entertainment.
Bad: I played the first few story missions and it didn’t give me much confidence in Catalyst delivering a compelling narrative. That certainly wasn’t the appeal of the original game for me, but I was hoping they might give us something more worthwhile with the story this time around. It felt more intrusive (as in it broke up gameplay more often) than in the original too, but I’m hoping that was mostly because it was the start of the game. There was obviously less of it when free-roaming.
Good: There was a type of side mission that I really liked where you had to get up to a billboard and tag it with your runner icon. It essentially delivered a platforming puzzle. A Prince of Persia-style, how do I get from Point A to Point B sort of thing. While this doesn’t tap into Mirror’s Edge’s more fast-paced freerunning, I think it makes for a nice change of pace and puts Faith’s large repertoire of moves to good use in a different way than much of the rest of the game.
Bad: While the developers have made some smart moves with the combat (Faith can’t use guns, is invulnerable to bullets when at top speed, and takes down enemies quickly while on the run), it still feels really clunky when you just face off with enemies. This wouldn’t be an issue if they didn’t force you into situations like this, but they do. I’m hoping the forced confrontations are more for tutorial purposes early on and will dissipate as the game rolls on.
Good: Most of the longevity with Mirror’s Edge comes from replaying and speedrunning in the various modes and in Catalyst users can create their own time trials for other players to test their skills in. This should add a ton of replay value on top of what the developers offer themselves.
Bad: This is one of the more subjective criticisms in this post, but I don’t feel like the art direction is on par with the first game. Too much bright white in the city without as many contrasting colors that really made the whole thing pop in the original.
Good: The soundtrack to the first game is my all-time favorite in gaming. What I heard of Catalyst’s music was quite good. With Solar Fields back, I hope for another stellar OST from this game.
Bad: Some traversal moves must be unlocked through XP in a skill tree. Locking this stuff away is just infinitely stupid. To not have something as basic as the skill roll or the quickturn for any amount of time feels silly. It may impact level design too if the devs don’t know what moves players will have unlocked at certain points in the story. If they were looking to ease players into the moveset, they could have done so in a number of different ways without hamstringing advanced players. Hopefully everything can be unlocked in a hurry.
Good: Dashes are fantastic. They are Catalyst’s version of the original’s time trials and have a lot of depth just like those. It is about finding the right line. Utilizing the right moves at the right times. Trying little techniques to shave time off your runs. Going for three stars in the Dashes available in the beta was super fun and very addictive. They had that great “one more try” thing going for them. I hope the full game has a ton of these.
Given the poor sales of the original Mirror’s Edge, I was likely never going to get the sequel I wanted and this beta more or less confirms that Catalyst won’t be exactly what I was hoping for. It seems some compromises have been made to give the series a wider appeal – the move to an open world and XP unlocks being chief among them. Still a lot of the essence of Mirror’s Edge that I fell in love with over the years is in Catalyst. The unique first-person freerunning system, the speedrunning aspects, the simple joy of moving in the game; it is all here. Some of the new additions seem welcome too. I remain a little unsure about how Catalyst will come together as a whole, but it still seems like a game I will put a lot of time into, particularly post-game when I have all the moves unlocked and can focus on perfecting runs through the city and improving my Dash times. I realize I mentioned quite a few “Bads” in this post (I was purposely trying to give a fair amount of points on both sides), but I really did enjoy my time with the beta despite some of these issues and look forward to playing the full game this June.