I was trying to think of a witty play-on-words to start with, but then I looked in the mirror and realized that I’m not the kind of guy who lives on the verbal edge.
Mirror’s Edge Catalyst has been in the news again recently thanks to a new story trailer and a beta announcement. The game won’t release until May 24th, but there’s already quite a bit of information to sift through. Catalyst will be a full-blown reboot that more or less ignores the events in the first game. The city of Glass (which finally has a name) will be open-world with supposedly no loading screens, but will maintain similar controls to the original.
So those are the facts. Since the reveal at E3 2013, DICE has shown off a few trailers, some screens, and even made the game playable to a select few at EGX 2015. Dtoid’s own Joe Parlock wrote a reassuring reflection on Catalyst's demo back in September, but most (including me) haven’t been able to experience the title yet.
That said, I’m going to take all my hype, bottle it up in the form of a blog, and try and forget that Mirror’s Edge exists with the intent of going into Catalyst like a newborn baby.
The original Mirror’s Edge caught my eye initially with the gorgeous landscapes and the idea of a first person game without a gun always in your hand. I never got around to playing it until a couple years after release, but that’s beside the point.
Mirror’s Edge had one of my favorite in-game atmospheres ever. Period.
Back when Mirror’s Edge was first revealed, the city design caught a lot of attention. This wasn’t a gritty war shooter like Battlefield; it was something completely unique. That look of the city, from color to design, flat-out defines Mirror’s Edge in the public image. The main character isn’t Faith; it’s the city. Add to that the incredible audio, and you’ve got a virtual world that I adore being in.
DICE’s unnamed city accentuates everything with energetic shots of orange, yellow, green, and blue. Set against a white canvas, everything just pops. Add in a dash of fantastic lighting, and you’ve got one of the most unique looking cities in media. The insides of the buildings are just as vibrant as the outsides, along with some sublime architecture that turns the dial to 11. Red is primarily used to identify objects you can hop onto, which is infinitely more fitting than a marker or pop-up. This is the type of scenario that would get me to buy a VR headset just for the immersion factor.
But here’s the catch; ever since I heard David Wise’s masterful rhythms in the original DKC trilogy, sound design has taken priority over everything for me. It sounds ridiculous, but at the end of the day, the positive stuff I remember from games always has a sound attached to it. DICE could’ve tossed a couple sound bytes into this glorious city and called it a day. What did they do instead? They took a musician that made tunes unlike anything I’d ever heard, gave him full control of the soundtrack, and turned Mirror’s Edge from a game with memorable visuals to a game that I’ll cherish forever. Solar Fields, the composer, made songs that gave Mirror’s Edge an identity all its own.
When Faith slowed down, so did the music. When things got hectic, the sound design followed suit. There was a reason for every crescendo, a reason for every synth solo, and most of all, a reason that corresponded with the city. You know how people talk about the “flow” of how a game plays? I felt that flow with the audiovisual side of things, and not just the control. This was a world that made up its own rules; it didn’t model itself after anything, and that made it all the more amazing.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve started up Mirror’s Edge just to stand there listening to Solar Fields and staring at the buildings. The slower moments were just as special as the fast moments in a game that revolves around speed. Ironic for sure, but still awesome. Last month, Kill Screen published a great article proposing that games should have a "sit" button. I could not agree more, especially in the case of Mirror’s Edge. It’s full of calm, slower moments that let you admire the city and its sounds as long as you take the initiative to stop running. That, more so than anything else, is why I love it so, so much.
Oh yeah the gameplay was great too. As in, it’s pure genius. Probably should’ve mentioned that earlier. Some annoying bits and really rough combat, but otherwise very fun, even when the game slows down. The pacing is incredible.
Talking Narrative and the Game’s Core [SPOILERS]
The Mirror’s Edge narrative was an uninteresting cliché fest. Why? Whenever the game introduced new characters, it was actually introducing slabs of granite disguised as polygons.
The character that acts like a jerk? In a “twist,” you find out he was the main villain all along.
The guy who almost shoots you, but then stops and contemplates life when you don’t shoot him? He helps you in the final chapter.
The one likable character that isn’t Faith? He gets killed. Big whoop.
The most I enjoyed character dialogue was when that one likable character gave directions and/or told you the cops were coming in a collected, gruff voice. That was his purpose, and he achieved it. It’s as generic as it sounds, but at the same time was simple, satisfactory, and in line with the game’s core.
Mirror’s Edge wasn’t about the story. Everything was a set up to lead you into these well designed, diverse, and fun places to run, set against a beautiful atmosphere. Mirror’s Edge shined brightest when it let you loose into these brilliant areas and told you to either run or figure out how to reach a certain location. When you distill this down, you’ve got a game that encourages multiple playthroughs just to figure out how to get through an area faster. With that comes a better understanding of how much heart went into making this world in every facet of design. That’s why the original is so renowned. And now we made it to the sequel.
