Mirror's Edge Catalyst Preview

Posted on 04/23 00:48 in | 0

Mirror’s Edge was one of those glorious games you could use to really annoy people, partly because it’s a cult classic, and partly because it’s ludicrously divisive. On the one hand, a terrible story and a game with spectacularly rubbish combat that felt blatantly shoehorned in caused a lot of people to scoff and toss it away with disgust. On the other hand, it was a visually stunning first-person parkour-’em-up that honestly hasn’t been matched to date – even by the rather excellent Dying Light. The solution: finish the game and then spend a lot of time in the Time Trials, which remove all combat and focus on the glorious object-leaping. Easy.

There’s another potential solution on the horizon, and that’s Mirror’s Edge Catalyst, EA’s reboot/reimagining/rewhatever of the franchise. (If it counts as a franchise after one game and a comic.)

I don’t want to go too in-depth into “ooh, here are all the PC options and here’s how it runs” because it’s a beta. I suspect that not all of the high-end options are fully implemented (because I refuse to believe I’m getting 75FPS on Ultra) but it’s got quite a few tweakables. Texture, Lighting, Effect, Post Processing, Mesh Quality, Anisotropic Filtering, Ambient Occlusion, and Motion Blur are all in the options menu, alongside an FOV slider. The slider has no numbers so I’m not sure how “high” it goes, but at the absolute max I got a fish-eye effect on the sides of the screen, so… that’s probably a good sign?

I couldn’t find a way to change keyboard controls, though, so a black mark for that. Let’s hope that’s purely a beta thing. In any case, I’ll be addressing this stuff properly when review code comes in; for now, let’s just say that it ran at between 75-90FPS on what it claimed was Ultra settings, but I suspect was actually probably a bit lower. That, or this is staggeringly well-optimised for a beta running on an i7-3820 with a GTX 970.

“Reimagining” actually describes Mirror’s Edge Catalyst quite well (and, much like Splinter Cell Blacklist which I surreptitiously renamed to things like Splinter Cell Blackbird, I keep wanting to call it Mirror’s Edge Catapult or Mirror’s Edge Catalepsy). It’s not Mirror’s Edge, but I’m damned if it doesn’t feel like Mirror’s Edge.

Gone is the linear level structure; in its place is a cityscape you’re free to roam as you please. Gone is the shitty combat, replaced with… well, slightly less shitty combat. Possibly good combat; I haven’t decided yet. And, as is now law, there are multiple upgrade trees.

For once, I actually don’t mind the upgrade trees. Not much seems to be locked away at the start, with most of the movement upgrades just offering you speed boosts when climbing pipes and the like. Even the few that do offer new abilities – like clicking the middle-mouse button to rotate 180 degrees, or tucking your legs in mid-leap for quick traversal over low barriers – are quickly unlocked, and I’m happy enough to “learn” a few extra things 30 minutes in. It does look like there’s a grappling hook of some sort locked away behind missions, but obviously, I can’t judge how that’ll impact things.

Now, all of this is admittedly based on the beta. Perhaps the full version will force you to unlock the ability to springboard off platforms and so on. But I doubt it.

I also like that the Runner Vision can be changed between Off, Classic, and Full. Full pretty much gives you a “ghost” showing where you should be moving, while Classic just highlights potentially useful bits of scenery in red. I’ll stick to Classic, not least because it gives a bit more of a puzzle-y feeling to figuring out how to get around, and because once I started getting used to the areas and learning how things went, I’d have probably murdered an intrusive waypointing system.

In terms of offering you free roaming, with a mix of main missions and side-quests and little mini events, it actually feels surprisingly like a Ubisoft game – and there are worse ways to structure something like this. Expect time trial deliveries, collectibles to find, “races” in which you can deviate from the planned route, etc.

Nonetheless, it does feel like Mirror’s Edge. The sharp, contrasting colours are still there, from stark white offices with green hallways, to the red crates indicating that they’re apt for free-running, to bright lights and neon skylines. The parkour itself still has a sense of weight and heft, and sprinting around timing every jump and slide and hurdle perfectly still feels amazing.

Even the combat isn’t actually that bad in the beta, with only the initial combat tutorial missions actually forcing you to fight. For the most part, it’s as focused on speed and traversal as everything else: if you’re moving swiftly and hit someone as you finish wall-running or swinging off a girder, you’re going to inflict more damage and stagger them. You’ve also got something called a “Focus Shield”, which is a fancy way of saying “if you maintain a high speed and don’t stop or fuck up, bullets will whizz past you”, and that’s a nice and cinematic way of making you feel under fire and under pressure without luck determining whether or not you die.

This was highlighted in the game’s first proper mission, where I had to fight my way through a multitude of armed guards. I probably could have fought my way through, too – but instead I just knocked them down as I moved past them. They were still active and still shooting at me, but aiming a punch at one’s face as I tumbled down in front of them, before springing up and wall-running past them as they staggered backwards, felt true to the style. Unlike the original Mirror’s Edge, the combat didn’t actually feel like it was taken from another game. As I said above, it’s about speed and flow, and that means it fits surprisingly well with the traversal.

Pretty much everything I’ve said here makes me feel pretty optimistic, but I’ll caution that there’s still plenty of room for it to go wrong. Perhaps the city won’t be varied enough. Perhaps the game will start shoehorning in combat. Perhaps the traversal will actually get repetitive before too long. Perhaps the balance between “choose your own route” and “guess the route we want you to take” will go horribly wrong. Perhaps the upgrades and unlocks will feel largely meaningless rather than tasty, desirable boosts. Perhaps, perhaps, perhaps. And – while I don’t outright hate the characters at this point – I’m really not struck by the archetypes deployed so far.

Basically, I’m not yet certain if Mirror’s Edge Catalyst has the stamina to sprint, leap, and slide for a few dozen hours of gameplay, but the beta certainly shows that it’s got the potential. As with pretty much every game I play in preview that I don’t outright loathe, let’s say I’m cautiously optimistic. Right now, at least, Mirror’s Edge appears to be Still Alive.


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