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Preview: Running across rooftops in the Mirror's Edge Catalyst beta

I've always had a soft spot for games with a unique premise, and especially those that deliver those concepts in an interesting way. This is a large factor in why the original Mirror's Edge has stayed so close to me, with alluring visuals, simplistic mechanics, and a living, breathing metropolis like no other.

On the surface, the first Mirror's Edge was a simple parkour-centric platformer, with a range of environmental puzzles for players to solve. Paired with solid gameplay foundations and ingenious level design, Mirror's Edge promoted fluid movement, with a drive to keep the player's momentum when traversing the game's expansive rooftops. The final product became more of an art form than a traditional EA game, with a heavily stylised design layered upon a polished set of game mechanics.

Eight years later, we're getting a follow-up to the cult classic, returning to Faith's roots in a reimagining of the game's world. Mirror's Edge Catalyst is a reboot of the franchise, rather than a direct sequel, which expands on the dystopian world introduced back in 2008.

Yesterday we gained access to Mirror's Edge Catalyst's closed beta, ahead of the game's public launch next month. The closed beta gives players access to a small portion of the full game, with two large story missions, a varied collection of side missions and restricted access to a portion of the open-world map.

"Manoeuvring around the rooftops feels truly intuitive"

Coming directly from the first game, you'll feel right at home in Mirror's Edge Catalyst, with the familiar responsive, tight controls — expected in a game that relies on complex amalgamations of button presses. Thanks to these firm controls, manoeuvring around the rooftops feels intuitive, with naturalness to each of the character's moves. This is massively helped by accurate visual feedback, which strengthens the mental connection between the Faith and the player.

Mirror's Edge Catalyst places an emphasis on building up player locomotion, and numerous design decisions have been made to accompany this. This first comes into play during the game's tutorial, which walks the player between common in-game obstacles and how to tackle them. This provides the foundations to take on the later puzzles, where these basic setups are strung together into intricate, more complex routines.

As an extension to player movement, the tutorial also places a heavy focus on the game's reworked combat mechanics. Maybe the most widespread critique of the first game was the lacklustre implementation of hostile attacks, giving the choice of simple punches and kicks, or use of enemy firearms. Aside from a poor execution on DICE's behalf, the weapons never really fitted the game's tone, stripping the player of all previously built-up momentum.

Mirror's Edge Catalyst attempts to fix those mistakes by introducing a new range of combat moves that encourage player momentum, using this to empower the player. This is a blossomed version of the first Mirror's Edge's combat system, with new button combinations and environmental objects that add variety to enemy encounters.

The game puts you and your motion to use, to propel Faith into enemies as an offensive measure, using the surrounding environment as a crucial accompaniment. By building up speed Faith can be sprung from walls, poles and ledges, using her body as a lethal projectile on Kruger-Sec employees. The sound design is also notable, following each swing of a punch with a sharp crack.

"DICE's philosophy has changed with Mirror's Edge Catalyst"

As a result of these changes, I feel that DICE's philosophy has changed with Mirror's Edge Catalyst, by encouraging the player to engage enforcers, rather than escaping them. The newly introduced health bars reinforce this, drawing player focus to enemies on the map. I personally feel that these health bars clutter the screen with unwanted information, and contrast with the game's tone. To better fit the game's aesthetic a more natural approach would be preferable, with on-screen cues such as distinct body language and sounds to indicate the damage enemies sustain.

The reasoning behind these changes is clear when looking at what Mirror's Edge Catalyst is trying to achieve. After an eight-year absence, the game is a great entry point for new Mirror's Edge fans, and these new mechanics invite a wider, more diverse audience. With this revision of the Mirror's Edge universe, it's likely we can expect sequels later down the line, provided the demand is still out there after Catalyst.

Other common triple-A traits have been added to Mirror's Edge Catalyst, such as skill trees, which add a second path of progression alongside the main storyline. This is another instance of the franchise's modernisation, with branching skills for Faith's movement, combat skills, and gear.

Earlier this year when rumours of a skill tree arose, I worried about what Mirror's Edge Catalyst would become. Shoehorning in a skill tree can be a risky move, by breaking down the game's potential into small chunks, and spoon-feeding them to the player throughout the game. These feelings carried over to the beta, especially when I realised core moves from the first game, such as 'quick turn', were locked behind an upgrade system. After spending time with the skills system I'm relieved to see DICE has kept basic movements towards the earlier stages of the progression, which can be unlocked in the earlier hours of a playthrough. However, I still feel that the system doesn't mesh well with the game's mechanics, pointlessly limiting Faith's abilities to prolong personal progression.

A large focus of Mirror's Edge Catalyst is the reworked narrative, retracing Faith's origin story from an early age and the events that lead to her role as a Runner. The storyline in the first Mirror's Edge was close to non-existent, aside from some drawn-out animated cartoons that had little relevance to the game itself. These have now been replaced with in-engine cutscenes, which give the ability to accurately represent character's complexity and portray emotion during encounters.