For a really long time, it looked as if Mirror’s Edge would never have a sequel. DICE moved back to the big moneymakers in its repertoire, and following the late 2008 release and early 2009 DLC pack, they never returned to Faith’s city until a new title was revealed at E3 2013. I may have audibly screamed in happiness at the reveal. Regardless, another 2 years followed with little to no information aside from a brief trailer at E3 2014. Last year, they finally confirmed the new title, gave a (now delayed) release date, and released a new gameplay trailer. Most importantly? In September, DICE confirmed the return of Solar Fields for the soundtrack. Please and thank you.
Things have been falling into place; we now have a much better idea of what the reboot is going for, and the release isn’t too far off. I’ve watched the trailers too many times too count, and at this point, I seriously need to stop before I get burned out. Thus the point of all these words: I need to get this stuff out of my system before I explode and lose interest.
I know I’m judging a book by its cover, but this isn’t a great introduction.
“I once knew a young woman who would defy anyone and anything in order to do what she felt was right. And you’re clearly not her. You’re broken.”
“Ha, no, you didn’t think Faith. You never do.”
Earlier I talked about how much I love the setting of the original. Catalyst’s world looks like an awesome evolution of the city capable of the moments the first game lived on. I would love to find out more about this universe and what makes the city tick; the secrets underneath the surface, if you will. There’s a story moment in the gameplay trailer that encapsulates what I want out of it all, but these quotes are the exact opposite. The focus seems to be on Faith proving herself against a generic villain, and for all I know, the character development might actually be really strong. Great stories need great characters, and that’s where DICE seems to be placing emphasis. These quips are incredibly cheesy and don’t warrant greatness in the slightest, but the overall narrative could be solid. At the same time though, none of the characters seem even slightly likeable. Just… I don’t know. It’s not what I want. Admittedly, that is coming from my whiny 2-year-old self, but I’m on the Internet, so that’s not out of line, right?
I could have said I didn’t like the story trailer and left it at that, but I want the narrative to actually be something memorable. I’m hoping for something specific, which is never a good idea. At the end of the day, the story could still be rough, and in that case I would just skip the cutscenes. No harm done.
If the gameplay trailer was a drug, I’d be dead from overdose at this point.
This is how you do a sequel to Mirror’s Edge. Just… wow. DICE showcased almost everything I wanted out of a new title in the series.
First of all, the combat looks much improved. It looks like fighting will no longer be such a pain; the foes that Faith goes up against seem easy to dispatch. Keeping the flow seems to be taking prominence over strategically taking out bad guys, which is a great direction for a character that runs for a living. In fact, Faith in general looks more nimble, but still grounded in the original moveset. Her slide maneuver takes her a longer distance than before, and she can climb those silly pipes from the original at a much quicker pace. She retains the speed-building mechanic, which makes chase scenes that much more exciting. It looks like the controls will improve on the original’s base, but not to the point of alienating fans.
Then there’s that city. Good Lord. One of my primary worries for Catalyst was that an open world would kill good level design, but in the trailer that isn’t the case. Thankfully, the roofs and buildings are cluttered with things to jump on, which could potentially allow for brief environmental puzzles amidst the action. I’m hoping that small challenges like this will be interspersed within the city, both in and out of the skyscrapers. Also notable: that place looks absolutely spiffy. The lighting accentuates buildings the same way the original’s lighting did, and the colors still pop just as before. The glass theme makes everything look slick and stylized; they nailed that futuristic vibe. DICE also remembered to stop and take a breath; I can see myself finding slow moments atop these corporate powerhouses. Mix in a dash of Solar Fields, and I finally see a worthy successor to Faith’s sky-high paradise.
After Faith climbs up the Elysium building, she finds a guy from Splinter Cell, along with a set of labs that clearly are not “agricultural research.” All of this is followed by the key phrase, “What are they up to?”
That is what I want the story to be. You’ve got this huge, jaw-dropping city to roam that is more than it seems on its surface. With an area of this caliber, you know how much you could delve into its lore? In the original, Faith was constantly running through buildings that she wasn’t supposed to be in; I’d love more of that, but instead of meeting some guy to watch a cutscene play out, I want to discover what makes the buildings tick. I’d love some subtle, environmental storytelling and a search for the truth behind the oppressive Kruger.
Erm. I’m building my perfect game here. Never a good sign.
In closing: I haven’t been this hyped for a game in ages. Mirror’s Edge Catalyst has the potential to be as amazing as I want it to be, but I need to keep my expectations low. Sorry if I went full-on irrational geek; a lot of my writing is incredibly cheesy, but I rarely am this passionate for a franchise. I wanted to splurge all this excitement out of my system, and I think I’m satisfied. I’ve played through the first game 2 more times in the past month alone, and I’m going to try and avoid anything relating to the series until the new one releases. If I get a beta key, I will for sure play it, but besides that, I’m going to hide from the city of Glass.
Thanks for reading my nonsense.
Finis coronat opus.