Mirror’s Edge Catalyst: Beta Impressions

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It’s not every day you get to play a game that isn’t technically released. A while back EA announced that they’d be running a closed Beta for Mirror’s Edge Catalyst, and that time has come. As an avid fan of the original I jumped on the opportunity, and after having played through the section of game that was open to testers, I figured it was worth giving my thoughts on the game build I played. Now keep in mind I’m playing the PS4 Beta, so I can’t comment on the game’s performance on PC, which is dependant on computer builds and the like. And because it is a Beta this isn’t the final build of the game. We likely won’t see drastic changes but the point of a Beta is to make sure it is running properly, so I can’t expect perfection. This will instead look at how the game is shaping up and what we might expect the final build to look like.

Let’s cover the important things first. Any fan of the original will be curious as to how the protagonist Faith handles. A first person parkour game is all about control and flow, and the original did a good job of that. What I feel comfortable saying is that Catalyst is a smoother game across the board. Once Faith is in motion moving across the rooftops feels incredibly natural. Successful slides and wallruns feel rewarding without being overly challenging, and when you find the groove you’ll spot shortcuts and pathways that suit your style of play.

Runner’s Vision, which highlights possible traversal options or objects which you can bounce or climb returns with a new twist. You’re presented with three different options: Full, classic or off. Classic is as you’d expect – the same as the first game – where parts of the map are coloured red to help guide your way. Full works in a similar manner to classic, except that it also shows the action in a segmented ghost. So if you’re to walljump, you’ll see the ghost performing it. It’s a somewhat superfluous feature, handy at the start, particularly for angling your wallruns, but doesn’t add a whole lot. The pathway can also be suggested by pressing the R3 button (on PS4) if you get a little lost.

Honestly though, after a little bit of playing the different pathways seem easier to spot than they did in the original. I felt more comfortable turning Runner’s Vision off in Catalyst than I did in the original. I didn’t encounter moments where the next step was lost on me like I did before. Even on the first run-through of a challenge I was picking out shortcuts and taking them over the ‘suggested route’ and I’m by far an expert. The ease of traversal may change as new areas open up and become more challenging, but the parkour definitely seems more natural in Catalyst. In travelling without Runner’s Vision on, I also noticed that same walls were heavily scuffed by footmarks, suggesting that it’s a popular traversal option for runners. This was a great little inclusion by the development team to add a bit of authenticity to the feel of the world.

Speaking of the city, the world of Glass is a great sight to behold. It’s not completely stunning yet, some details and textures seemed a little bare in the Beta which I suspect will be touched up before release, but taking in the city as a whole it really does feel grand. The open world aspect definitely adds to that, the scope of the city is actually at your fingertips unlike before and it’s a lot of fun to go from roof to roof finding different paths. I’m not sure if I prefer the aesthetic design of Catalyst yet or not, the architectural changes to buildings give it more of a futuristic sci-fi feel and the more colourful backdrop means that specific colours don’t pop quite like they used to. It is worth remembering that the Beta only gave us access to the opening area, others will be opened up with unlockable gadgets, but the city feels well designed and encourages exploration. The opening area isn’t massive though, so those used to the sprawling worlds of Skyrim or GTAV should temper their expectations somewhat.

Despite removing all use of gunplay, the combat has been expanded upon here in Catalyst. You can no longer pick up a gun from a fallen foe, but you’ll hear no complaints from me. The game encourages you to fight or flee and commit. You can chose to stand and fight, using a mix of heavy and light strikes as you try to outmanoeuvre your aggressors and knock them out, or you can run. If you’re going from point A to point B and encounter some troops, you can lightly hit them mid run or jump and keep your momentum going. This is honestly a lot more fun than the straight combat, especially when you combo several successful traversal strikes in succession.

Keeping that momentum is important too, because the developers have included a new focus gauge. By constantly being on the move and pulling off jumps, rolls and other parkour moves you fill your focus gauge, which helps to protect you from gunfire as well as letting you quickly recover from high falls. Some missions will require you to stand and fight, but you’ll have the choice at times to play your way. The game stresses that running from fights is a legitimate option, and it’s a nice change of pace from the average action game. Whichever choice you prefer works better this time around, though some might miss the option to pick up a gun and fire away.

If you’re online, you’ll have a myriad of user made time trials to test yourself on. While this option to create your own running maps is a nice idea, even in the Beta these user made runs were all over the map, and their constant presence was honestly kind of annoying. I’m not sure if you can turn this feature off while you’re still online, but I hope so. It definitely adds to the game’s longevity but they are a bit distracting as red hot spots pop up everywhere when you just want to go for a relaxing run. Another option lets you plant Beat Location Emitters, which is basically like a game of hide and seek. You hide a transmitter and challenge other runners to try and find them. Both ideas I think are solid as they encourage you to constantly explore and trial ways to get to different locations and quickly, but on full release there’s a chance they’ll swamp a somewhat smallish map.

The story itself is intriguing enough. Faith gets released from prison after a failed mission and sneaks away from the brigade to continue her work as a Runner. There is some story progression in the Beta, but it seems to be more in place to introduce a lot of the main players in the story (which makes sense). The original’s story was…ok. It did the job without being anything all that memorable, but the characters introduced in Catalyst so far feel a little more rounded out and interesting. There’s some fun banter between Faith and Nomad and a budding rivalry with Icarus. I don’t think any of the characters will be particularly groundbreaking, but I am confident the story will end up being more memorable. Several plotlines were dangled in the Beta that should make for interesting arcs as the game unfolds.

I wouldn’t hold your breath on a sprawling epic though, the Beta story clocks in at about 28% and it didn’t exactly take a long time to get that far. The original was a short and sharp experience too, and with the added open world features there’ll definitely be a lot more to do, but it’s probably not going to be the type of game to consume a whole month like some out there. The side missions are mostly variations of run from Point A to point B, sometimes quickly or with a slight detour, and there are plenty of collectables to search for as well.

The best side missions early on involve taking out a communications tower and then escaping the patrols that come after you. This mixes in the combat and parkour well, and challenges you to look for pathways on the fly. Though once you get comfortable in an area you tend to know where the good routes are. It’s fun taking your time escaping though and letting the enemies that arrive build up. This isn’t like the Batman Arkham Games, Faith isn’t designed to take on twenty guys at once, but it adds to the tension of escaping. I do hope it’ll be possible to respawn communication tower challenges though, since outside of that there are no respawning areas for bad guys to test yourself against. The risk is that at the endgame literally all you’ll be able to do is run around – which sure is the point, but it’d be fun to have sections of the map with random enemies to deal with ala a lot of open world games.

Outside of some early issues I had where Faith wouldn’t move forward smoothly – which upon further testing seems to be a fault of my controller than the game itself – the Beta for Mirror’s Edge Catalyst was a lot of fun. The parkour aspect that made the original so damn fun feels more refined than before, and the open world aspect really lets you pump your legs and explore paths. The game looks and sounds great (although I was kind of disappointed to see they took away the bone crunching sound you’d make as you hit the ground after a failed jump – it’s replaced with a disappointed sigh from Faith instead) and plays nicely. I didn’t encounter any major bugs from the Beta bar some slowdown in the cutscenes, but thankfully that wasn’t present within the gameplay. I went in already planning on buying the game, and I leave the Beta convinced that I will. There’s a few things I’m hoping to see changed/added in the final build, but I feel comfortable saying: fans of the first – Catalyst will serve as a worthy successor.

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