Mirror's Edge: Catalyst Preview
The original Mirror’s Edge was a unique first-person action game that blended high-intensity speed-running with platforming and puzzle elements. It only managed to sell about a million copies but it was a brand new IP, and it also released relatively early in a new generation, so it certainly wasn’t a failure. While it may not have been a blockbuster breakaway hit, it still generated a lot of loyal followers, all of whom were excited when a follow-up entry came to light. It took developer DICE quite some time to produce this news but after all, they’ve been busy with other projects (Battlefield, for instance) and besides, they’ve put a lot of effort into rebooting Faith’s playground.
The developers have indeed called Mirror’s Edge: Catalyst a “complete reboot" and it’s the team’s chance to appeal to a wider audience. It’s undoubtedly a risk for publisher Electronic Arts – a fact DICE has mentioned several times – but this only means the design team has to work that much harder to ensure a successful launch. Perhaps the first step was to give the main character a heftier background and story, as it wasn’t well explained in the first title. In order to do Faith justice and create a story in which players might actually take an interest, DICE has created an entirely new playground. This one is definitely open-world but there’s still an emphasis on “proper character development.”
Free-running is, in and of itself, a compelling gameplay style. In the original game, it required the player to look at things in a different way; most first-person adventures were, and still are, shooters. We’ll once again have to look at our surroundings as one giant playground for the protagonist’s prodigious capabilities, and while the puzzle/adventure elements could be less of a focus, DICE made a good decision: They ditched the guns. They seemed to be an afterthought in the original quest and really, they weren’t necessary. The developers obviously agree as they’ve already confirmed that Faith won’t be handling firearms in Catalyst. She will, on the other hand, have a more robust physical attack arsenal, which includes flinging herself off walls to strike down foes. It’s more than a little bad-ass.
In addition to the removal of weapons and the emphasis on Faith’s personal story, DICE has taken an ambitious and far-reaching approach to designing the new world. The first game was more linear and typically forced you down a set path, sometimes with only one way of escaping or traversing a particular environmental construction. But in Catalyst, we’ll have the standard open-world freedom with the benefit of zero load times. However, don’t expect the 100 percent sandbox style ala The Elder Scrolls or recent Grand Theft Auto installments, because parts of the city will open up as you progress. It reminds me of The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, in which various parts of the world weren’t accessible right off the bat and they separated the massive environment into two good-sized chunks. I like that approach because it’s nowhere near as intimidating and allows the player to focus on one section.
And yet, at the same time, it still retains the basic tenets of an open-world foundation. It’s like the best of both worlds; a way of keeping the story in the limelight without forcing strict linearity on the player, while still giving us plenty of freedom. That freedom will result in multiple paths for Faith through the beautiful City of Glass. Your possible routes will be mapped out in red, allowing you to pinpoint and plan your progress. This looks like tons ‘o fun, as it was in the original, and the flow of the gameplay is absolutely critical. If the developers give us a challenging yet accessible playground and we can get into a comfortable free-running rhythm, which also allows us to improvise when necessary, this could be one of the most entertaining games of 2016. Hell, I expect nothing less.
So long as we have the chance to avoid direct conflict if we so desire (like playing stealthily in Deus Ex, for instance), and the game doesn’t boil down to a series of free-running attack situations, Faith’s newest and largest adventure should really turn some heads. It sounds like DICE has the right idea, and it helps to know they’re trying to kill two birds with one stone: They’ve said in the past that they still want to cater to fans of the original while drawing in a whole new set of followers. Given their goals and their decisions thus far, that certainly seems feasible. Mirror’s Edge: Catalyst is set to launch on February 23, 2016 for PlayStation 4, Xbox One and PC, but it does face the hurdle of having to contend with Deus Ex: Mankind Divided, which releases on the same day. Oh, just get both and be happy.
10/5/2015 Ben Dutka