When Mirror’s Edge Catalyst was announced at E3 in 2013, it came as a mild surprise. The fan base adored the original but their numbers were small; not because the game was poor as it reviewed remarkably well but when Mirrors Edge launched in 2008, the premise was unique. A first person, speed runner where avoiding combat was almost sanctimonious. Since then we’ve seen similar mechanics appear in titles such as 2015’s Dying Light.
Mirror’s Edge Catalyst is neither a sequel, prequel or a reboot but more of a re-imagining. Faith, the heroine from the original outing returns and although the narrative and city feel familiar, a lot has changed. With the game launching on June 7th, I spent a few hours with the beta to see how the Faith was adapting to her new environment.
The beta begins with flashbacks of Faith’s past and we learn that she is currently incarcerated. It would seem that her sentence has been served and after a menacing conversation with a prison guard, she is reluctantly released. Emerging from the building you see how different the city looks. Instead of the pristine whites from the previous outing, a blue hue surrounds you. Rain is pouring down with sirens and flashing lights illuminating your surroundings. As I approach a guard, without skipping a beat, the butt of his rifle connects with my face, staggering me. I feel vulnerable, an emotion which was lacking from the contrasting safety the first game brought.
My path is blocked by security hassling a couple of civilians and I hear a whisper over my shoulder. I see a door ajar and a mysterious man, signaling me over. Icarus is a newly recruited runner and seemingly Faith’s replacement whilst she has been away. Cocky and arrogant, perhaps his name is foreshadowing his fate? He grudgingly gives you a ‘gridlink’ which acts as an augmented reality device. Immediately, a series of logins and feeds appear all over the screen as I see the latest news and my bank account balance in my peripheral vision. The series is influenced by the tale of ‘1984’ and we see here how private and personal details are monitored.
After a tinkering of the device, we hear from the leader of the runners, Noah. In this Big Brother inspired world, runners such as Faith deliver untraceable packages around the city which ultimately, led to her being in her current predicament. Noah has sent Icarus to retrieve Faith and bring her back to the base. Finally, we are allowed to play with the core mechanic within Mirror’s Edge Catalyst.
Speed is key as Faith possesses a profound amount of stamina. With her cat-like reflexes, she can scale walls, slide for meters and make death defying leaps. The button layout feels irregular at first but you soon grow accustomed to them. All of the maneuvers are tied to the shoulder buttons which allow you to focus on precision. By using the hacked ‘gridlink’, a runner vision acts as a parkour GPS system. With the limited color pallet making the city feel dark and uninviting, the bright red of the ‘gridlink’ radiates from a distance. Obstacles blocking my path are highlighted in this intense red and I adapt accordingly.
The next 20 minutes act as a tutorial and I’m soon linking wall runs and wall climbs together. The threat of being pursued is ever present which induces tension into the proceedings. Search helicopters fly past the abandoned warehouse Faith is currently residing and a search light floods the hallways. Eventually, my path is blocked by enemies and combat mechanics are introduced. I learn basic attacks which knock foes into walls, over rails or comically, into one another. The enemies are not here simply for combat purposes though as they become part of the parkour experience. You can gracefully dismount a wall run with a flying kick to a guards face or break a fall from a tremendous height with their hapless bodies. The mission culminates in a medley of all these obstacles as you scale a towering construction site. The free running feels slick and precise. The speed at which Faith responds feels intuitive and eliminating enemies without breaking your stride looks mesmerizing.
After a confrontation and a reunion, I had finished the first mission and rewarded with the some experience points. These could be spent on either movement, combat or gear. Although the majority of these skills were locked in the beta, I could get an idea of how Faith will evolve. Rolling out of long falls and double wall runs were skills I could use but more interesting abilities such as tools to reach distant platform looked intriguing.
I opened the map and set a destination marker to reach the city skyline, which looked reminiscent of the original game as immaculate white buildings populate the horizon. I stand on a ventilation system connecting two buildings and gaze at my surroundings. The immediate environment looks great but I’m disappointed to see how the rest of the city looks. Distant tower blocks look jagged, the road below simplistic and cars systematically follow the exact same route. Mirror’s Edge Catalyst is not an open world to the extent of GTA or Fallout but still allows you to explore the city and accept missions and races at your own pace. I appreciate the simplistic pallet and design choices but instead of the city looking impeccable and meticulously controlled, it felt sloppy.
The second mission had Faith infiltrating an office to retrieve some documents. I gain entry by leaping from a ledge and clambering through as narrow, open window. The infusion of the color green has a drastic effect on the environment. The office building looks contrasting to the previous locales simply by changing the color scheme.
Whereas in the previous segment, where being pursued forced me to be intuitive, I had time to look around and explore. The runner vision had been disabled momentarily so I needed to be experimental in order to reach the top floors. By climbing decorative company logos and hanging from the bottom of a moving elevator, I reached my destination.
After an altercation involving an agent, who happened to be on an espionage mission of their own, Faith was once more on the run. Agents were again blocking my exit and I was pleased that I could evade them. As other enemies rained down bullets from the higher floors and a gunship tried in vain to slow me down, I leap through a pane of glass, grabbing a high-wire and sailing to safety.
My third and final mission took Faith inside another building, this time looking for a drone. What bothered me about this mission and a couple of side missions I had played, was the forced combat segment. When the option of fleeing is not given to you, Mirror’s Edge Catalyst lost its appeal to me. Armored enemies can not be quickly dispatched and the clunky fighting mechanics had both myself and the assailants swinging aimlessly through the air. Once this tedious section was finished, I discovered the drone which, as I approached it, became airborne. Smashing through a window and with Faith in hot pursuit, I tailed the device across the city concluding with Faith hanging from the drone, coasting over the streets below, until it came smashing to the ground.
I was very impressed with the diversity on show from the first few missions and once these were completed, I took a final look at my map. I was pleased to see how populated it was. Side missions and races appeared all around including user created content. The free running mechanics feel great and I could not wait to utilize them in a competitive nature.
Mirror’s Edge Catalyst looks very promising and inhabits what made the first game unique and enjoyable. I encountered some technical glitches such as frame rate drops in cut-scenes and pop-in of scenery but this was a beta, so I hope they are fixed upon in the final release. Although the city can look bland, I was pleased to see the amount of content available within it and hope that combat can be avoided more often than not. I’m eagerly waiting until June when Mirror’s Edge Catalyst hits the PC, Xbox One and PS4.
An Englishman living in Australia. I edit and provide video/written reviews for all of the latest games.