Mirror's Edge deserved better than the respectable sales numbers it made in the face of numerous glowing reviews. A sequel was never assured, but as ever when something of quality doesn't catch on with the masses, DICE's stark and unique original promptly assumed cult classic status.
Passionate fans wanted a follow-up and the game's equally passionate developers fought to make that a reality. Seven years later Mirror's Edge Catalyst is ready to make its bow, with commercial success a much more likely prospect than before.
For many reasons the original game was ahead of its time. Faith, the game's heroine, is exactly the kind of diverse lead character that the white-male dominated industry is craving. In 2008 Mirror's Edge stood out from a crowd of murky, dreary shooters with its crisp and bright look. Now, livelier, cleaner visuals are in vogue.
That might sound like the current market makes Mirror's Edge less unique, but no game in those seven years has come close to matching the original's thrills, and those thrills look as potent as ever.
There was a fear among fans that should the series ever return it would be bastardised by the EA corporate machine. The original gave Faith the option of using guns to clear away enemies, but it was never needed and was undoubtedly the game's weakest aspect. The assumption was that EA would amplify the recognisable shooting mechanic to give the game a more immediate appeal and make investment in it less of a risk. Thankfully, however, that is far from the case. In fact Faith never uses a gun in Catalyst, she doesn't need to, instead relying on her physicality and ability to build momentum.
Combat – such is tradition in gameplay demos – took place at the end of the gameplay footage EA showed off at its Gamescom 2015 press conference (and seen above). This brief video showed a game seemingly in perfect tune with its predecessor and which looks to fully realise its promising concept.
The footage comes from an early level which sets Faith up on her journey. Developer DICE is making a lot of Faith's journey, talking about this being the story of how she becomes a hero and eagerly using unearned words like "iconic" to describe her. In a world with Katniss Everdeen and greater female empowerment than ever it makes perfect sense, let's just hope Catalyst's story is a lot more interesting than the original's.
"We want to stay true to the original game," said the DICE producer showing off an extended, live demo of that same mission behind closed doors. He wasn't wrong. Not a lot appears to have changed on the surface, beyond the obvious better looks and likewise when I went hands-on it felt instantly familiar.
Free-running is still satisfying once you get to grips with it and combat works as before, but improved with enhanced physics, the use of certain objects (swinging from a pole to knock an enemy flying, for example) and new animations that zoom out to third person briefly to show off Faith's knockout flurry.
As ever red highlights laid over the game's world tell players where to go, as do scuff marks left by the shoes of fellow runners, but now there's more choice in how to get from A to B. Sauntering off the C and X will be rewarded, and given the nature of free-running it's not hard to imagine some rewards (upgrades to abilities and various gadgets) being fiendishly placed in the world.
Perhaps the most intriguing part of the demo was its open world setting, something perfectly suited to what Mirror's Edge is and which could add a lot to the formula given the right application. We were told the world is "massive" but it doesn't need to be. A simple over-world adding some fun between missions and offering some variety and choice would be more than enough.
Throughout this world there are various tasks and missions chosen via crisp map. The three I played were all essentially "get from point A to point B", one a race, the other putting enemies between you and your goal and the third tasking players with reaching a billboard to hack.
The look of the game remains similar to that of the original, the city of glass is brighter and cleaner thanks to modern hardware.
The best thing Mirror's Edge Catalyst can do is stay the course they appear to be on in these demos, remain faithful (pun definitely intended) to the original game's vision be unashamedly proud of everything that's different about Mirror's Edge. DICE is currently split between two high profile projects – lucrative money-spinner Star Wars: Battlefront and this, its passion project. If it can deliver on both fronts – and it appears it might – then this could be DICE's finest hour.
Mirror's Edge Catalyst is set for release on 23 February 2016 on PS4, Xbox One and PC.