First impressions on two highly anticipated game beta releases.
As we leave April, we look back at two game betas that provided players with a glimpse into highly anticipated 2016 releases: Bethesda’s DOOM and DICE’s Mirror’s Edge: Catalyst pre-sequel. While the two are fundamentally different games, offering completely different gameplay experiences, they act as companions to one another. DOOM is a game about going to the bottom layer of hell to kill every demon, whereas Catalyst is a game that pits the player against the greatest demon of all – the system. There’s nothing scarier, or more dangerous, than shadow governments and corporate agendas.
DOOM, set for release May 13th, sends the player back to hell to fight a variety of grotesque demons and monsters, beating the living hell out of them with violent executions that make the Gears of War franchise look like an ABC after-school special. The DOOM beta highlights the multiplayer, a return to the Unreal Tournament style of twitch-gameplay that has been missing since Unreal Tournament III in 2007 and Tribes: Ascend on PC.
The last DOOM game released was 2004’s DOOM 3 – the Resurrection of Evil expansion pack was released a year later, with a BFG Edition released in 2012. It’s been a long time coming for another DOOM game and while we’ve only seen snippets of the single-player, the multiplayer has already been in the hands of the community. On the PC, the beta’s performance was less than optimal, but id Software quickly released a statement addressing this, putting many worries to rest.
The beta showcased two maps, two modes, 7 weapons and 1 demon – The Revenant. DOOM also offers much in the realm of customization, with weapons and armor skins that allow a user to put a unique stamp on their death-dealing avatar. The weapons range from the traditional (yet still awesome) shotgun to the lightning gun, a close-range weapon that discharges electricity. Each weapon has an alternative fire mode - the shotgun will hit harder and the heavy assault rifle will shoot mini-rockets - but it limits the use of the scope.
The two available maps were well designed, but left me feeling they could have belonged to any other game. The industrial map has been done before but where it went off the beaten path, it threw blood everywhere. Here’s hoping that with the attached map editor the community will create great maps that address the overall map design issue.
The two modes featured in the beta are Team Deathmatch and Warpath. Team Deathmatch is the standard mode where two opposing forces try killing each other to eventually claim victory. Warpath is the King of the Hill variant, throwing in a demon that can, and will, decimate the other team. It definitely spices things up.
DOOM’s gameplay is ultimately the strongest part of the beta. If you are unfamiliar with the gameplay, be prepared - you will die a lot. Once you become accustomed to the rhythm however, DOOM is a blast. If you happen across a player with low health, you can perform executions that provide some of the game’s most satisfying moments. When a player moved in front of me, I twisted his neck and sent him over the railing into the molten lava below, 300 Spartan kick-style.
Gone is the regenerative health system that has been featured in too many first-person shooters. Instead there are health, ammo and power-ups that you pick up across the map. DOOM relishes its nostalgic appeal - id Software understands that there’s a place for a revered game like DOOM, especially in the console market.
On the other end of the spectrum, the Mirror’s Edge: Catalyst beta focused its first hour or two on the single-player experience. Released back in 2008, Mirror’s Edge gave players a view into the first person, free-running parkour experience as the female protagonist, Faith. The game was released to mild critical and fan acclaim but hasn’t seen another release until this year. Mirror’s Edge: Catalyst is a pre-sequel to Mirror’s Edge, starting when Faith is released from jail for couriering, a job she returns to immediately upon release. The first person free-running gameplay remains intact, but a few system modifications have been made to enhance the user experience.
For one, Faith can no longer carry guns at all - it’s not even an option. Instead, combat is relegated to leaping at security guards and officers in the city of Glass (Mirror’s…Edge), which leads to some flashy and satisfying instant takedowns. During my time with the game, I found that if you didn’t attack from above or with momentum, you were left awkwardly dodging strikes. And God help you if there’s more than one enemy standing between you and your objective. If you do happen to push through the combat, a cool cinematic plays as Faith does a less than lethal execution. There is a skill tree that can mediate this awkward combat, but in the early stages of the game it’s availability was not at all apparent.
Mirror’s Edge: Catalyst also takes on a more open-world approach, as opposed to its predecessor’s linear level design. This involves RPG-style quests where Faith runs and sneaks into areas as well as taking on side quests. Both the linear and open worlds compliment the game’s design philosophy, and provide greater choice in how a player moves around the city (certainly not a bad thing). The story, what was available for the beta, has definitely improved since the previous iteration. The “Esurance” commercial style of animation has been replaced with in-engine cinematics that suit the game far better. The characters were a little weak - the first one you meet is a cliché, not trusting the recently released inmate’s abilities - but it’s ultimately hard to judge the beta’s small segment of the full game’s story.