Mirror's Edge Catalyst is the first game to support Ansel, the in-game photo technology Nvidia announced alongside the new GTX 1080 and 1070 graphics cards. Nvidia just released the Ansel driver update alongside VR Funhouse, its hardware-crunching virtual reality tech demo.
I'm a big fan of in-game photo modes, having spent a bunch of time with the variously successful implementations in PlayStation 4 games like Infamous: Second Son, The Last of Us Remastered, and Uncharted: The Nathan Drake Collection. After playing with Ansel for a while, I'm ready to call it the best yet.
Ansel lets you literally leave Faith's body
Ansel is activated by pressing Alt-F2 while playing the game. This freezes the action, and a slim panel slides in from the left to give you control over your photo's parameters; you can choose filters and adjust settings like contrast and vignetting, as you'd expect.
But what really stands out is the totally free 3D movement you retain, giving you vastly more control over your composition than the PS4 games I mentioned before. Mirror's Edge Catalyst is a primarily first-person game, but you can use regular WASD keyboard-and-mouse controls to literally leave your character Faith's body and frame third-person shots however you like.
Ansel also wins on shareability, saving full-resolution .png files directly to your hard drive rather than forcing you through Sony's inexplicable half-approach to a file system. And the show-stopping feature is completely unprecedented: you can save 360-degree stereoscopic shots in Ansel and view them in VR.
There's an Android app called Nvidia VR Viewer that can display the photos with Google Cardboard, or you can use a PC headset like the Oculus Rift or HTC Vive, though Nvidia's solution there is a little less elegant — it suggests downloading the $14.99 Virtual Desktop app and loading the photos from your hard drive. Still, I happened to own Virtual Desktop already, and everything worked great. Mirror's Edge Catalyst is especially well suited to the feature, with its sweeping cityscapes acting as a perfect canvas for dramatic, immersive composition.
My biggest complaint with Ansel is actually the keyboard shortcut. Unless I'm missing something, there's no way to bind the feature to anything but Alt-F2, which can be a tricky combination to pull off in the decisive moment — especially with a fast-paced game like Mirror's Edge Catalyst.
PS4 games, by comparison, usually make this easier by letting you press in the analog sticks to activate their photo modes. The option to assign Ansel to a similarly lesser-used button on my mouse, for example, would be appreciated. Ansel also lacks control over certain parameters like depth of field, though the VR support could make that tricky.
Ansel works on Nvidia GPUs from the GTX 770M all the way up to the latest 1080. It's only supported by Mirror's Edge Catalyst for now, but Nvidia promises upcoming compatibility with games including The Witcher III: Wild Hunt, No Man's Sky, The Division, Unreal Tournament, The Witness, and more.