Mirror’s Edge Catalyst’s Gamescom Demo Was A Relief

I wouldn’t count myself as a fan of many things, but the derision and disinterest inspired by the first Mirror’s Edge makes me want to champion it. It was a game with terrible boss fights, flawed combat and a tedious story, but also one worth celebrating for the things it got right, such as its first-person movement and its beautiful, brilliant world.

Those same things also make me nervous about the sequel. When I went to see EA’s Mirror’s Edge Catalyst [official site] presentation at Gamescom, I wasn’t sure whether it would amplify the parts I liked or disliked.

I’m now more excited for Mirror’s Edge Catalyst than almost any other game. Which doesn’t mean that it’s doing everything that I want – or jettisoning everything I don’t want – but it’s close enough that I think it’ll scratch an itch I’ve had since the original released in 2008.

The twenty-minute presentation I saw was an extended version of the missions you can see here:

Let’s run down what I think, based on early impressions, the game is doing right and wrong:

RIGHT – Open world is right for this kind of game

The original Mirror’s Edge was linear, meaning even its rooftops were really just wide corridors with a few routes through them. That was disappointing for a world so beautiful that it begged you to explore it. Catalyst however is an open world. The white, textureless buildings of the original game’s menu screen are now your map. Drop a marker and the game will plot a rooftop route to the desired destination, which is what dictates the familiar red colouring that helps you find a path while sprinting quickly, but you can also ignore the parkour satnav in favour of finding your own way.

This is more exciting in an open world because you have more cause to return to areas, criss-crossing the city while performing missions in the storyline or, I’m guessing, time trial-style side missions. You’ve more opportunity to explore and to perfect routes – and the video above is interesting to me in part because the player takes an entirely different path than in the presentation I saw.

WRONG – The story still seems awful

Mirror’s Edge is an interesting world, set in a city ruled by an oppressive government whose tight grip on society has created not a world of dark grey metal and rusting pipes but of gleaming white skyscrapers and gorgeous green interiors. I like its setup and the main character, Faith, a runner who delivers information physically so that the snooping government can’t see it.

However, in the first game I hated every single character I met – from the smug, sneering Jacknife, to the former-wrestler-turned-security-chief mini villain, to the everyone else.

After the rooftop jaunt, the Catalyst demonstration I watched introduced a new character I now think of as Jacknife Mk. II. He’s a man wearing fingerless, elbow-length gloves, a vest-top with a raised hood, and sunglasses he wears even at night. He swaggers around, he heckles Faith constantly, and he and another character – Earpiece Man, I’m going to call this one – chatter in your ear constantly as you carry out the mission. I want to kick both off a skyscraper.

What a knob.

RIGHT – The combat is about kicking people off things

The combat in the original Mirror’s Edge was cool, in theory. You were unarmed most of the time, but with speed and timing could disarm and use the weapon’s of your enemies. When you ran out of ammo, you tossed the weapon away rather than reload. Unfortunately, the combat was also rubbish in practice: over-fiddly, over-difficult, and anathema to the flow the game was trying to create.

Mirror’s Edge Catalyst keeps combat but ditches the guns. Instead you take down enemies with your hands and feet and the skill required is the same maintaining of momentum that you’re practicing when traversing. In the presentation I saw, the plot necessitated everything to get heated and Faith to make a daring escape from the skyscraper she’d just climbed, and almost every enemy was positioned either beside a wall or pole you could use for an acorbatic kick, or in front of a plate-glass window so you could knock them through it. This looked satisfying – although I’m not entirely sure how easy these moves are to pull off, or whether the occasional third-person killcam gels with the flow of the action.

RIGHT – The art style is still beautiful

Every time I get a new PC or monitor, Mirror’s Edge is the first game I install. It’s not that the Unreal Engine-powered game is demanding; it’s just pretty enough that it’ll make me happy about my purchasing decision. Whether it’s the blue skies or the bright green and yellow office spaces, no other game looks quite like Mirror’s Edge, or as good.

In fact, Mirror’s Edge Catalyst doesn’t quite look as good as Mirror’s Edge, but it’s close enough that I don’t mind. The skyscraper that you climb is an interesting puzzle atrium of the kind I enjoyed so much in the original, but just as importantly is full of bright colours, expensive-looking office furniture and dramatic lighting. It’s still a world I want to explore and a dystopia more exciting than a thousand brown wastelands.

