There’s a neat time-trial racing game underneath all that glare.
When Mirror’s Edge Catalyst is stripped back it becomes a great racing game
First, a little background info: I used to hold the number two record in the world for one of the time trials in the original Mirror’s Edge. I say ‘used to’, because eventually the leaderboards were overtaken by hackers – they’d open the level in the Unreal Editor, rearrange it in a straight line, and the leaderboard would accept their times without question. I’m definitely not still salty about that. But hey, second comes right after first!
Point being, my experience of Mirror’s Edge was different to most. Where others came away thinking ‘Why is everyone shooting at me when I’m trying to figure out where to go?’ or ‘Is this all there is to it?’, I spent close to 100 hours scrambling around each room and rooftop, trying to find the best way to shave half a second off my record. To me, Mirror’s Edge was a racing game, but in place of tire treads were Faith’s cool red shoes with the split toe – and I became intimately familiar with every floor and wall she left her footprint on.
It’s hard to race when taking a corner wrong means getting shot to death, though. Mirror’s Edge filled its levels with men with machine guns, and its skies with helicopters with machine guns. So many machine guns! If you got the timing right, you could disarm those men and use their weapons, but the best course of action was to keep running. That’s why the time trials, 30- to 90-second chunks of a level devoid of enemies, were where Mirror’s Edge worked best.
“By the end of the game I may be so intimately familiar with this entire city, that it becomes one giant, interconnected race course.”
But that wasn’t enough of a game for a lot of people, and I can understand why. So Mirror’s Edge Catalyst has two primary concerns to address: combat, and content. After completing the closed beta, which ends after a quarter of the story is completed, I can tell you many good things about the former, and many mixed things about the latter.
You know how, in The Avengers, you always see Scarlett Johansson doing some ridiculous flips before kicking someone in the face, and you think, ‘Boy, that’s a bit elaborate isn’t it?’ That’s the way Mirror’s Edge Catalyst wants you to fight – and it’s been systemised in a way that not only makes sense, but complements Faith’s parkour abilities in a way the first game never managed to.
This is possible because most of the enemies you encounter only have melee weapons, like riot clubs and stun batons. You can dodge around and punch through a handful quite easily, but the game rewards you for executing attacks off the back of a wall run, a long jump, or after whizzing down a zipline, with extra damage or instantaneous knock-outs. Faith’s momentum is, in essence, her damage output.
A small meter builds up in the bottom left corner of the screen as she runs, jumps, slides and rolls without interruption. Filling that meter puts Faith in a “flow state”, activating an ability called Focus Shield. As long as this meter stays full, and she doesn’t lose momentum, Focus Shield stays up and Faith can’t be hit by bullets. This give you time to seek out pieces of the environment to execute a flip, or wall run, on and chain into an attack, without worrying about being shot in the back.
As for your attacks themselves, you have two: a “flow attack” which knocks an enemy out of the way, allowing you keep running without losing momentum; and a “momentum transfer” in which you knock yourself into the enemy, losing all your speed but letting them deal with the equal and opposite reaction – potentially by falling off a building. The two attacks offer a simple but important choice, depending upon whether you want to stay and fight, or get out of there as fast as possible.
Unlike in the original game, combat in Mirror’s Edge Catalyst is no longer something you dread. It meshes with Faith’s character, her traversal abilities, and rewards skillful and efficient exploitation of the environment. It’s neat!
In the game’s first few hours, it’s rare to encounter a combat situation outside of a main mission. Instead, you’ll spend much more time traversing the rooftops of the game’s open world hub. This is where Mirror’s Edge Catalyst inundates you with “content” (read: stuff to do). There are collectibles, generic and repetitive side missions, and time trials to complete and clear off the map.
“I’ve had regular trouble simply seeing whether the space just ahead of me is an actual floor, or a gap that will send me plummeting to my death.”
The biggest issue here is that there is so much competing for your attention. The original Mirror’s Edge featured no heads-up display whatsoever, save for a little white crosshair in the center of the screen to stop you from getting motion sickness. Mirror’s Edge Catalyst crowds its own HUD with pop-ups and waypoints and all manner of on-screen text that it’s often hard to find a “flow state” of your own. Combined with an art style that emphasises pristine white buildings, and a lighting engine that tends to bloom and overbright anything touching the sun, I’ve had regular trouble simply seeing whether the space just ahead of me is an actual floor, or a gap that will send me plummeting to my death.
Runner Vision seeks to alleviate that. It’s a system that turns key pieces of terrain that you need to run and jump on a bright red, so that they stand out. However, Mirror’s Edge Catalyst adds a new layer: a red ghost line, constantly snaking its way ahead of you, along the exact path you need to follow. You feel like you’re being pulled along by a string. Fortunately, you can turn this line off, and opt for “classic” Runner Vision so that you still need to parse the environment. The game is much more fun this way.
In fact, I’m finding I’m having the most fun when I’m leaving the missions, collectibles, and story behind me, taking on user-generated time trials across the open world hub. This is the most exciting prospect to me – the notion that, by the end of the game, I may be so intimately familiar with this entire city, that it becomes one giant, interconnected race course. The races within won’t have lanes or barriers; they’ll simply say: get from one side of the city to the other. Go.
And since the leaderboards are all running on EA’s servers, hackers probably won’t be taking my number one spot this time.
Mirror’s Edge Catalyst is due for release June 7 on PC, Xbox One and PS4.