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 Hands on with the Mirror’s Edge Catalyst PC Beta

 Hands on with the Mirror’s Edge Catalyst PC Beta

I’ve sunk a couple hours into the PC beta, and aside from random side activities and collectibles, I’ve done the majority of what there is to do. As is the case with most betas these days, it’s not comprehensive, but it does give you a pretty good taste of what the final game will offer. There’s lots of running, lots of story, and lots of open world.

People have been asking for another Mirror’s Edge since the first game came out in 2008. Here we are, almost 8 years later, and there’s finally another one on the horizon. This is no sequel, though; Mirror’s Edge Catalyst is a reboot of the franchise. It’s an open world first person game based on traversal and parkour.

Mirror’s Edge Catalyst nails the only thing it absolutely has to nail: the traversal. The parkour system is just plain satisfying. Expect to run from point A to point B, a lot, and expect not to mind. Also expect to fall to your death on numerous occasions, but that comes with the territory, and definitely shows the game’s platforming inspiration. Misjudging a jump is common, and learning the different routes across the map has its own pitfalls, literally. More than once I jumped, expecting to find a surface to grab onto, but found myself instead becoming roadkill. Then you have to reload and start again, which leads me to first my real criticism for the game: load times. On a standard HDD, they definitely left something wanting. They’re not egregious, but they are long enough to be noticeable. If DICE hasn’t made restarting a lot snappier by the time the game comes out, it might be worth putting Mirror’s Edge Catalyst on an SSD.

The game controls well, too, without being overwrought with controls. You can do most of what there is to do with the space bar, with ctrl being used to soften your landings. Through the game’s progression system, you’ll unlock more maneuvers, and the beta gives you a small glimpse of that, but a lot of it remains locked, and once the game is out, I doubt you’ll start with the plethora of movement abilities that are available from the beta’s onset. For some reason you can’t rebind controls in the PC Beta. I expect that to be added by the time the game comes out.

There’s combat, too, but even the game makes it a point to remind you that fighting enemies, for the most part, is optional. If you want, you can run right past anyone trying to attack you, but if you get cornered, or if you just feel like crackin’ some skulls, you can do so if you choose. Combat mostly boils down to light and heavy attacks, and dodging. Managing multiple enemies can be pretty hectic, while at the same time enjoyable. Targets take damage from being knocked into each other as well as hard surfaces, and they can be kicked off the sides of buildings or over railings. Like in most other games, that never gets old.

As said, the game’s open world, meaning there’s the expected onslaught of collectibles. I guess if you’re going to create an open world game, collectibles are an industry standard, but I wouldn’t miss them if they weren’t in Mirror’s Edge Catalyst. Moving around the world here is a lot more engaging and satisfying than in most other games, and collectibles are primarily an unwanted distraction that risk ruining your momentum. I think the transition from a linear game to an open world one suited Mirror’s Edge Catalyst quite well. The rooftops are a platforming playground. Collectibles just get in the way of that.

Along with collectibles, the game world is littered with time trials left by other players. Mirror’s Edge Catalyst has a high degree of online interactivity. After getting to a certain point in the beta, you can create these trials for other players to play. These show up as markers on the map and physically in the game world. You’re never far off from an opportunity to put your running skills to the test. You can also leave markers for other players to show off points of interest or easter eggs, quite like the messages in Dark Souls. The online features help to make Mirror’s Edge Catalyst feel like you’re not alone in the world, which is something I’ve never minded, even in single player games.

Between the tutorial, a couple story missions, and some side quests, Mirror’s Edge Catalyst doesn’t give you a huge sample of story or characters, but I’m not in love with what’s there. Perhaps as the story progresses, characters and motivations will be developed, and there will be a good reason – other than the dystopian future they’re living in – for everyone to be so salty. Faith doesn’t come off as all-too-likeable from the onset. She’s got a chip on her shoulder – for reasons revealed in a few flashbacks, and she constantly butts heads with the new guy, another runner who joined their rag-tag little gang while she was in juvie. Even after the couple hours that are available in the beta, I had grown pretty weary of their interactions.

I’m going to hold off on the judging the story too harshly from only experiencing what’s tantamount to the prologue, but Battlefield 4 wasn’t too well known for its story, either, and the characterization in both games seems similar. DICE’s writing’s been at its best when the games don’t try to take themselves too seriously, like Battlefield: Bad Company. I think they lack a degree of subtlety when it comes to writing anything more serious. But hey, the first Mirror’s Edge wasn’t known for its story, either. So at least it’s consistent. The story missions will, at the very least, give you even more environments to parkour about in, including a lot of indoor spaces that aren’t common at all in the open world.

As with all other DICE games, Mirror’s Edge Catalyst looks and sounds really good, and the PC Beta also seems to be optimized really well. The entire game takes place on the rooftops of the City of Glass, and aside from the start of the game, I doubt you’ll see ground level much if at all. It’s interesting, in fact. In a way, it’s reversing how most open worlds are constructed. The sound design also seems great, but it lacks that sense of awe and cacophony from DICE’s multiplayer shooters. But there’s some really subtle sound effect work happening, especially as Faith hops around, and her sneakers squeak on the ground. I’m a sucker for the sound of footsteps in video games, though.

I left the beta more interested in the game than I was in the onset. The parkour and traversal are so satisfying that I’ll be inclined to ignore the story if it ends up being as ho-hum as the first couple missions imply. Combat is there, and can be pretty fun, but it’s also nice that you can run right past most enemies if you so choose. The game definitely feels more akin to platformer than it does to a first person shooter, which is exactly how Mirror’s Edge should feel.

About Josh Price

Josh Price is a writer who probably spends too many hours of the day playing video games. At some point he decided to put the two together to (hopefully) great effect. He also wrote some fiction. You should check that out if you're into such things, which you should be. Reading is FUNdamental.

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