The Near-future Free-roaming of Mirror's Edge Catalyst at E3 2015

We go hands-on with the origin story of Mirror's Edge's protagonist, Faith, and parkour across open rooftops.

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DICE is being very careful not to call Mirror's Edge Catalyst an "open-world game". Lead Designer Erik Odeldahl says the studio prefers to think of it as "free-roaming". The difference is a subtle one; an open-world game implies a single, contiguous world to explore without interruption, while free-roaming is more vague and indistinct. Odeldahl says the studio isn't talking about the game's structure until later in the year, so I'm not sure exactly how large and how open the city of Mirror's Edge Catalyst will be. Despite this, Odeldahl says the game will still offer you "freedom of choice" in how you move through the city's alleys and across its rooftops.

In my unfortunately short hands-on time with the game, I felt that freedom of choice come to the fore. I spent ten minutes undertaking missions in a free-roaming section of the city, and the difference between Catalyst and its predecessor, Mirror's Edge, was immediately apparent. Where Mirror's Edge locked you into a tight and controlled pathway from one end of its levels to the next, Catalyst gives you the breathing room to go off course and find your own way to your objective.

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Those objectives appear in the world as points of interest. If you bring up the map, you can mark an objective as a destination, and the game will dynamically generate the appropriate runner vision--the way objects you want to parkour across turn red--for you. If you make a mistake, miss a vault, or get turned around, it doesn't matter - you can find another way around and keep your momentum.

And Mirror's Edge Catalyst is all about keeping your momentum. If you're running at a high speed, and chaining parkour movements together, enemies who are shooting at you will be unable to land a shot. This gives you the opportunity to take them down with two melee options: a flow attack, which knocks them down and maintains your momentum so you can keep moving; or a tranference attack, which tranfers your momentum to the enemy. Yes, you can kick people off rooftops; in fact, you're encouraged to.

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But a new combat aspect that didn't gel with me was the introduction of third-person takedown animations. These seemed to initiate when I disabled the last enemy in an area, and the camera cut to an external view to show Faith acrobatically pinning a guard. For a game that gets the sense of first-person presence so right, it was disappointing to have that feeling interrupted for a flashy execution move.

"It's always been a game about first-person movement, but we did want to show Faith more because she's a really cool character," Odeldahl explains. "We do third-person finishers, we do third-person cameras when you finish races, and also third-person cutscenes in-engine. We want people to see Faith more."

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Personally, I don't feel the need to see Faith outside of cutscenes; I already feel like I am her in action, and I don't need to be reminded of that in what feels like an artificial, immersion-breaking manner.

But beyond the game's third-person takedowns, the parkour in Mirror's Edge Catalyst felt fantastic. The grace period to execute moves seems to have been slightly extended over the game's predecessor, making the game less punishing so that you feel less clumsy. Individual moves also take less time to execute, and you maintain more momentum with each, so you can chain them together and achieve a "flow state" with ease. Combined with the new free-roaming direction, these ten minutes I played made me ache to go back for more.

Mirror's Edge Catalyst will release on February 23, 2016, for Xbox One, PS4, and PC.

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