After eight long years, Mirror's Edge is finally coming back. Mirror's Edge Catalyst is the first sequel to the franchise's original 2008 game, and as you might imagine, fans' expectations are high.
I played Catalyst's closed beta to see what I could expect ahead of the game's June 7 release on PS4, Xbox One and PC. I came away with mostly positive vibes, sliding right back into our protagonist Faith's free-running shoes and feeling an adrenaline rush as I sprinted, jumped and climbed across a sprawling futuristic city. I'm excited for this game.
Yet parts of the preview have been nagging at me, making me wonder if Mirror's Edge Catalyst will be merely good, not great. I can't guess from a brief beta if all of the issues will be present in the final game, but if they are, Catalyst will be throwing away some serious potential.
An Oversimplified Story
The original Mirror's Edge introduced a fascinating world and birthed new ways of using the first-person perspective besides just shooting. But its story was simple, linear and not particularly engrossing. It didn't help that large swaths of the narrative were conveyed in cartoony cutscenes that looked like those old Esurance commercials. Catalyst ditches the weird art, but a brief glimpse of the story made me worry that EA didn't learn its lesson.
This game has been marketed as a chance to retell leading lady Faith's origin story — something that the beta starts to do — but most of what's being shown to players in the closed beta is a headfirst dive into a confusing tale of unpaid debts, with new characters you're expected to care about immediately. (The preview starts at the beginning of the game.)
Nomad is one of Faith's best friends — but he wasn't in the original game, and I know nothing about him yet. Icarus, a new recruit to the merry band of parkour runners, seems to have a singular character trait in that he's kind of an ass. Characters from the previous game don't appear to have returned; Runner leader Merc and Faith's friend and mentor Celeste don't show up in this installment. It's possible that they have been retconned altogether. Here's hoping for some serious character growth in the rest of the game.
Catalyst appears to focus, at least in part, on inequality. The introduction to the beta discusses how the rich and powerful lead a society that spies on citizens. This occurred in the first game as well, but Catalyst makes more light of the socioeconomic struggle on the ground. The Runners, a group that uses its parkour and acrobatic skills to steal data to undermine the ruling class, were portrayed as being somewhere between Robin Hood's band of thieves and Occupy Wall Street, depending on the mission I played. These levels included a very brief tutorial (see below), some races, optional side missions (10-15 minutes each) and a couple of story missions that made up the meat of the private beta. It took me about 2 hours, but the time it takes to complete will depend on your skill level, how long you explore the open world and if you choose to take on those side quests.
But the separation of society into "loCastes," "midCastes" and the ruling "Employs" seemed like an oversimplification of what could be a rich and complex narrative, and I hope the game will tell us more about the conflict instead of relegating it to some side missions in favor of stealing data from the rich and destroying property.
Upgrade System Woes
The original Mirror's Edge had nothing to unlock. Players were dumped into free running with the expectation that they would use Faith's skill set to navigate the city quickly and gracefully. This time around, I found I had to unlock the Skill Roll, which causes Faith to roll over her shoulder and recoil from hard falls.
Until I upgraded my capabilities, I had no choice but to do a soft landing, stop and regain my momentum. This will likely drive speed runners and fans of the previous game nuts, as they'll have to unlock everything to earn the fastest times in the series of races interspersed throughout the game. I'm not alone in this; plenty of Twitter users are upset:
I got some of my favorite moves back fairly quickly, though, so here's hoping we'll all be back to the old Faith in short order.
Unforgiving to Newcomers
If the beta is anything to go off of, this game is hard, just like the original. Taking a running leap toward your next objective and plummeting to your death is part of the experience. But as a soft reboot, this will be a lot of gamers' introduction to the Mirror's Edge universe, and the game puts you in the deep end after teaching you how to fight and never looks back. It makes some assumptions that you understand the core running and climbing mechanics, and breezes through those faster than the original title. Catalyst's beta focuses on the more complicated fighting mechanics instead. Hopefully, the finished product will be heavier on the tutorial front.
Admittedly, the new Runner's Vision is a lot better if you get lost. However, the difficult fighting mechanics piled on top of the exacting parkour may turn off first-time players from what I feel are some of the best game mechanics in the past decade. While combat received a ton of focus in the beta, tutorials for traversing Mirror's Edge Catalyst's cityscape took a backseat. I hope that new runners get the same chance to learn to take leaps of faith as I did.
I loved how the original Mirror's Edge redefined what first-person mechanics could add to a title, and I think adding an open world and removing guns will do wonders to extend that. Mirror's Edge Catalyst will undoubtedly be bigger than its 2008 predecessor, but playing the beta made me wonder if it will be as much better as I have hoped. We'll only be able to find out once we get to review the full game.