Can you even see your reflection in the edge of a mirror?
I love DICE. I really do. I've owned Battlefield 2 on PC and failed spectacularly at it; I even played the slightly odd/before its time incarnation of Battlefield 2: Modern Combat on PS2; my most played title during the 360/PS3 generation was Battlefield: Bad Company 2. I didn't care much for Battlefield 3 as my head was being turned by other games at the time, and Battlefield 4 did nothing to get its hooks in me. It felt rather empty playing on PS3 – large maps, fewer players.
All that said, I read a good deal of divided opinion over the original Mirror's Edge on forums and in game reviews themselves. I finally decided to try it out for myself with the demo and that did enough for me to pick it up second-hand for the Xbox 360. I got it. I loved the minor details I thought added polish to a rather trying and repetitive gameplay experience. The motion blur effects at eye level were subtly brilliant. I liked the tiny reticule so you could steady yourself whilst running or moving and not confuse yourself with a first-person shooter. I enjoyed the way the wind rushed to your ears as momentum picked up. I also adored the aesthetic of the thing. It felt like you were in some gleaming shopping centre or new car showroom and was a welcome refresh from the muddied textures you’d come to expect from gaming courtesy of Gears of War, Call of Duty, Fallout and many, many, many others. Rather than pressing a button to slide towards chest-high cover you could vault, leap, perform disorienting forward rolls. It felt different. It was different.
But I still can’t help but worry over the fate of the sequel we’re getting. Don’t get me wrong: I’m happy for a sequel and in a world where Dying Light, Deus Ex: Mankind Divided and Rise of the Tomb Raider are still lighting the torches for parkour/free-running, futuristic dystopian narratives and settings and strong female leads. Hopefully Mirror’s Edge Catalyst can combine all these and come out strongly this May. I just wonder whether repeating the same steps as the first game some eight years later will be enough to ensure its desired success. Here’re the problems as I see them.
1) It's confused about its own identity.
Lord knows I’ve listened to and read enough of Ben “Yahtzee” Croshaw (a.k.a. Zero Punctuation) to discern the difficulty inherent in branding a new IP and the safer method of relying on the continued success of a name that already has appeal to an audience. But does the title Catalyst really capture the fact we’re seeing the same game with more narrative and character backstory? More to the point, do we really need to know why Faith had her tattoos? Why not just call it Mirror’s Edge and hope it picks up enough new consumers this time around?
2) Its a second attempt at the first game.
Let those lovely folks at outsidexbox clue you in on their interpretation of precisely what's going on. (Thanks, Andy Farrant and Jane Douglas!)
3) It's presenting its gameplay mechanics all wrong.
Mirror's Edge should be calling itself a permadeath, "hard as nails", Bloodbourne-esque experience that will have you sobbing into your sofa cushions and snapping analogue sticks out of sheer frustration. EA/DICE shouldn’t be expecting to repeat the same jump, slide, punch and jump-kick mechanics as seen before in lavishly lit trailers and hope we’ll simply lap it up. Some contemporary reviewers of the 2008 original noted that the Super Mario Sunshine-style abstracted time trial option was a far more rewarding way to experience Mirror’s Edge and its mechanics because the city was too limiting. It really will be difficult to see if the new open-world city in Mirror’s Edge Catalyst will change the game in terms of players finding critical pathways through the missions and finding the mechanics fluid, rewarding and most importantly, satisfying.
4) It's a first-person platformer.
Remember those joyous sections of Turok Dinosaur Hunter on the Nintendo 64 where you had to sometimes load the wire frame map up as an overlay on your screen, out of sheer desperation, so you could actually make some of those narrow canyon-pillar jumps? Or how about those Half-Life crates suspended from the ceiling in Black Mesa that featured as a promotional bullet-point on the back of The Orange Box to sell Half-Life 2: “Now with more crate-jumping!”? No, nor do I. (See also: )
It seems that, without the help of VR and peripheral vision, there is always going to be a level of disconnect between the player, their controller input and the results played out on screen. In short, you are never going to feel 100% in control of the jumps you're attempting in any first-person game. This carries risk that will not go away. It’s inherent in the design.
5) It's out at the wrong time.
Leaving it until the pre-Christmas retail build up from September-November 2016 could ensure it really stands out on the shelves rather than being forgotten once the summer ends. Let’s not forget the top-tier competition alleged to release during 2016(!) We’ve got, amongst others: Far Cry: Primal, Uncharted 4: A Thief's End, No Man's Sky, Deus Ex: Mankind Divided, Dark Souls III, Ghost Recon Wildlands, Hitman, The Last Guardian, Mass Effect: Andromeda, Doom, Dishonored 2, Mafia III, Street Fighter V, Quantum Break…
…have you pre-ordered Mirror’s Edge Catalyst yet?