Mirror’s Edge Catalyst is a beautiful dystopia, as you’d expect from DICE and the City of Glass reflects the technological progress that’s been made since the 2008 original game. Of course, it’s a dystopia contingent on corporate control and it’s always worth remembering that here we have a major company warning us about the dangers of unbridled capitalism in a game people will have to spend money to buy.
Faith’s origin story isn’t quite her origin, she’s been in jail for two years and in the story missions available in the beta, it’s never quite revealed why – though that’s sure to come – and we glean some insight into Faith’s family but the heart of the game remains the free running and fluid movement across the rooftops.
The game’s tutorial area takes place in a construction site and unlike the original game, which allowed you to take off the training wheels if you felt ready or were simply stuck, you must make your way through the entire course and they make Faith perform all manner of contortions to do it. I ultimately changed the controller configuration, swapping the buttons for moving up and down with heavy and light attacks and found things went much more smoothly (that’s LB and LT swapped for A and B on an Xbox One pad).
You’re guided through the city by red arrows and footprints on walls indicate where you can jump up but these merely mark one route, which may not even be the fastest and speed counts for a lot. Faith’s heavy breathing is a reminder of the fact she has to move fast, even when Kruger Sec isn’t shooting at her. Many of the side missions and all of the user created speed trials are timed and while you can understand why runners need to move quickly to get information where it need to go, it’s difficult to fathom why someone has to have a message delivered in less than 42 seconds, especially when someone went up to a rooftop to drop it off in the first place.
Movement, naturally, is the beating heart of the game and it’s somewhat disconcerting when you meet an enemy. The ever present question of fight or flight kicks in and if you choose the former, a range of awkward camera angles during finishing moves can prove distracting. It doesn’t help that combat slows the flow of the game and, at least initially, security take turns coming at you so you’re not overpowered too quickly. Getting you used to the combat system is important but it still feels as if you’re playing an early Assassin’s Creed game and enemies decide to fight you one at a time because it would be unsportsmanlike to do otherwise. Similarly, the framerate during the Xbox One version dropped occasionally while moving quickly (something that will hopefully be ironed out for launch) and the City of Glass sometimes became a blur of pixels mashing together. If you suffer from motion sickness in games, this will probably be one to avoid.
These are minor quibbles, however, with DICE offering a beautiful world and fluid movement through it. There’s also the potential here for a story that far exceeds the somewhat limited original, though that’s too early to say, even with 28% progression – something that could also suggest the game will be relatively short, which isn’t necessary a bad thing.
Side missions such as speed runs and message deliveries help pad things out while players can create their own courses – a simple matter of selecting a starting point, placing checkpoints, and completing a loop. This is the most obvious of the game’s social features, though there is another, that of hacking screens throughout the city to feature your logo which your friends will then be able to see. You also have a range of collectibles to discover, including nowadays near-ubiquitous audio recordings (thank you, BioShock).
Some players expressed concerns about seemingly basic movements being locked away behind XP upgrades but Faith levels quickly and while some perks, such as better health, are being kept for the full game, it shouldn’t take too long to get the ones you most want.
The original Mirror’s Edge was a slow burner and EA and DICE both took a risk in developing a second but based on the beta, their leap of Faith has paid off and Catalyst could be something very special indeed.
Mirror’s Edge Catalyst is set for release on PC, PS4, and Xbox One on June 7th. A beta key was provided by EA for the purpose of this article.