Going Hands-On with Mirror’s Edge Catalyst

Time to take back the skyline.

A few weekends ago, I got to check out the closed beta of the sequel to 2009’s stylish first-person parkour game Mirror’s Edge on PlayStation 4. But before we check out my impressions, I asked our Facebook community if they had any burning questions, and here were some I can answer to kick things off:

00
The next-gen makeover on full display

Q: Is the game worth it? How does it differentiate from the first? Are the improvements marginal or significant?

A: The game’s value depends on whether or not you are a fan of the first game (or are craving something fresh). There are definitely improvements upon the original formula, but those have yet to be fully seen (a major traversal upgrade has been teased in the marketing but was nowhere to be found in the beta). I really liked the upgrade to beautifully rendered cutscenes rather than the graphic novel art style of the first game.

Q: Is there some sort of “free roam” mode?

A: Yes. The map is huge! And I only saw a part of it in this demo. After the mandatory story intro and tutorial, you are free to tackle side missions, delivery runs, collectibles, time trials, and even create and play user-generated content runs that will provide endless parkour pleasure.

Q: I really enjoyed and got used to the mechanics of Dying Light. How does this compare to it, and what is the difficulty curve?

A: Dying Light was definitely inspired by Mirror’s Edge. Where Dying Light focuses more on the weapon crafting and zombie hordes, Mirror’s Edge Catalyst incorporates building to building traversal at blurring speeds. You can wall run, do quick 180-degree turns, and tuck-and-roll to soften your falls. This can all be done seamlessly if you’re skilled enough. While Dying Light saw you climbing from the streets to the tops of small buildings, Catalyst seems to be sticking exclusively with large-scale skyscrapers, and the occasional indoor environment, though with no less verticality. The difficulty curve is wide, from what I can tell, as I had to get used to timing my jumps, holding when I should have pressed a button (and vice versa), and misjudging my capabilities or angle when I jumped.

Q: Is it everything I’ve ever hoped and dreamed of?

A: Yes? No? Find out for yourself this Summer when the game releases? Or read & look on and decide for yourself if it’s worth checking out.

SETTING & STORY

Mirror's Edge™ Catalyst Closed Beta_20160426000747
Faith gets released from juvie after a two-year sentence

The game’s opening lines say it all: “In the City of Glass, the Conglomerate rules supreme. All regular citizens have been made willing slaves, lured into an endless race for status and wealth. But some choose to live off the grid. Runners work as couriers and cat burglars. The rooftops belong to them. As long as they don’t openly challenge the authorities, the Conglomerate turns a blind eye. For almost two decades the status quo has held. Times are about to change.”

Although you have all the context you need to jump in if you’re hesitant to play the sequel, there is more to be seen than what I saw, since there are a few references to some traumatic memory that Faith has of her past, which I hope is explained in the full game. During my time with the limited story present in this demo, I saw Faith reunite with some old friends, make a new rival, chase down some carrier pigeons, break into a pharmaceutical industry building (all for the cause, of course), and tease part of a conspiracy, to name a few highlights. Like the original (from what chunk of it I remember playing, anyway), there definitely was thoughtful writing put into your free-running playground and meaningful context to your corporate-rebelling ways.

GRAPHICS

Mirror's Edge™ Catalyst Closed Beta_20160425080739
You can hack billboards and have them display your custom emblem

This next-gen offering is certainly a step up from the first Mirror’s Edge but it’s also nothing too dramatic other than the gorgeous in-engine cutscenes (sorry, fans of that original game’s graphic novel bits). Glitches abound as objects and characters clipped through each other and the framerate occasionally stuttered during my play time (but in a beta, that’s to be expected). There was also some texture pop-in but, overall, it’s a sleek presentation that gave me good, futuristic vibes. And the motion blur is especially appropriate and inherent to the sense of speed.

SOUND

Mirror's Edge™ Catalyst Closed Beta_20160425083342
Marketing is a big thing with the Conglomerate

The subtle and mesmerizing techno tunes and dynamic soundtrack definitely lend to the “open-rooftop-freedom-feels” as I like to refer to them. The beats really ramp up in combat and chase sequences, and you feel the pressure as you race the clock in delivery side quests and time trials. As far as ambiance and sound effects go, I appreciated other detailed touches like the sounds of different surfaces and most of all, the squeak of Faith’s sneakers (reminding me of my old pumas!). Footsteps, jumps, rolls, wall runs, vaults and other locomotive options have the expected weighty feel and sounds to them. The air whooshes past you the faster you go.

GAMEPLAY

Mirror's Edge™ Catalyst Closed Beta_20160422221548
Run, jump, roll, vault, slide, climb, wall run, beat up some K-Sec goons, upgrade, repeat.

Gameplay consists of first-person platforming with a bit more emphasis on combat than the original (though I didn’t use a gun during the whole beta). Once the game turns you loose, you are free to go about missions or side quests in whatever order you choose. Each mission scores you an upgrade point, which you can spend to improve Faith’s movement, combat skills, or gear. There are plenty of collectibles in the form of secret bags (that have a distinct chime when nearby), data and security chips you steal from the Conglomerate’s rooftop devices and panels, audio logs, and billboards you can hack and change into your own custom emblem.

CONTROLS

Mirror's Edge™ Catalyst Closed Beta_20160426001014
If you don’t like the learning curve with this game, then Icarus has some words for you…

Although there is very much a learning curve to this game, once you get into a flow, you feel very much like an artist. If you’re anything like me, you’ll find yourself redoing jumps after messing up wall runs that would get you the height or distance you need to reach a pipe or ledge. But eventually, you’ll chain jumps, slides, vaults, wall runs, and pipe-climbs like a pro. The only major gripe I have is that if you take your finger off the sprint button to have more control over changing direction before pressing it again, you might unintentionally engage the side-stepping shift dodge move instead. There were a few times of frustrating jumps to my death and a reload screen, but these were mostly due to my being a bit too cavalier instead of obeying the game’s mechanics – which again, take some getting used to. It’s more enjoyable and dynamic than Dying Light’s running and climbing mechanics if you ask me.

FINAL THOUGHTS

Mirror's Edge™ Catalyst Closed Beta_20160426003239
That gorgeous title screen view, tho!

Mirror’s Edge Catalyst is a somewhat familiar yet promising & fresh first-person parkour playground that looks and plays like an update, if not an upgrade, from the 2008 game. There’s still a lot more story, settings, and gameplay tricks up this one’s sleeve if the official website is anything to go by.

The game releases on June 7th in North America and June 9th in Europe for the Xbox One, PlayStation 4 and on Origin for PC. Publisher EA and developer Dice are looking to give gamers a beautiful, story-driven free-running simulator in a market now charmed with walking simulators. Sorry, I had to.

Lace up your sneakers, runners – it’s going to be a cyberpunk rollercoaster of a ride!

GG & amen.

*BONUS: Be sure to check out some PS4 video captures from my YouTube channel, those combat flourishes have to be seen to be believed!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s