Could DICE recapture the spark of the original parkour-filled adventure, while delivering a game that the original’s promise suggested it could be?
Back in 2008, EA released a unique action-adventure 3D platformer called Mirror’s Edge. With its expansive environments and fresh approach, players fell in love with its ease of flow, inspired by parkour, and the enigmatic protagonist, Faith. I loved Mirror’s Edge from the moment I laid my hands on it, playing its “Still Alive” theme song on heavy rotation, soaring through the skies aided by the buildings around me.
Unfortunately for most of us, Mirror’s Edge felt a lot more like a proof of concept than it did a game. With an average of 6 hours of gameplay, many complained it wasn’t long enough. Even though it had a compelling backstory to work with, the actual plot fell short, delivering only a weak storyline, possibly due to its short length. On top of all that, gameplay wasn’t as refined as it should have been, unintentionally removing getting in the way of immersion and flow in favor for trial and error style gameplay, which was antithesis to the game itself.
When they announced Mirror’s Edge Catalyst, I reserved healthy skepticism. I couldn’t envision how an open-world design would mesh with its mechanics. Not only that, I couldn’t be sure they would use the original for what it truly was, a proof of concept, and build out the game I originally wished it was. DICE has returned to develop it, putting them in a great position to continue from where they left off, but its original writer Rhianna Prachett was notably absent. These were two either very good, or very bad signs.
Let's face it ME1's story didn't review that great (for many reasons). So I consider myself a casualty of that development process. (cont'd)— Rhianna Pratchett (@rhipratchett) January 7, 2014
Could DICE recapture the spark of the original first-person, free-running, parkour-filled adventure, while delivering a game that the original’s promise suggested it could be? After my first hands-on at E3 2015, I am excited to say that the answer seems to be yes. DICE has approached Mirror’s Edge Catalyst with four important priority goals, which was the first indication this might be the game I always wanted: Stay true to the original, rebuild the mechanics, expand its horizons, and dig deeper into gameplay.
This is Faith’s origin story. Taking a stand against the ruling elite, she is the catalyst for change. In the city of Glass, there is no freedom. But two groups, labeled terrorists by the totalitarian regime, have risen up to fight back: The Black November and a network of “runners” who live on the fringe of society as couriers who transmit secret messages while evading government surveillance. You are a runner, and in Catalyst, run you will.
In order to traverse your environment, you must build up momentum, and once you do, you’ll find yourself figuratively flying through the city in all its first-person beauty. Catalyst is all about fluidity and momentum, keeping your momentum while missteps and second-guessing threatens to take it away. The simplified controls allow them to aid you in your pursuit of flow, instead of hindering. Once you build momentum, LB is utilized for any “up” movement and LT performs all “down” movements. RT bashes open doors, and there are two combat buttons. One is a light flow attack, knocking down enemies while maintaining your momentum to keep running, and another is a heavy transference attack, utilizing your momentum for power. There are no other buttons to worry about. Just keep running. Simple as that.
DICE developers claim that the controls were rebuilt to allow for accessible gameplay, with a broad spectrum of rewards for achievements in high levels of skill. During our hands-on, accessibility shone through. Traversing the world with ease was as simple as picking up the controller. After an initial misstep or two, I was off.
We were given 15 minutes hands-on to see how Mirror’s Edge Catalyst makes the open-world format work. In free-roaming sections of the city, points of interests scattered throughout the map mark the location of side-quests and mission objectives. Marking any of these as your active pursuit, the game dynamically generates a runner’s vision for you to that location. For those unfamiliar with the original, runner’s vision is the bright-red highlighting of objects you can interact with and parkour across. If you miss one, there is no need to worry. More will be generated for you from your new position, ensuring that there are no dead ends or lost time.
I tried out three mission types that players will encounter during their open-world exploration: Dash, Billboard Hacking, and Deliveries. Dashes are timed races through the environment. Instead of separating these out into its own game mode, DICE has now incorporated them into the main game experience. Billboard Hacks are environmental puzzle challenges, testing your ability to get to hard-to-reach areas of the city. The last of the modes I tried was Delivery, which showcased the new combat system, as government law keepers attempt to stop and capture you and the data you are transporting as you make an all-out run to the drop location.
While my time with it was admittedly too short, combat was fast-paced and fun. You’re out-manned and outgunned, but don’t even think about gearing up. Mirror’s Edge Catalyst removed firearms from your equation. The game won’t even let you pick one up.
Instead you must rely on your momentum and fast-moving parkour skills. As long as you’re in flow, keeping high-speeds and chaining your movements together, the bad guys won’t be able to hit you. You’re just too damn fast. And before they can even react to your wall-running aerial acrobatics, you’re on top of them, knocking them off roofs and bashing them into slumber-inducing objects. At least, I assumed I knocked them out. I’m not entirely sure. Before I could breathe, I was off of them and running again, as fast and far as I could, to make my drop.
Overall, I left the hands-on feeling excited. The entire playthrough had my adrenaline pumping and more importantly, I had fun. No, I had a blast. The easy to pick-up mechanics were a breath of fresh air, allowing the game’s world to take center stage, right where it belongs. With gameplay designed to be less complicated, I walked away feeling less clumsy and more thrilled by the experience than I ever felt with the original. All I want to do is play it again, and how much more can we really ask for? Mirror’s Edge was the game we needed, but the new Mirror’s Edge Catalyst is now the game I want.