Mirror’s Edge: Catalyst beta impressions

(I would’ve written about this earlier, except I was under the impression that there was an NDA for closed-beta members.  However, Kotaku just opened up a thread about the beta, and someone there told me that there was no NDA and that EA was actively promoting player streams on Twitter, so: my mistake!)

Unlike other betas in which it’s obvious that the developers are stress-testing their multiplayer servers and getting a feel for how players are reacting to weapons and such, I’m not sure what the purpose of the Mirror’s Edge beta was for, beyond giving franchise fans a sneak peak of this long-awaited sequel.  To be fair, I only had the chance to play it for an hour or so and so I didn’t run across (sorry) any multiplayer options; I suspect there would be some sort of leaderboard for time trials, but that isn’t necessarily something that needs stress-testing.

As someone who admired the first game for its relative strengths but didn’t finish it because the combat was overwhelmingly stupid and awful, I can’t necessarily articulate what it is that I’d want from a sequel – beyond getting rid of the gunplay.  I don’t remember much of the larger narrative from the first game; all I do remember, frankly, is the incredible visual style and the often-exhilarating parkour.

To that end, I’m not sure that Catalyst delivers.  The graphics are not as pristine as I’d expect them to be – but then, this is a beta, and I’m sure there’s quite a bit more spit and polish left before the game goes gold.  The free-running feels essentially the same, even if the control scheme isn’t quite as intuitive as I’d like (lots of L1 and L2 on the PS4 controller, with the face buttons used for hand-to-hand combat).

My biggest issue with the game, though, is that it feels very much like it’s trying to be an Assassin’s Creed clone, and not a particularly interesting one at that.  It has that same quasi-open-world feel and the same skill-tree system of upgrades, but it feels clumsy in my hands.  More to the point, the writing is awful.  Everybody is annoying, uninteresting, speaking the same cliched game-dialogue we’ve all heard for years.  The first person Faith meets when she gets out of [prison?] is the same annoying-new-guy stock character we’ve seen a million times.  I have no idea why I’m doing anything, nor do I know why I have to do it so quickly.  The mission designs, at least the few that I played through, are all standard cookie-cutter missions – collect a bunch of things, deliver them to point A, evade your pursuers.  The time trial stuff is fun in principle, though it’s silly from a narrative point – I understand the need to tutorialize for the new player, but if Faith is this legendary free-runner, why does she need to prove herself to anybody – even if she was in prison?

I’d like to say I’m still cautiously optimistic, but I’m not sure that the problems I’m seeing here are the sorts of things that can be fixed by June.

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