This last weekend EA opened up its recently-delayed Mirror’s Edge: Catalyst for a closed BETA. I was fortunate enough to get access to the game and spent a few hours exploring the corporation-run world in which the protagonist, Faith, has found herself.
The original Mirror’s Edge was defined by its parkour, and its follow up is no different. Catalyst retains a fluidity of movement in the parkour system that is often imitated by so far unrivaled. The system is spoiled a little by the introduction of an upgrade system that has a few too many basic options hidden away, but they are quickly unlocked. The game was best when it let me enter a flow game state moving seamlessly between different environs without conscious effort on my part. This is assisted by a target of 60fps throughout, which the PS4 did not achieve at all times but nevertheless contributes to an enhanced sensation of motion.
The Assassin’s Creed series could learn a lot from Mirror’s Edge. Not just in the implementation of a working parkour system, but in its approach to movement in general. Ubisoft should learn from EA not to cheat on the series central parkour mechanic and override its related deficiencies with the rope launcher, as in Assassin’s Creed: Syndicate, but to make movement good enough that you wouldn’t want to use anything else.
It is perhaps an appropriate time too for such learnings, given the series is taking a year off from releasing a mainline title.
Unfortunately, combat in Catalyst’s BETA was a chore, and easily the most unenjoyable element of the BETA. You can only attack for so long before guards beat you back. So you simply back up, run at them again and go at it. Step by step you can wear down enemies. It’s grindy and boring. I think that the game would have been improved by clearly making optional all combat sequences because when you enter a combat arena it feels as if you stop playing Mirror’s Edge and start playing a badly-done first person brawler.
That’s not to say there weren’t some satisfying combat moments. Running along a rooftop and bouncing off a wall onto a hapless security apparatchik felt weighty, sometimes fluid and sometimes effortless.
The BETA also suffered from map anxiety – the feeling of being overwhelmed by too many useless things to do and see. In particular too many time trials litter the environment as you explore it, throwing off the minimalistic vibe and, as the time trial flags are red, the same colour as climbable objects, to ability to navigate the environment. I would like to see an option to disable these in the full game.
The story (at least so far) is absolute trash and the characters are instantly unlikeable; crudely drawn and badly developed in the small amount of content in the BETA. The irony of a game by EA featuring a small band of misfits fighting against a corporation-run world taking itself far too seriously weighs heavily. Fortunately it seems to matter little. The threadbare motivations it gives you are enough to send me on my merry way across the city to finish whatever needs doing.
I would be extremely interested in an attempt to recreate Mirror’s Edge in a virtual reality environment, though I would imagine that the extreme changes in speed and altitude would make for some potentially nauseating experiences.
This dreaming of a future version of the game in VR bodes well for how the game is shaping up. After all, if the game wasn’t any good, why would I be thinking of where it could go next? From a too-brief few hours EA has shown that the first game wasn’t just a fluke. Whether or not the magic can be maintained throughout Catalyst remains to be seen, and it will be a hard task to live up to the cult status of the original. What I saw however gave me great hope for the final product, which is now only a short (but delayed) six weeks away.