Mirror’s Edge Catalyst is shaping up to be a sequel in the truest sense of the word. It’s bigger, bolder, and more beautiful than it’s predecessor, while building upon the groundwork laid in the first game.
Catalyst‘s beta opens with series protagonist Faith in a futuristic prison cell. She’s, of course, to be released that day, and upon her release back into society as a “reformed” citizen, she finds herself immediately back to her old ways of free-running all over the stark and colorful city, stealing intel and smashing armed guards.
Catalyst sells it’s dystopian future with every detail. The sky is littered with drones, watching the city of Glass’ citizens do as they do. Sky scrapers have moving ads blazoned upon them. Cameras are on the corner of every building. Real world fears of an ever-watching government, a society run by corporations, is what drives Catalyst’s futuristic punk rock, anti-establishment attitude, and Faith’s otherworldly nimbleness and coolness contrasts sharply with the stiffness of her enemies and their employers.
Technically speaking, Catalyst is a marvel. The Frostbite engine continues to grow, pushing way beyond anything EA has tasked the engine with in the past. Perhaps most impressive is the facial animation. While Faith certainly looks like a video game character, many of Catalyst’s side characters, especially in cut scenes, border on uncanny valley. The frame-rate, on an nVidia 970 with an i7-4790k on Ultra, never falls below a very playable 60 frames per second. At times, the beta shows it’s not-done status, with some texture pop-in and some wonky shadows, but in the moment-to-moment gameplay, it’s barely noticeable.
Faith is still capable of running and jumping with the best of them, but DICE has clearly done a lot to increase the fluidity of free-running. Catalyst includes “Runner Vision.” With the press of the left-ALT key, a red, cloudy trail directs you where to go. At first I was disappointed. Mirror’s Edge was, in many ways, a puzzle in which you had to guide Faith from rooftop to rooftop, and the reward of being able to do so without stopping is among the greatest feelings in modern gaming. But I found that sensation was never lost with the addition of Runner Vision. In fact, the kineticism of running and jumping, swinging and falling, is faster and cleaner this time out, and as such I felt immensely powerful.
Combat sees a complete re-working. While you still tap F to light-attack and left-click for heavy, now pressing A or D while clicking directs your attack. Pressing D will kick your opponent to the right, and A to the left, the idea being you can now kick villains into each other, giving you a moment to either readjust yourself or run. The mechanic does take some getting used to, at least with a mouse and keyboard. Timing the two button presses is initially awkward, but after a few tries, it becomes second nature. Similarly, pressing a directional key and right-clicking causes Faith to dodge in whichever direction you press. Dodging to the side is not a lateral movement, but instead positions you around your enemy, giving you another advantage. While on the run, tapping F as you approach an enemy performs a quick attack which allows you continue running.
All of Catalyst’s new additions build to an exhilarating experience, at least at this late stage in development. Based on the beta, gamers who’ve missed Mirror’s Edge will have all the reason to rejoice come June when the game is finally released.