I’m not sure what kind of game Mirror’s Edge Catalyst is trying to be. I’ve played it for a couple of hours now, thanks to my invitation to the closed beta, plus fifteen minutes of hands-on time at EGX last year. While my last go at the game was all about trying out the gameplay, this beta gave me an opportunity to see some of the other features around the gameplay. And after a couple of hours exploring what I could of Glass City, I’m not sure who the game is actually for.
Gameplay is still the main attraction, and when it works it’s great. When you’re in full free-running flow – making jumps and dashes, running along walls and across pipes, it’s all good. There’s a nice thrill that comes with chaining together a wicked free running section, so much so that I sometimes wishes the game had a replay mode so I could see my awesome moves in glorious, cinematic third person.
Most of Mirror’s Edge Catalyst’s problems come when you stop running. And, in the demo at least, that was a lot. Combat is a big issue. There are two types of combat I’ve come across so far. The first is incorporated into the free running, during missions that require you to get somewhere so fast you can’t stop to actually fight enemies. This type of combat is pretty good, and similar to the gameplay section shown at EA’s E3 press conference last year.
It’s the second type of fighting that had me vexed. This drops you into rooftop arenas to fight goons in armour, taking out much of the more unique style of combat from the previous example. You can still leverage your array of free running moves to do significant damage to baddies, but because these arenas tended to be more open opportunities were much more limited. This leads to a lot of circle strafing, dodging attacks and some directional kicking. It just feels so uninspired, especially compared to the hyperkinetic rush of rushing past enemies.
A quick glance at the skill trees in the beta suggests that a lot of Faith’s free-running abilities aren’t going to be available straight off the bat in the finished game, but rather earned through RPG-like progression. Basically you’ll be able to run, jump and kick when you first start playing, with a huge amount of actual parkour will need to be unlocked through play. Considering the big hook with Mirror’s Edge is its parkour-inspired free-running gameplay, blocking a lot of that off behind skill trees and XP progression feels like it could be a mistake.
And what’s with this “the fastest route isn’t always the one that’s marked” nonsense? Catalyst features runner vision, which subtly highlights a route to your current objective in the environment. Presumably this is to make sure you don’t start scrambling up walls that you can’t climb, or get lost and spend twenty minutes trying to find the correct wall to run across. However, as Catalyst saw fit to remind me all the time, the route that’s marked isn’t the fastest route. In fact, I kept failing a timed mission while following this marked route to a tee, which meant that I obviously needed to find a shortcut to succeed. This is logic I don’t understand at all – why bother having a marked route if I should be ignoring it anyway?
However it’s Glass City itself that felt like Catalyst’s biggest issue. The city itself just looks really dull. Every direction I glanced, the city looked the same.It was all white, shiny and looked like it had just been taken out of the wrapper, with very little character to it. And with Catalyst making a move into the open-world genre comes collectibles. Pointless, pointless collectibles. Scattered everywhere were recordings, documents and chips I could steal from boxes. All of which seemed to matter about as much as collectibles in all the other 300 open-world games I’ve played in the past 12 months.
I guess my main problem with Mirror’s Edge Catalyst is that it’s taken something the fun and somewhat unique looking game I saw at E3 and turned it into Just Another Game™. Glass City felt bland, the story and characters seemed dull, the combat felt unengaging and the tasks I was given and collectibles I collected felt pointless. I entered this beta feeling intrigued by possibilities, but I’ve left it feeling underwhelmed by a game that feels like it’s yet another open world game, with few distinguishing features of its own.