Explore it I shall. Gamescom presentations only ever show a thin sliver of a game, but from its open world and the corporate art I watched Faith shimmy atop, it seems as if you’ll spend most of your time running and climbing instead of fighting or watching cutscenes. Thank goodness.

44 Comments

  1. neoncat says:

    Agree with every point. I’m probably a smidgen more sad that the art style isn’t quite so gorgeous (all the high-res backgrounds on my rig are Mirror’s Edge screencaps), but it’s still so much better than industry standard.

    Also, I do wonder how many times the story will make me have to pause because I’m giggling uncontrollably. Had to walk away from the last level as soon as the helicopter appeared, because I knew exactly what was coming… I recall the silliness of the story more with fondness than despair. XD

  2. Messofanego says:

    Presentation? I thought all that was playable from hands-on impressions Ive read around. Glad to see the combat is more momentum-friendly and the level design is more flexible while in first game it felt like a Sonic game where it might not all flow on the first go.

  3. w0bbl3r says:

    I don’t like the look of this at all.
    I stopped playing the first because it started to get to be too much about conflict and combat later on, and that was terrible.
    This seems to have more combat per mission than any level I played in the first game, and FAR too much faffing about with dialogue and cutscenes.

    • vahnn says:

      More combat per mission? This is a 4.5 minute bit of a single part of the game. We don’t know anything about it yet.

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    Don Reba says:

    In fact, Mirror’s Edge Catalyst doesn’t quite look as good as Mirror’s Edge, but it’s close enough that I don’t mind.

    That’s a good way of putting it. The original can still benefit from beefy hardware, by the way. You can never antialias it well enough.

    • TheSplund says:

      to me ME:C doesn’t have quite the same minimalist look that drew me to ME in the first place

  5. KenTWOu says:

    It’s so odd that movie directors try to make camera effects less noticeable to make their movies look very clear and more realistic, meanwhile game developers try to add more and more camera effects to the point so It’s really hard to read level geometry when there are lens flares all over the place. I hate the way the new game looks.

    • gunny1993 says:

      Na, movie directors have just got more subtle about it and started using colourography (that’s not the real word) rather than overt techniques like lens flare … except JJ Abrams ofc

      • KenTWOu says:

        Obviously, I’m not talking about all movies and all directors. But there are movies like, for example, Michael Mann’s Blackhat, where you can clearly see that the director was trying to minimize cinematic feeling, to get rid of technical barriers between you and the subject matter. So It was shot on hand-held digital camera almost without dolly grips and tripods, without using additional lighting equipment on set, without lens flares or starburst, so halos around light sources were circular. So it was very clear picture without all those noises and post-effects, it was closer to the way people see things. Therefore, it was gritty and real.

        And here is new Mirror’s Edge, where everything screams ‘cinematic’, there is a camera flies through the world, anamorphic lens flares all over the place, third person view cut-scenes are here. There is nothing gritty or real, and we’re talking about first person view game with a strong emphasis on animations. The game tries to sell you that cool feeling you have when you run, jump, climb, etc. The game shouldn’t be cinematic.

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    Grizzly says:

    I can see why a lot of people didn’t like the combat in Mirror’s edge much, but I really liked it once I learned to stop worrying and not use the guns. Then it suddenly makes a *lot* more sense, the combat becoming more of a dynamic puzzle rather then anything else.

    The guns feel a lot more like a crutch, but since they are there they automatically compell a lot of people to arm themselves and shoot everyone, whilst the beauty of the combat lies in scattering your enemies and picking your battles (and you often can just run away).

  7. PopeRatzo says:

    I seriously loved everything about Mirrors Edge except for the running/jumping bits and the combat.

  8. matnym says:

    I’m so looking forward to this one.

    And here’s hoping the third-person kill cam is optional. It’s my only pet peeve so far.

  9. Iskariot says:

    I liked the story, but what just floored me was the design esthetics of the game.
    I fell immediately in love with it. I have never seen anything like it before or after Mirror’s Edge.
    For me Mirror’s Edge was perhaps even more a work of art than a game.

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    Serrit says:

    …a runner who delivers information physically so that the snooping government can’t see it.

