The original Mirror's Edge was a flawed experience. The game's story was filled with underdeveloped characters, there wasn't much content to speak of and almost all of the game's DLC felt tacked-on and overpriced.
And yet, despite all that, Mirror's Edge remains one of the most unique first-person games of the last generation. Sure, parkour is nothing new to gaming in general, but before Mirror's Edge, no studio had ever tried to accurately recreate free running in such a fashion. Once gamers understood the controls and how everything worked, playing through Mirror's Edge was something you couldn't find anywhere else.
Now, eight years later, EA is taking a second shot at first-person free running. Mirror's Edge: Catalyst may be a reboot, but the game is still built on the core fundamentals of the original game - and, with the closed beta, players are getting their first chance to step back into the boots of Faith.
Thankfully, Mirror's Edge: Catalyst largely feels like a step in the right direction. Most of the gameplay carries over from the original game, with a few enhancements thrown in for good measure - but, with a new open-world structure and optional mission objectives, EA has created some entirely new problems that could end up slowing the game down.
First things first: the most important aspect of the game, parkour, is still an absolute blast to mess around with. The controls have been slightly tweaked since the first game, allowing for more maneuvers with fewer buttons to worry about - and, once you get a handle on them, running through Mirror's Edge: Catalyst's beautifully dystopian world is just as fun as it was on the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3.
As was the case with the first game, there's simply nothing else like Mirror's Edge: the thrill of running along a wall, reaching for a handhold and barely clearing a gap is something that's still woefully underrepresented in the industry. Combat still slows things down a bit too much, but much like the first game, almost every single encounter can be skipped. Faith's new moves, like swinging around corners, feel like natural extensions of the first game's mechanics.
The sense of momentum and movement in Mirror's Edge: Catalyst is as good, if not better than that of the original game - but it's a shame that the game throws some unnecessary roadblocks in the way.
Anyone who played the original game will know how important rolling was. In other games, defensive rolling is a way to avoid taking damage, but in Mirror's Edge, rolling is essential to keeping your momentum going ... so why does it need to be unlocked?
Look, there's nothing wrong with RPG-esque progression systems in games - they're basically everywhere these days. However, there are upgrades in Mirror's Edge: Catalyst that feel entirely arbitrary. Granted, some of the upgrades do look like they'll be a lot of fun to play around with, but most gamers would probably want fewer upgrades that change the game in interesting ways, rather than dozens of superfluous unlockables.
The open world also feels like a strange mechanic. The world itself is gorgeous, with tons of tiny details and places to explore, but this design also goes against the nature of the gameplay. Mirror's Edge was always about running from one objective to the next in the quickest way possible, and the level design of the original game complemented that perfectly.
Creating an open world that does something similar isn't impossible, but it's not an easy task, either - and, from what the beta showed, there are definitely some rough spots in Catalyst's design. Sadly, the objectives don't seem to help much: most of the early game is spent running around and picking up keys. It'd be surprising if the objectives started branching out after a few hours of play, but Catalyst's opening hours don't do much to excite.
Obviously, the closed beta is just a taste of what the full Mirror's Edge: Catalyst experience will be - and, quite frankly, there's a lot to love here. Even in a few short hours, EA has proven once again that first-person parkour is an experience that few other media could ever hope to faithfully reproduce. Simply put, the rhythm of Mirror's Edge: Catalyst is fantastic.
Unfortunately, there's a lot that could go wrong: the open world, while pretty, doesn't feel all that necessary, and generic missions and objectives do nothing to help it feel like an intrinsic part of the game. Hopefully, EA can make some tweaks in the coming months - otherwise, gamers may end up with yet another amazing parkour game stuck in a weak overall package.
Mirror's Edge: Catalyst is due out on June 7.