In 2008, EA and DICE upended the mold of first-person perspective video games by incorporating parkour as the main element of Mirror’s Edge. Though not a commercial success, it was a fan favourite, and was hailed as an innovation in first-person video games.
Fast forward to E3 2013, and a surprise announcement that a reboot is in the works was met with overwhelming excitement. After two delays, Mirror’s Edge: Catalyst is mere weeks away, and I had a crack at the closed beta, and all I can say is: this is the Mirror’s Edge game we’ve been waiting for.
The most drastic change from the 2008 original is the setting: the dystopian city has completely opened up to make it a true open-world playground for you to run amok in. I no longer feel like I have limited number of paths going from point A to point B within each level, but rather, I get more freedom than ever before. If the runner’s vision suggests I should head north through a series of corridors, I can follow suit, or I can go another way and traverse my way around to my waypoint via building exteriors and scaffolding - my options are endless.
The freedom to explore meant there were more variety in my traversal options, but also more trial-and-error: As opposed to viewing a single possible path, I’m now spoilt for choice, which forces me to, more often than not, make fatal mistakes. I would jump over the edge of a building, hoping to land on the roof of another, only to see myself high-fiving the pavement with my face. Or worse, I’d find myself stuck at a certain point along the way, the next step of the path not immediately obvious. Normally this wouldn’t be an issue with most games, but in Mirror’s Edge: Catalyst, momentum plays a big part of the game, and coming to a sudden halt can adversely affect your success .
Introduced to the reboot is the concept of focus shields: The more momentum you gain through running and jumping over, under, and through obstacles, the more focus you gain, which will assist you in evading bullets and other attacks. The key is to maintain your focus through constant movement, but if or when you make the wrong turn, the sudden stop and subsequent drop in focus means you are a sitting duck. Adding to the decision that Faith will not be wielding a gun as she did (in small doses) in the original, you are required to be proficient in traversal in order to stay alive. Thankfully, the enemy AI is forgiving enough for you to learn the tricks with traversal and combat to best them in various scenarios.
One of the other changes DICE made was the addition of a skill tree. By completing challenges and picking up collectibles, you earn experience points, which go towards unlocking the three tiers of said tree – movement, combat and gear. Initially, I wasn’t too pleased with requiring to unlock movement skills that came as stock standard in the original, but after getting familiar with the rate at which I could pick up XP, I’ve warmed to the concept. Movements skills like quick-turn and recoil can build variety into your movement set, and unlockable gear like the mag-rope can help you reach previously unreachable places. The skills that came unlocked in the beta were aplenty though, so if I have to start from scratch in the full release and be forced to grind rather than have the same set unlocked from the get-go, it would be a hurdle I would not enjoy clearing.
To call it a beta is unconventional; a beta release is usually multiplayer-only, designed as a stress test on the servers with increased players playing online simultaneously. In Mirror’s Edge: Catalyst, however, there was minimal multiplayer gaming, with the only components that I could see as online-related (aptly named “Social Play”) were races and challenges called “Beat L.E.” I would qualify this as a demo, as this was more about the gameplay and open-world, rather than the races and challenges. Besides, I engaged with the social aspects of this game minimally, and I am unlikely to buck this trend come the full release.
Even though the release was only a beta/demo, there were still red flags. In a game with open-world gameplay concept, set in a futuristic dystopian city consisting mainly of high-rises, I still encountered walled-off parts within the world. Not necessarily width and breadth, but vertically - I climbed to a point where there was balcony in the building, but physically I could not clamber over the rails to land on said balcony, even though I can clearly see it. This invisible wall brought me right down to Earth, and I hope the developers either allow access to every aspect of the buildings, or remove unattainable rooftops completely.
Another minor issue, which I believe will right itself come the full release, is the drastic difference between character models in cutscenes and in-game: The same character can look like they were rendered in 1080p resolution in cutscenes and 480p, last-gen quality in gameplay. The difference is night and day.
In the eight years since the release of Mirror’s Edge, there have been many open-world, parkour-esque games, with Dying Light having the closest resemblance, and the Assassin’s Creed franchise and Shadow of Mordor as relative comparisons, albeit in a third-person perspective. However, not many have left a lasting memory with me like Mirror’s Edge has, and as soon I saw the city of Glass drenched in white, with objects relative to my path-of-least-resistance highlighted in red, I knew exactly where I was and immediately began planning my next parkour route. The open world design has totally changed how the game is to be approached, and the multiple side missions and challenges has me excited for the game’s release come June.