    There was an article on the Beeb earlier today describing how in Cuba, hard drives of stuff are physically distributed by people in order to be able to share content despite unreliable and/or restricted internet access.
    A potential mod for Mirror’s Edge? :-)

  11. jonahcutter says:

    No doubt the game was at its best when it was having you run from things, but I didn’t mind the combat in the first. It was there, I didn’t find it to get in the way too often, and it provided some brief diversions from the parkour.

    That includes the shooting too. Again no problem with it. I wish they’d leave it in and let players decide their own approach to fighting, the same way it sounds they’re providing them with more choice in running.

  12. XhomeB says:

    Yeah, the “cutscenes” and characters they decided to show were, well, rather cringe-worthy (“stop her!”, how original). Also, is it just me or is the art style less… stylish? Unique? Still good, don’t get me wrong, but the colour palette seems to have been put to a worse use compared to the original.

    • Frosty Grin says:

      No, it’s not just you. One part of it is that the novelty isn’t there anymore, but, even aside from it, something is off.

    • TobleroneRoloCombo says:

      Visually and story-wise, it’s reminding me of the recent Deus Ex games (but with a different colour tint) more than I feel comfortable with. Everything having such a hyper-shiny look kind of clashes with the generally more matte colours of Mirror’s Edge.

  13. Blackcompany says:

    Stealthing around a building using parkour to avoid discovery by carefully selecting creative routes.

    Caught in a cut scene.

    Nope, you lost me.

    Words cannot describe how much I hate that crap. Had far, far more than enough of it in every Ubi game ever made. AC IV was literally made out of impossible (horribly designed) stealth segments followed immediately by your character revealing himself in a cut scene. This is a modern video game trope that has to go.

    • Dave Tosser says:

      My fave example of this is the opening of Human Revolution in which tedious cover shooting with bullet spongey enemies and your face vulnerable to half a bullet is followed by a cutscene in which you get the shit kicked out of you.

      They also do this every Call of Duty game. At least in Far Cry 2 they play the cutscene when you die in gameplay, no have you fumble towards an accepted death.

      AAAAAAAARGH VIDEO GAMES WHAT SHITE

      • Jason Moyer says:

        Except for the bit mid-way where you have to die for the story to progress.

      • coldvvvave says:

        > opening of Human Revolution
        > tedious cover shooting
        > bullet spongey enemies

        What? You didn’t ghost it? Blasphemer.

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        Don Reba says:

        I don´t remember any shooting in a Deus Ex game.

    • gwathdring says:

      The trailer is heavily cut. Are you referring to extended footage?

      Cuts aside, in the above trailer, faith doesn’t get caught. She sneaks in and then has to make a call–grab the data she came all that way for even though it’s in plain sight, or get out of there while she’s still unseen. She breaks cover to get the data and all hell breaks loose. I can’t make you like it, but I don’t see how that’s the same as games where you get beat up or caught in a cut-scene after doing a really badass job avoiding getting caught or beat up. Faith breaks cover. Her character takes action. Sure, you as a player don’t control that action. But the above trailer wasn’t an example of games violating player effort. She didn’t get caught en route to the data and tied up in a chair or something. She made it to her target but things weren’t what she and the player expected.

  14. ironhorse says:

    SO excited for this.. but that motion blur better be effin’ optional.

  15. Jason Moyer says:

    Terrible boss fights? It had one boss fight, and I actually thought that was one of the highlights of the game because it required properly learning the hand-to-hand combat system.

    • Jason Moyer says:

      Also, whenever I see complaints about the combat I feel like people should go watch videos of people playing the game properly. I always thought the way guns broke the flow was an intentional design decision, with the intent of directing players towards other solutions through tough areas.

      In the last public trailer, showing off the “new” combat system, there wasn’t anything shown that you couldn’t do in the original game. Most players apparently chose not to do those things because “OMG GIMME UR GUN” but that’s hardly a problem with the game.

  16. gwathdring says:

    I liked combat in the original. It was difficult, but it was satisfying. Trying for disarms was unreasonably difficult, I agree, but if you didn’t try to take their guns, you could still trip them with a slide, wall kick them, and otherwise run circles around them, stopping enemies just enough to allow you to get away without being shot in the back. If you were really good, you didn’t even need to do that. There was this one bit in an orangey skyscraper that you could get through with a lot of shooting …

    … or with a lot of leaping from floor to floor through a giant opening in the center of the tower. Which was difficult but really, really satisfying. Taking a flying leap, falling a full story, rolling on a landing, sliding down some stairs to take out an armed guard, wall-jump-kicking his buddy, sprinting down the stairs and then leaping another full story to roll behind some cover for a second and then sprinting out the main door while people reload. Something to that general effect. It felt about as incredible and epic as any gaming feat I’ve ever pulled off. Not because it was the most difficult, but becasue it felt so badass.