The game begins with Faith escaping Kruger-Sec control after serving two years in prison, joining back up with her previous group of Runners. Upon arrival, she must adapt to how the city has changed and the rapidly escalating tension from the controlling corporations, known as the Conglomerate. While keeping tight control of all civilians, Kruger-Sec employees are told to silence those who rebel against the Conglomerate, ensuring the integrity of propaganda is constantly withheld. A majority of the civilians conform to these constraints, but growing factions aim to restore democracy in the City of Glass. The most prevalent group, 'Black November', aim to overthrow the corporations, and play a major role in Mirror's Edge Catalyst's narrative.

From what's available in the Mirror's Edge Catalyst beta, only a small portion of the game's storyline has been shown. It's interesting to see these character relationships building, but a firm opinion can't be given until we have access to the full game.

During my time with the beta, I experienced frequent loading issues, where certain assets or even entire buildings failed to appear in the world. This resulted in having to repeatedly jump off ledges, waiting for the city to populate with buildings to progress. This happens often enough where the game was unplayable, refusing to load in the required geometry after multiple attempts. Earlier this week, Electronic Arts announced that Mirror's Edge Catalyst will be released two weeks later than initially intended, in order to add required polish to the game. Hopefully, these issues are among those to be fixed prior to launch day.

From the time I've spent with Mirror's Edge Catalyst so far, the game is shaping up to a great experience for both newcomers and veterans of the franchise. The game retains many of its unique traits that made the original Mirror's Edge so enjoyable, while at the same time introducing new mechanics suited to the game's tone. As long as the game releases in a stable state in June, we may be looking at a successful revival of a once-dormant franchise.

Pre-order Mirror's Edge Catalyst on Amazon (opens in new tab)

Matt Brown is Windows Central's Senior Editor, Xbox & PC, at Future. Following over seven years of professional consumer technology and gaming coverage, he’s focused on the world of Microsoft's gaming efforts. You can follow him on Twitter @mattjbrown.

18 Comments
  • Can't wait to play the final release. If I can run it on my laptop..
  • Specs for min requirements seem pretty high for this game on a PC, unless you have a higher end gaming laptop, I would question it...
  • Yeah I've seen the specs, they're crazy. When did the jump for minimum specs happen, I swear games required like 2-4 GBs of RAM till yesterday. And this thing requires a minimum of 8 GBs, while 16 is recommended. Good thing I only have 4, a crappy i3-330m, and a graphics card so outdated, the last drivers were made for Win7.
  • In some ways, it's great to see games requiring better hardware. As games continue to evolve, I'm just worried for my bank account's sake.
  • Yea, I kind of agree. I built a upper end gaming machine, I DONT want Xbox one graphics on it, I want to blow it away (as most upper end PCs these days can). Hight spec requirement most of the time means a graphicly high end game.. On the other side, it could mean a poorly made game and that could spell a nightmare...
  • The Xbox One version of the game has been heavily cut back in terms of performance. Like many Frostbite-based games, it runs at 720p and an unstable 60 FPS.
  • Hope to get in with some open beta later on. Art style always had me, just beautiful.
  • The art style alone dragged me into the first Mirror's Edge, and it's something that's been retained flawlessly in Catalyst. This time around, the city feels so much more dynamic and alive, however.
  • i got access to the beta and doesn't even open to me :c i look fun but doesn't run for me just crash :c
  • Which operating system are you using? Sadly the game's performance isn't up to scratch yet, but luckily we still have a few weeks until launch!
  • Haven't had an email so I guess I'm not getting in =( Sadface. At least they've confirmed the game will get an Origin Access free trial. Odds are if I bought the game I'd do it through Access anyway for the 10% discount.
  • If you're still on the fence, the trial should be a good way to try it out and test performance on your rig!
  • Main reason I wanted in really. The game itself looks absolutely solid from the videos I've seen of it so far! Just want to be totally sure my computer can handle it.
  • I really liked the first, but other than the removal of guns for Faith, I don't like the sound of a lot of the changes (health bars, emphasis on combat, and skill trees). I liked the feel of free running from the first... this sounds like it's moving slightly in the direction of standard online game instead.
  • You just hit the nail on the head. These changes will definitely help it reach a wider audience and be good for the franchise, but fans of the first game may be left out.
  • I've played through the beta, its a definite improvement over the first game. I've got a 3 year old CPU with a 980 ti and it runs great on ultra. It still has problems with not being clear where to go at times, just like in the first one. Combat is way better, to the point of almost being fun. It is fun to kick a guard as you springboard into him in the course of running, but stopping to fight is not as as good as the running.
  • I wish the enforcers were a little more aggressive though. Sometimes they just hang around while you bounce off the environment.
  • I loved the first game and was hoping the sequel would be more of the same, but with some valuable additions to the gameplay. It's pretty much just more of the same in an open world setting. I got bored of the beta after about an hour in-- not from lack of content, but  lack  of interest. The skills tree is expected, it being open world and all, but it was definitely tacked on and doesn't really make much sense in the context of the game. And the combat? Meh. Avoiding combat makes far more sense and when you're faced with enemies in certain situations, you can't progress unless you defeat them. This will probably not be a day-one purchase for me. I'll get it down the line when it's heavily discounted.