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