  17. Windypundit says:

    Let’s see, shiny buildings, hanging light bars, medical bays with robot arms…feels kinda Human Revolution-y…

    I didn’t care for some of the tedious parts of Mirror’s Edge, such as the levels that played out as kind of timed platform puzzles, where one mistake meant starting all over again. Same for the combat: Miss a kick and you could get shot up and have to restart. Mirror’s Edge worked best when bad guys were chasing me and I ran flat out, making it up as I went along…and it worked. I got away. That was a really satisfying feeling. I’m hoping that the open world will make for more action like that.

    Also, there’s something cool about seeing Faith’s reflection. Not just in the slow-motion cinematic jump through the window, either. You can catch glimpses of her in motion in several places.

  18. Eight Rooks says:

    No, that looks much better than anything in the original Mirror’s Edge. No stupid white trees, for starters, and no giant splashes of primary colour everywhere for no apparent reason. The interiors actually look like lived-in spaces rather than some jumped-up concept artist’s fever dream. I swear I will never understand why people raved about the visuals so much. The story from the “gameplay trailer” doesn’t seem terrible, either, though I guess the trailers from the first game hid the awfulness pretty well. There’s no way I’d be buying this day one, but it’s more encouraging than I expected after how much I hated the original.

    • gwathdring says:

      The interior shown here looked more complex and had more graphics, but otherwise seemed cut from the same cloth. Definitely got the same concept-artist-fever-dream vibe here as in the original.

      The difference being I think that’s just dandy. :)

      • gwathdring says:

        Also the random splashes of color against relatively stark backgrounds were still present in the above video, too. O.o

        • Eight Rooks says:

          No they weren’t; they were actually placed in a manner that suggested someone had thought about them. That Evil Corporate Office Building looked better designed than pretty much every interior in the original game combined.

          I really don’t mean this as hyperbole, I thought the art design in the first game was mediocre at best if you looked at any screenshot for more than thirty seconds. It was a nice idea that looked amazing in concept art but completely fell to bits once I actually started playing – I was never even slightly convinced that any of it could have existed (even that storm drain which yes, I know is taken from a real place). That trailer suggests very strongly they’ve figured out how to do it “properly”, IMO. Still the same heavily stylised approach, still the same guiding principles, but with subtle changes that tell me yes, real, honest-to-God human beings would actually go to work here and enjoy doing so.

          • Muzman says:

            I suspect, like most people, you’ve forgotten most of it and just stuck on how that one office or the ship was all green or that dead end in the mall that was excessively purple or whatever.

  19. Muzman says:

    Have they pinned down exactly what the connection is between this and the first game yet? Is there any?

    • TobleroneRoloCombo says:

      From what I can tell, it’s supposed to be a reboot rather than a remake.

      Well, at least they’re not using the recent trend of “reboots” simply just reusing the title of the original. That… would have been confusing.

      • Muzman says:

        Yeah it seems like it. Given they’re apparently going back to pre-tattoo Faith, yet the setting is more futuristic somehow, they probably have little choice but to reboot.

  20. Replikant says:

    I didn’t particularly like the combat in the original. I much prefer Oni, which for me is a brilliant combination of armed and unarmed combat (with the exception of that overpowered gauss-rifle thing). Mirrors Edge was probably too realistic and unforgiving for me. If you had bad luck you got shot up and had to restart. After completing a difficult segment I would feel lucky rather than badass. That one episode on the rooftops where you run around an endless array of boxes to get at a number of snipers is a prime example.
    And I hated the gameplay on rails which didn’t let you choose your own routes. Free movement in the world would be a big improvement.

  21. TobleroneRoloCombo says:

    The open-world aspects are perhaps the only changes to the game I’m looking forward to, and given the fact that there’s a sort of saturation with open-world gameplay (and how open-world gameplay is designed,) it doesn’t fill me with a lot of hope.

  22. franchtoast says:

    The story was never bad. It was just the way it was laid out and the timing of events.

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    heretic says:

    Is it still SolarFields doing the music? That soundtrack was amazing, ambient goodness :)