The Mirror’s Edge Catalyst closed beta is finished and after three days of short-but-sweet hands-on gameplay, I find myself yearning for parkour in all other games. I can’t even play Fallout now without the urge to leap off debris, land on shambled rooftops, run off of dirt walls, and drop kick the face off of a crawling ghoul. Mirror’s Edge simply has a sense of motion that is unshakable and entirely unmatched, and I’ll long for it again until its release in June.
The first thing the Mirror’s Edge Catalyst beta has to be commended for is that it offered a considerable chunk of the single player experience rather than a couple of multiplayer environments to run around in aimlessly, just as every closed beta experience has been before. Even though Catalyst doesn’t exactly have a traditional multiplayer experience to offer in the first place (more on that later), developers haven’t been keen on releasing the first couple of hours of their titles for large-scale play-testing, and EA made a gutsy move that will hopefully effect the release of future betas.
As any fan of the first game would likely agree on, the centrality of Mirror’s Edge is fluidity, maneuverability and endless style. Thankfully from moment the beta started all of this was clearly established. In fact, the mechanics felt fairly unchanged, allowing the title to build off the same free-running controls, environmental interactions, and puzzle situations we’ve already grown familiar in order to deliver a full-on blowout on all other cylinders surrounding the familiar core. However, not all of your maneuvers from the first game are immediately available from the get-go, as players now have to unlock abilities through XP points gained from completing missions and finding countless hidden objects all across the game world.
As optimal with a next-gen AAA sequel, every single detail here is delivered with more polish and fluidity than ever before, and being that the original was already breathtakingly gorgeous, Mirror’s Edge Catalyst may be one of the most beautifully-crafted games ever made. The real beauty and progression of the sequel kicks-in once you escape a system of winding hallways that showcases a much-improved, super slick combat system, flowing with beautiful animation, never skirting close to a single framerate falter.
Once out in the open, the player is welcomed to an open-world of flashing color and gorgeous, vivid detail: a slick, clean, and cohesive vision of the future of a universe high in the sky, intertwining the architecture of Mass Effect and vibrant billboard world of Blade Runner with more shininess, simplistic color palettes, and pure vibrance to run, jump, and climb over at your heart’s content.
The open-world design is really a work of art and really changes everything we’ve come to know about the franchise. From the first game we’ve gone from a linear, Portal-esque design of moving from room to room and figuring out on how to get from point A-to-B, to a massive mecca of interconnected rooftops with endless hidden paths and environment-based puzzles at every corner and sight to be had. A sense of freedom is achieved that I don’t believe any game has ever had before, as not only do you feel you can go wherever you can see, but you actually feel as though you’re running and climbing with absolute control over the maneuverability of your body, creating the realest sense of movement through artificial time and space ever achieved on a digital platform. (Mark as extremely VR ready.)
My favorite parts of the Mirror Edge Catalyst experience however are the more linear, subtle, where-the-hell-do-I-climb-next-in-this-tiny-room moments, and these existed strong in the main quest where Faith finds herself tumbling her way inside the towering skyscrapers. The biggest problem initially with the Beta was the updated “Runner Vision” which was much too obvious for the puzzley parts of the game. For the open-world portions it made sense for a glowing red line to literally point your way from one mission to the next – as the world is enormous – and sometimes seemingly impossible to navigate otherwise. But in the second day of the beta, an update was released and it allowed for the option of a reduced runner’s vision similar to the original game, as well as the option to turn it off completely, which I did promptly – making the environment traversing far more independent and satisfying.
The main-mission as well offers a tonally stronger narrative experience than the original. The original game presented the story through a flash animation cutscene style, which I personally found disconnected from the rest of the game. This time around all of the narrative content is presented in-game and cinematically consistent with the look and feel of the whole. Everything felt rather serious and a little edgier as well, without being ever being too dark and alienating. Overall the solid voice acting, swelling ambient music, and gorgeous aesthetic gave a sense of deeply fulfilled sci-fi completeness.
My favorite activity after completing the available main missions, (even though there was still plenty of side quests to do), was experimenting with the multiplayer aspect. The beta came with a friend code and through the pause menu my friend and I were able to create personalized time trial courses across the world, which we challenged each other to quite frequently to always enormous fun. Designing courses were simplistic and intuitive as you simply drop markers across the world as you run through it, forcing you to be creative in finding ways through the environment other players may not have noticed or ever thought of.
The only let-down is something I feel EA DICE can hopefully fix before Mirror’s Edge: Catalyst is released. While we were playing we were able to see each other on the map, but when we tried to meet together at the same spot, neither of us could see each other. Admittedly the location marker is helpful to see what races and challenges one player is doing so the other can beat his or her time at the same time. However when you play a mission another player had already completed, you could clearly see a ghost sprite of the other player running everywhere the player had in their attempt. Would it really be so hard to add a real-time sprite of the other player operating in the open-world, so we could see each other just running around in the open environment at the same time? It seems as though this would open up for a lot of possibility.
Overall the Mirror’s Edge: Catalyst beta was a short but sweet three day experience. On the third day it broke my heart to see the beta be closed as early as 10pm when I got home from work, but nevertheless the beta fully convinced on a preorder purchase. Simply put: Mirror’s Edge: Catalyst will be one of the finest science fiction releases and innovative gameplay experiences of this year.