Mir­ror’s Edge Cat­a­lyst

To tell Faith’s ori­gin story, DICE strips away city edges to give her the run of the place

EDGE - - GAMES -

PC, PS4, Xbox One

The open­ing sec­tions of Mir­ror’s Edge did a fine job of dis­guis­ing their lin­ear­ity, but freerun­ning pro­tag­o­nist Faith never seemed as if she should be con­strained at all.

Mir­ror’s Edge: Cat­a­lyst ad­dresses that long­ing for a lack of bound­aries by giv­ing her an en­tire city’s worth of rooftops to dash across and build­ings to in­fil­trate, and the rush of do­ing so is enough to put mis­sion ob­jec­tives firmly to the back of your mind when you start play­ing. Mov­ing Faith, a char­ac­ter al­ways meant to em­body the joy of un­re­strained lo­co­mo­tion, feels bet­ter than be­fore.

There’s no run but­ton; Faith just runs, build­ing up speed the longer her flow stays un­bro­ken. The left shoul­der but­ton per­forms any moves that will take you closer to the sky above this gleam­ing white city – in­clud­ing wall runs, and clam­ber­ing up ledges and pipes – while the left shoul­der but­ton is used to roll out of big jumps, slide and drop down. It’s a setup that en­cour­ages you to nav­i­gate in­stinc­tively rather than wor­ry­ing about the minu­tiae of your route, and one that works par­tic­u­larly well with Faith’s ori­gin story.

“[In Cat­a­lyst], Faith will go from an untested run­ner to a re­ally good one and be­yond,” de­sign di­rec­tor Erik Odel­dahl ex­plains. “So it’s im­por­tant to me and the team that the player learns along with Faith. We don’t want to start the game say­ing that Faith is the best run­ner in the world and then the player isn’t, so we need to give them time to learn and find their way.”

The orig­i­nal used tightly de­signed lin­ear ob­sta­cle cour­ses to main­tain its sense of mo­men­tum, of course; surely there’s a risk of erod­ing that flow in an open world, where even the most di­alled-in play­ers will have to stop and take stock of their sur­round­ings oc­ca­sion­ally? Odel­dahl isn’t wor­ried about ask­ing you to pause to drink in Cat­a­lyst’s skyline ev­ery now and then, es­pe­cially given the longterm ben­e­fits he sees in learn­ing the city and per­fect­ing your lines.

“When you en­ter a new space for the first time, it’s nat­u­ral to stop, look and think about your op­tions,” he says. “‘Where can I go? Where do I want to go?’ And, for me, Mir­ror’s

Edge was most fun when you tra­versed a space the sec­ond or third time; the more you know about a space, the bet­ter it is. And that’s what I like about the whole free-roam­ing as­pect of Cat­a­lyst: you move across these spa­ces from dif­fer­ent an­gles and [to dif­fer­ent]

“We didn’t want the kind of flow-break­ing com­bat that we had in the first game”

way­points a lot, which means that you learn them. It means there’s a puz­zle el­e­ment in find­ing the op­ti­mal route at first, but af­ter a while you be­come re­ally fast be­cause you know the space so well. That sense of flow is def­i­nitely at the cen­tre of [the game].”

It’s in­fused into the com­bat, too. This time around, as long as you keep Faith mov­ing and chain­ing moves to­gether, she’s un­touch­able, ev­ery bullet fly­ing wide of the mark as you dis­ori­ent, dis­arm and in­ca­pac­i­tate your en­e­mies one by one. Her at­tacks are split into two main cat­e­gories: Flow and Trans­fer­ence. Opt­ing for the for­mer style main­tains your own mo­men­tum, while de­liv­er­ing a strike of the lat­ter va­ri­ety will trans­fer that energy into your tar­get, fling­ing them across the level. The re­sult is a ver­sion of Faith too ef­fec­tive to bother with firearms, and as such that as­pect of the first game has been stripped out.

“We didn’t want the kind of flow-break­ing com­bat that we had in the first game,” says Odel­dahl. “And early on we – from a story and world per­spec­tive – de­cided we didn’t want Faith us­ing guns at all this time. So once we took that out, we moved Faith’s en­tire moveset piece by piece over from Un­real En­gine to Frost­bite and then went through count­less it­er­a­tions. We knew what we wanted, but it takes time to get there. First­per­son melee is hard [to pro­gram], es­pe­cially if the player is mov­ing at full speed. So we ba­si­cally came to the con­clu­sion that we can’t bor­row from other gen­res. We need to fo­cus on our core strength, which is first­per­son freerun­ning. So we de­cided to make com­bat part of the freerun­ning.”

That all makes per­fect sense from Faith’s per­spec­tive, but such a de­sign re­quires AI with a very par­tic­u­lar set of skills. “We can’t do FPS-type AI, re­ally; the en­e­mies have to be­have dif­fer­ently,” Odel­dahl says. “The AI re­ally has to know which di­rec­tion you’re look­ing and mov­ing in, and the speed that you’re mov­ing at. But if they were to just al­ways line up in front of you, that wouldn’t be very in­ter­est­ing af­ter a while. So, of course, [we use some] tricks to avoid that.”

We only en­counter en­e­mies briefly in our demo, tak­ing down three or four face­less ag­gres­sors dur­ing a courier side mis­sion be­fore a third­per­son fin­isher move sig­nals that they’ve all been bested. Still, the com­bat cer­tainly feels dy­namic and the weapon­less Faith some­how re­tains a sense of vul­ner­a­bil­ity de­spite ut­terly wip­ing the floor with her foes. Her fin­ish­ing moves are said to vary ac­cord­ing to how you bring each fight to a close, but DICE isn’t ready to dis­cuss the de­tails of that sys­tem just yet.

What it is pre­pared to show are two other side mis­sion types: one in which you must find your way to the top of a huge build­ing in or­der to hack a bill­board so that it dis­plays Faith’s tag, and another that asks you to race along a par­tic­u­lar route against the clock. In all three cases, Run­ner Vi­sion will present route op­tions, but get­ting this aug­mented sight mode to work in an open world has de­liv­ered a headache all of its own.

“We had to re­design Run­ner Vi­sion com­pletely,” Odel­dahl says. “We still wanted to keep that ‘fol­low the red ob­jects to get to your ob­jec­tive’ [guid­ance], but since we can’t re­ally know now which ob­jec­tive the player wants to go to, we let them place a way­point on our 3D map. Run­ner Vi­sion now works kind of like a GPS, in that it con­tin­u­ously re­cal­cu­lates a path for you from where you’re stand­ing at the time to where you want to get to. And that ob­vi­ously took quite some work, and we’re still re­fin­ing it now.”

De­spite the game clearly not yet liv­ing up to the team’s vi­sion of it, and the fact that it has only opened up a small por­tion of the city to out­siders so far, Cat­a­lyst al­ready presents a tan­ta­lis­ing glimpse of how free­ing an open­world Mir­ror’s Edge could be. And the stu­dio has promised that by re­lease the City Of Glass will be a large open world not bro­ken up by load­ing screens, which ought to help main­tain the re­lent­less sense of mo­men­tum that won over fans of the orig­i­nal. Trans­fer­ring Mir­ror’s

Edge’s tight park­our to a space in which the player can call all the shots is a leap of faith, cer­tainly, but DICE looks likely to land it.

Erik Odel­dahl, game de­sign di­rec­tor

Tech­nol­ogy plays a big part in Cat­a­lyst, whether it’s man­i­fest in the wear­ables that help to sub­ju­gate the pop­u­la­tion at large or tied into the el­e­gant ar­chi­tec­ture of the so-called City Of Glass

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