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Mirrors Edge: Closed Beta Impressions (Gotta Have Faith).

For full disclosure: I was not part of the closed beta program for the new Mirrors Edge prequel/re-boot (pre-boot?): Mirrors Edge: Catalyst. The opinions discussed in this piece are those I have developed by watching various bits of gameplay footage from the closed beta program. I just really want to talk about Mirrors Edge.

Cast your mind back, if you will, to Christmas 2010. I am a younger lad, far enough in to my teens to be able to dump lots of money on games and not have to worry about it. The steam sale rolls around and I go mad. So many games were added to my library that day and among them; Mirrors Edge. I am a firm believer that everyone has three to five games that they’re actually good enough at to brag about and Mirrors Edge quickly became one of my three. By this I mean: I used to boot the game up every Monday morning, beat a few weekly world records and then get breakfast. Just saying. Safe to say that when I first heard of a Mirrors Edge pre-boot, I was pretty stoked.

Of course, what I’ve seen is beta footage (or what the industry classes as a “beta“ anyway) and many things are pretty much sure to change. Take what I’m about to say with a grain of salt and I’ll try my best to not look like an idiot in the long-term. I suppose that the shortened version of my feelings regarding Mirrors Edge: Catalyst is that I’m excited. Not as excited as I could be, but pretty excited nonetheless. The graphics are, by necessity, the first thing that you notice. More specifically, you notice the massive visual overhaul that one would expect from a seven year break between titles. It’s refreshing to see another AAA game that actually has some colour in it, even if most of that colour is the blood red of the “runner vision“. Catalyst isn’t quite as stark in its colour contrast as its predecessor, but it’s still got a lot to show in its own right. After all, sacrificing stylisation for “realism“ is pretty standard in a day and age where we can attempt to closer emulate said “realism.“ Whilst I have mixed feelings on the change, I feel that it’ll grow on me. I blame nostalgia over the developers here. At the end of the day, this game already looks damn good.

It may not look like much now, but the top image was screencap'd from a youtube video, while the bottom one is full graphics, in game. The difference is actually astounding.

There are a couple of things I can call the developers out on, however. The first thing I noticed that made me shake my head in annoyance was the lack of running straight off the bat. I understand that those involved in development want to tell a story and such but “Mirrors Edge is about running first and story second“. I’m sure we’ve all heard that line far too much by this point. I sit on the fence with regards that statement, but when five minutes pass before you actually get to climb something, I start to get concerned as to how the focus between story and free-running is going to be divided up as the game goes on. In the first game, the free running was almost instantaneous and that set the pace for the game as a whole. So far in Catalyst, I’m yet to see this focus continued at the same level.

Mate, upon release I'm climbing to the top of the nearest building and there's nothing you can do to stop me.

Another major difference between 2009’s Mirrors Edge and Catalyst is the focus on combat. In the beta footage there’s not a lot of confrontation but when there is, it’s highly implied that you give the KrugerSec foot soldiers a good beat-down. During the tutorial, this is emphasised so heavily that there are guards standing in the one doorway that you need to pass through. Even if you can get past them, the door remains locked until you’ve decorated the scaffolding with red stuff. Again, I have a similar fear here as I do with the story/gameplay split. If the tutorial has mandatory pummelling, does that mean that the rest of the game’s combat is a required activity? Beta footage shows that you can dodge around most enemies but a lot of the K-Sec guys are positioned right in the way, leaving you no choice but to introduce them to the flat of your foot. It’s not as bad as I’m making it out to be, however. In the games defence, Catalyst seems to have a heavier focus on combat; but said combat is also leagues further ahead in terms of fluency. Movement through a level is rarely halted by a stray security guard, as the go-to form of attack seems to be to just push them out of the way. Good job, Dice. Satisfying those who want the combat and those who want the free running is difficult. If you can’t beat √¢‚ǨÀúem, shove √¢‚ǨÀúem slightly. As long as I don’t strictly have to punch my way through hordes of soldiers, I’m happy.

Sir! I don't want to hurt you! Like... really,... I'd rather not fight you at all... Could you move please? Trying to run and stuff...

Unfortunately, as is often the case, with a new shiny coat of pre-boot paint comes new features that no-one really asked for. Somewhat unnervingly, Catalyst is no exception with the addition of a new, XP based level up/upgrades system. 2009’s Mirrors Edge was and is very much a game of skill. You used the skills at hand (that you had from the start) and honed them until you got better. You were literally learning to walk and then run. With Catalyst, basic abilities like rolling on a soft landing or tucking your feet up to get more air time seem to be locked away behind a seemingly arbitrary upgrade system and to me, this seems detrimental to the whole experience. At the end of the day, do we really need a level-up system for what are essentially basic motor functions? Sadly, it looks like it’s something we’re going to have to deal with. By “deal with“, I do of course mean “mod out“.

A runner that can't roll on a landing is like a tiny dog. Cute at first but ultimately: useless.

Overall, Catalyst seems very promising. I’ve been excited for a Mirrors Edge pre-boot since it was first announced and even with the issues highlighted above, I’m still going to buy this game the second it drops. Sure, it’s not the Mirrors Edge we all know and love, but a lot has changed in the industry since 2009, for better and for worse. With great new features such as creating your own time trials (prepare to marvel at my greatness, mortals), the massively overhauled visual styling and smoothness of gameplay that comes with a more modern game engine, I think it’s going to be interesting to see what this true classic re-imagined in the present day will look like. Hopefully it goes better than the last few AAA reboot attempts.

Mirrors Edge: Catalyst is set to Drop in early June 2016. Screenshots taken from Polygon's Closed Beta footage video which you can view here:

Edited by Admin on Monday 30th of May 2016 05:34:33 PM : 
Fixed the YouTube video misalignment

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