When the original Mirror’s Edge was released, its promise seemed to surpass its execution leading to good but disappointing critical reception. Despite this, and despite poor sales, the game has built a cult following of sorts that led to a vocal minority pushing for a sequel. This minority then seemed to grow as people continued to return to the game years after release. As a result, the cries for a sequel appeared to escalate to a point in which EA could no longer ignore.
Thus, we arrive at Mirror’s Edge Catalyst. A game that is releasing more than seven years after the original with DICE once again at the helm. With this sequel, it seems as though EA and DICE may have listened to fans when making developmental decision. The game has several implementations that fans of the original will enjoy yet also features a few drawbacks.
The first Mirror’s Edge was no slouch when it came to presentation and Catalyst picks up right where things left off along with notable improvements. Every wall still looks like the inside of a futuristic hospital covered in a glossy, white paint with the limited color pallette mainly featuring primary colors and close relatives, such as greens and scarce purples or teals. Just as the first game, the colors basically serve as a unique language for the player to learn in an attempt to become fluent enough to enhance situational awareness. Luckily, more textures have been added giving the world a greater sense of believability. Not everything is a simple white square or box and rooftops now have antennas, A/C units, solar panels, etc. Although it’s completely fictional, the setting feels more realistic.
Although we were only given a limited glimpse of the story in the beta, I will admit it seemed to include some intriguing personalities. Many of the characters within Catalyst not only held my attention with their unique identities, but have me wanting to know them more. In saying that, the real star of Mirror’s Edge continues to be the parkour inspired gameplay, as it should be. There’s still a bit of a learning curve to the controls with things like the jump button mapped to the left bumpers (I played the beta on Xbox One) but this quickly becomes second nature. Soon after the tutorialized intro, players will be chaining together moves to keep up momentum in no time. Every jump, roll, mount, and climb feel just as good as they should. The system has been created in a way in which accidentally performing an action is almost non-existent after some practice. You’ll almost never unintentionally run up the wrong wall, a la Assassin’s Creed.
The open-world concept is one of the biggest changes to the gameplay and it seems to be for the better. This evolution not only makes sense but feels as though it should have been this way the entire time. The structure of the environment has been carefully crafted in such a way that nearly every movement leads from one seamless transition into another creating fluidity throughout. I very rarely found myself stopping to plan my route. This is another aspect complemented by the great open world design. When trying to get from point A to point B, you are no longer confined to one path and almost always have the option to try a different route to reach your destination. It’s a wonderful execution that led to me trying runs and time trials multiple times looking for the best path. My only complaint about this was that I started to find myself taking the same paths repeatedly, especially when I believed I found the best route. This problem could potentially be alleviated depending on the final game’s breadth and the progression of the world.
To assist with keeping things fresh and vary gameplay, the developers included a skill-tree that uses XP. You can upgrade abilities for movement, combat, and gear. Within the beta, players were allowed to delve into this a bit by completing side missions and gathering collectibles in order to gain XP and unlock new abilities. Although these skills were very limited in the beta, it gave a glimpse of some new gameplay implementations and a way to expand the core gameplay beyond the Mirror’s Edge we previously experienced. Newer elements that were hinted at but locked included a grappling hook and several ways to handle more difficult enemies. Although it is currently unknown how many additional components will be available through the skill-tree, there looked to be a bit of depth to each upgrade path potentially allowing for several new gameplay faculties.
If there’s one glaring negative to the gameplay, it is no doubt the combat. Although there have been some improvements such as completely removing the gunplay (thank goodness), not all of the problems have been reworked in a positive way. On one end, you can engage in combat while running through levels. This feels great and does not stop your forward progress. On the other end, you have melee and parry focused combat in which the player stops running to confront enemies. The emphasis on this combat has been placed on side-stepping, countering, and variety within melee attacks. If you attempt to use the same melee attack repeatedly on an enemy, they will quickly stop the assault forcing the player to use other means. Although the side-stepping ability works well, dodging and attacking grows old very quickly. Enemies also usually only attack one at a time. It’s essentially one-on-one combat over and over again. During group combat encounters, all of the fluidity and momentum created by the movement system comes to a screeching hault. With some of the upgrades and new abilities, the combat gets better but is still more tedious than fun. There also seems to be an emphasis on using the environment to your advantage but this leads to running around and circling opponents before choosing a time to engage. Here’s hoping the aforementioned skill-tree will unlock abilities to make combat better and more interesting.
I believe the best implementation to the game, and the thing that will keep players coming back for months after release, is the social aspect included in Catalyst. At any point, players can initiate/create their own time trial run. This is done by selecting a starting point at almost any spot in the world and then mapping out up to twenty checkpoints as you move along. You can then re-run the path you created to improve your time. Other players can then attempt these runs when they come across them in the world. There are leaderboards to each run and you should be able to easily challenge your friends. It’s a fantastic idea that completely changes the game and adds a lot of replayability. I’m looking forward to receiving messages from friends when they stomp my times with this feature so I can hop back in and regain my crown.
As it currently stands, Catalyst is shaping up to be a great sequel that improves on nearly every aspect of the original. EA and DICE certainly have my attention as I want to know more about Faith’s story, her friends/enemies, her upgradeable abilities, and even the world she occupies. Look for Mirror’s Edge Catalyst to release on June 7 for Xbox One, PS4, and PC.