When the original Mirror's Edge launched in 2008 it was generally praised for its movement system and gameplay, but was criticised by some for its story, combat, and "trial and error" mentality. DICE claims to have learned from its mistakes with Mirror's Edge Catalyst, but after playing through the beta, we somewhat disagree.
One element that won't change before the game launches is the story, and this first part doesn't bode well. Most characters, Faith included, lack personality. It seems like DICE tries to make them feel "cool" by having playful banter all the time, but here it just feels forced and exaggerated. Characters speaking in third person, playfully calling each other old, and with antagonists being pure evil, well it just feels like too cliché for a game like this. Hopefully this is just an element to get the story started as fast as possible, but with DICE's track record we fear it won't get better further into the narrative.
The original was no different, and yet we liked it, so we'll easily look past this if the movement and gameplay are still enticing. Good news, it mostly is. Faith is more responsive, while still familiar. The controls are pretty much the same, and it'll take mere seconds to re-familiarise with them. Though we question the decision to make many of what we'd call basic moves locked in the upgrade system, as those who've played the original will most certainly miss the roll at first. It doesn't take long to earn skills points, but it still doesn't feel right when we've already explored some of the locked abilities in the original. By doing this they're only forcing us to grind for experience points, though maybe also makes it easier for new players to ease themselves into the game?
When we heard that the city would be "open world" we hoped that we'd get more freedom to explore and test out all of our abilities. These hopes are largely fulfilled. Usually there are multiple paths to your destination, and moving seamlessly across the city still feels fantastic. Then it's just a shame that the city that we've explored thus far is so lifeless and sterile. We were only allowed to explore part of the map, but the different areas we saw looked way too similar. Combining this with weird movement restrictions really shows that there are certain paths we are meant to take. Really? An expert in parkour can't climb up on scaffolding, or even certain walls that look exactly the same as climbable ones?
One of the few new additions to the movement is the inclusion of the SHIFT button. This is for all intents and purposes a button that, when combined with an action, accelerates your movements. Use it to climb faster, make sharp turns, avoid enemy attacks and more. It's a nice idea, but we're not entirely convinced by its implementation. It's just too easy to exploit. There are no restrictions for using it, so it's easy to keep spamming the button the avoid enemy attacks and get back up to speed after slowing down.
Combat is still problematic. DICE hoped to make it better by not letting us use firearms, and it helps a little bit. Unfortunately Faith has a very limited move set in terms of combat. Usually we're surrounded by two or three melee enemies. Then we often find ourselves spamming the "light attack" button a few times, then doing the same to the other enemies kindly waiting two yards away. Some times they'll counter our attacks, but those are easily turned over by using heavy attacks, environmental moves or the SHIFT dodge. With enemies looking extremely similar this got repetitive very quickly.
We mostly come upon enemies with firearms during missions, but rarely did we have to think too much about them. In most cases they are just meant to shoot at you while you're running away. If you're fighting against other enemies they won't fire, and if you've built up your focus meter (by running non-stop) their bullets won't hit you, and when you get close enough it's just a matter of hitting the "light attack" button. It's worth mentioning that when the combat actually works, and different enemy types attack simultaneously, it feels quite nice. Using combination of light/heavy attacks, the environment, SHIFT dodge and kicking enemies into each other in free flow combat is nice diversion, even if it's far from perfect. DICE wants us to avoid combat, and it shows. Not a problem for us, as the traversal is our favourite part of the game.
That's why Social Play is the one feature that makes us come back to the beta. We've spent many hours trying to beat our friends' best runs in time trails, and trying to find the best route to our destination. Here we're allowed to focus on the great traversal mechanics while we avoid most of he game's cons. The only negative aspect of these trials is that going through the same areas over and over again emphasises the monotonous environment.
From this brief glimpse it seems as though Mirror's Edge Catalyst has kept both the positive and negative aspects of the original. The sense of movement, the parkour, and seamlessly exploring the city felt great during the first hours. The Social Play features will keep fans occupied for hours, trying to beat each others' times. We still have concerns about variety, but if you liked the original this is most certainly something you should keep your eye on. Mirror's Edge Catalyst launches on PC, PlayStation 4 and Xbox One on June 9th.