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.
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.