24 April 2016

Beta hands-on: Mirror's Edge Catalyst

When I opened my e-mailbox on Friday afternoon during MacGyver third season rerun commercial break I shrieked in ecstasy. There was a key for the closed beta of Mirror's Edge Catalyst. I must have sounded like a little girl who's going to see her favourite boy band live.

I have had my doubts over the sequel/prequel to Mirror's Edge. The original is one of my favourite games ever and I had it in my mind that I oppose every shit they add to it. I was afraid they would break the ingenious simplicity of it all. Nevertheless I've been waiting anxiously for the game, even more so when I registered for the beta a couple of months ago, hence my giddy reactions.

After a healthy run of beta I must admit I was a bit fool with my prejudices. Mirror's Edge Catalyst feels like Mirror's Edge should but at the same time it builds upon its bare bones gameplay and expands it to Ubisoft-game like open world experience.

You can freely roam about the rooftops of a dystopian city of glass, switching between story missions, side missions, other activities like deliveries and collectibles and even player-created time trials and caches. All the while Faith controls like the fast and nimble parkour girl we all fell in love with in 2008. Of course she only looks better with the next-gen hardware fleshing out her features in flashy 3rd person cut scenes.

The visual flair follows in the footsteps of Mirror's Edge and paints the world as clean and luminous as a striking contrast to most of the games these days which show us just depressing shades of gray and gritty details. Faith zips around the city in steady and smooth 60 fps, maybe sacrificing in some environmental details along the way but you're too busy running to notice any shortcomings anyway.

It maybe due to the limited area of the beta which consists of the starting area of the game but Catalyst feels a bit easy compared to the original. There's no need for advanced and complicated trick moves nor it's even possible to pull them off. Then again I believe it may be only a soft landing for the players who experience 1st person parkour for the first time and more advanced stuff comes later.

Or perhaps it's a conscious game design decision to make the game... oh how I hate this phrase, "more accessible". So instead I dare to say it's to make the game flow better, without the player stumbling in every other hurdle. Either way my brother remarked how fun and free the game looks while I was indeed having a blast controlling the flow. There's this freedom of expressing yourself through the motion so rarely seen in a 1st person game. It also expands to the fluid and flexible combat which is melee-only this time, you can't even pick up a gun.

I will book my pre-order the next time I visit the games retailer of my choice and then it's the agonizing wait until June. Beta version tested on Xbox One.

//planeteer P

4 April 2016

In the pines

It's ridiculous how good Alan Wake looks. It has no rights to do so. After all, it came out six years ago for a previous generation console. It can't look this good. Yet it does. Seriously. And thanks to the backwards compatibility, you can enjoy this Finnish-made masterpiece, originally published for Xbox 360, on Xbox One.

I'm happy with our Xbox One but not a single so-called next generation game has made me wow at its graphics. Alan Wake had me gasping al the way through. I was constantly shouting to my brother: "look at this", "gorgeous", "just wow". And this wasn't the first time I played the game. I originally played it through five years ago but somehow I appreciated it more this time around.

It's written in Finn's genetic make-up how the darkness looks, how it moves and snares us. We have dark most of the year. We know how the flashlight plays out in the darkness when we make it out for the outhouse. Surrounded by the scary woods.

Seriously, these stills don't do justice to Alan Wake. The darkness, the forest, the environments - it all is a living, breathing entity shadowing Alan's desperate journey through the night. There's so much volume and depth to the graphics it has to be experienced by playing the game.

And the good looks are only half of the story. I could go on how witty the writing is, how it plays intentionally with cliches, how it draws from this mythc North America with its strange small towns that lives in our shared collective conscious, how it is a love story at heart. And how quirky it is. As only Finns can do.

It may be the best part of Remedy's latest offering Quantum Break that it comes with a free Alan Wake download. At the same time I hope QB will sell well enough that Microsoft finally shows the green (flash)light to Alan Wake 2.

//planeteer J