Impressions – Mirror’s Edge Catalyst Closed Beta

For a while now, I’ve been planning to do a piece, or rather a tribute, to the original Mirror’s Edge. Needless to say, I’m a big fan, and am surprised that it took so long for EA to green light a sequel. Well, I guess this isn’t a sequel; it’s a reboot. And even if it weren’t, it definitely has a different feel than the original Mirror’s Edge. Anyway, let’s dig right in. No screenshots, since Origin lacks screenshot functionality for some ungodly reason (and the screenshots I took had other stuff in the background), but just know the game looks amazing.

Right from the beginning we’re bombarded with scenes of the police beating up protesters and prison guards being abusive. It’s a far cry from the more understated world in the original Mirror’s Edge. This is straight-up sci-fi now, complete with hover-copter things and cybernetic implants, and the story in general is much more “in your face” than the original Mirror’s Edge. But the cutscenes have a better feel to then; they’re much better directed than the animated cutscenes from the original.

It helps that the game looks amazing. If you need to upgrade for this game, do it, because this game is stunning. Beautiful cityscapes and weather effects make this game really jump off the screen. The mocap is better, and just in general, everything about Catalyst’s visuals screams production values. The game runs well on my setup (GTX 970, i5-4690k) and I was at mostly Ultra. It didn’t feature anti-aliasing which was weird, but I didn’t notice much jaggies anyway. Now, there is a weird downside — the cutscenes stutter really badly. And it’s not because I turned the settings too high or anything, they just always do it. It’s weird, but this is a beta and I can’t see this occurring in the full release, but it’s worth noting.

What doesn’t help the cutscenes is the very bad voice acting. I don’t know who decided to recast Faith, but her new voice actress sounds like what a teenager thinks a “strong female character” sounds like – deep, perpetually pouty and confrontational with everyone. Her delivery seems to be constantly flat, and I sincerely hope they don’t re-use this voice actress if Catalyst gets a sequel (this is EA, so it most likely will). Everyone else is okay, but nothing special.

Story-wise, the game is about Faith getting out of juvie, because you know, hardcore badass, and she owes money to the mob while also getting mixed up in the larger politics of Glass (the city’s name, probably only called that because “City of Glass” sounds cool in that weird, vague sci-fi way). We don’t get much in the beta, besides a rivalry between Faith and fellow runner Icarus, seemingly built around getting Noah, the headrunner’s, favouritism. There’s some stuff about Faith not thinking her plans through, but altogether it’s pretty weak. Not that the original game was a writing masterpiece, but this game’s story is so much more in your face that it’s harder to ignore.

But Mirror’s Edge has never been about the story, how’s the gameplay? Well, the maneuvers you can pull off are more complex and advanced, and you’re encouraged to use all of your moves. You’re not punished for having off-timing, but you do benefit for a fluid run. There’s a bar at the bottom left of the screen that builds the longer you have an unbroken run, and it makes you immune to bullets for a time, and makes the screen get this blue tint as a nice visual way of reminding you you’ve got it.

Speaking of combat, I was pleasantly surprised to find myself wanting more of it. Combat is more about using your environment and manipulating enemies, e.g. kickign them into each other or using walls to strengthen your aerial attacks. It works really well and is decently challenging when facing large groups. I like it, which is surprising given how awful the original Mirror’s Edge combat was awful. This game makes you feel like Daredevil.

Other than the refined combat, another big change is the open world aspect. Yep, it sounds like a no-brainer, but the results are thoroughly mixed. When you’re not on a mission, it’s great. You get to just run without a destination and do whatever you want to maintain your momentum. But when you actually have to get somewhere, it’s a bit problematic. There’s a kind of path that you’re supposed to follow, like a line drawn through the air. And that’s all well and good. But the game mentions, and it’s absolutely right, that the line isn’t the most efficient path. So your instincts tell you to follow this path, because you’re almost always timed and don’t have time to deviate too much from the line, but when you’re timed, following the line never works out. So you have to find your own path, but since you’re almost always timed, it’s just a different kind trial-and-error than what the original game had! Not helping things is that some buildings can be entered, and some cannot, and there’s no distinction until you’re right up against the door and get a prompt to open it. A simple thing would’ve been to make the doors you can open red, and I’m still not sure why that wasn’t done. Maybe to maintain the game’s generally blue and white aesthetic, but it’s not good game design. And in general, some paths are just quicker than they appear while others come to abrupt stops or go in different directions than you thought. And setting a waypoint highlights another issue; you’re only able to navigate Glass on rooftops and catwalks, so the open world is more like a big, wide line. If I want to head to a building that I can literally see across the road, I have to head all the way around on the rooftops. It’s kind of frustrating.

Finally, there’s a kind of time trial creator which lets players create custom tiem travel routes that others can play. It has the same problems with navigation as the rest of the game, but it kinda exposed something about the game that I have a problem with. The ‘ghosts’ of other players are always jumping up and down, and I’ve always hated that kind of thing. It’s the equivalent of those games where rolling constantly is faster than walking. I don’t know if this can be fixed, but it’s annoying and I hate this kind of thing. And of course, the routes people set are absurd, so if you’re into that, enjoy.

In the end, Catalyst, judging from the beta, looks to be a flawed game. It has its moments, and improves upon the original in almost every way… but the need to be open-world — something that, remember, fans wanted — is the game’s one fault. The amateur voice acting, bad story and different aesthetic can be ignored easily enough in the grand scheme of things, but the problems with navigating the world could be very problematic once time limits become a bigger focus. But when Catalyst is firing on all cylinders it’s a great experience. The fluid movements and beautiful city just feel and look great. So Catalyst seems to be about as flawed as the original Mirror’s Edge. Whether this beta speaks of the full game’s quality, we can only wait and see.

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