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I wish more games were like Mirror’s Edge Catalyst

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It's hard not to look around the E3 show floor and notice very strong patterns. There's Military Shooter 4Jump Scare Simulator: Legends, and of course, Racing Thing 2016Mirror's Edge Catalyst isn't an original IP — whether it's a prequel or a reboot is up for debate — but the follow-up to 2008's Mirror's Edge is a AAA-tier title that's heavy on the art house aesthetic and stands out for minimizing violence in favor of visceral first-person acrobatics. If the almost-15-minute demo I played at Electronic Arts' booth is any indication, it's the kind of evolution a game like this should have.

If you've played the original, Catalyst will feel very similar. The E3 demo had two sections: the very beginning of the game (or a level meant to look like the beginning) and a tiny bit of skyline that calls back to the first Mirror's Edge, bright and stylish. The first section was short and almost entirely driven by cutscene and narrative. Faith — that's you — is released from future-prison and immediately enlisted into some underground group led by a man named Noah who wants to take down a totalitarian society ruled by fear and propaganda yadda yadda. (You're a catalyst for change — get it?)

If you've played the original, Catalyst will feel very similar

Even if the Orwellian messaging is a bit heavy-handed, the visual style is distinct and laudable. The color palette feels intentionally limited, and the hues picked are bold. At the same time, the character models (especially Faith) are softer and more expressive. Your character quite literally stands in stark contrast to the world around her.

After just a few minutes of exposition, the demo quickly jumps ahead to the fun part, traipsing from building to building and doing Really Cool Moves all from Faith's point of view. For those who didn't play Mirror's Edge — admittedly, that's a lot of people — the two most important buttons are L1 and L2, representing "jump / climb / wall run / parkour upwards" and "duck / slide / parkour downwards," respectively. Momentum is everything; the more free-running you do, the faster you'll go and the higher / farther you'll be able to jump. When Faith first starts moving, it feels painfully slow, as if the game is preemptively punishing you for taking a breath or stopping to enjoy the view. Speed will also make you impervious to bullets, which is a good thing since punching and kicking gun-toting enemies is part of your free-running combat. (While using a gun yourself was an optional part of the first Mirror's Edge, according to Polygon, that has been eschewed here entirely in favor of hand-to-hand fighting.)

Mirrors Edge

Combat was a very small part of the demo, found in the shortest of the three missions I could try. The others involved racing along a path and reaching a billboard to reprogram it in your likeness (which is Fighting the System 101). All the missions are really just excuses to do first-person parkour, and in the time since the first Mirror's Edge came out, no game has really tried to pull this off — well, maybe Dying Light. The on-screen UI is kept to a minimum. Parts of the environment (e.g. a fence railing or vertical pipe) will turn red to indicate what you should jump over / slide under / climb onto to reach your goal.

Combat was a very small part of the demo

Catalyst isn't a totally new property, but let's put that first game in context. The original Mirror's Edge came out in 2008 to favorable but mixed reviews (a quantitative mean of 79 out of 100, according to Metacritic). Since its release, the game has reportedly sold "about 2.5 million units" across three platforms worldwide, which for a publisher like Electronic Arts means it's barely a blip. (The Tomb Raider reboot has sold over 8.5 million copies.) And yet Mirror's Edge Catalyst is featured prominently at EA's booth, with maybe only Star Wars: Battlefront getting more of that coveted physical space in the booth.

I don't expect Mirror's Edge Catalyst to pull in record sales any more than I expect a Sundance-winning film to break the box office, and I know there is a wealth of smaller independent taking even bigger risks with gameplay and really moving the industry forward. But Electronic Arts and developer DICE could have easily spent time, money, and sweat making Space Alien Shoot-em-Up 17. I'm glad they did this instead.