Mirror's Edge Catalyst Review
Reviewed on Microsoft Xbox OneAlso available on PC and Sony PlayStation 4
Nearly eight years ago Mirror’s Edge was released to the unsuspecting gaming world. Made by EA Dice, who were better known for the Battlefield series of games, this was a game that focused on the stunt-like sport of parkour. You played as the character Faith on a mission to clear her sister’s name in the totalitarian ruled city of Glass. It was a game that, while received well critically, didn’t hit it off with everyone and subsequently sales fell short of projections. This then tossed initial plans for sequels into limbo and fans of the game wondered if they’d ever get to see Faith in action again.
Fast forward to E3 2013 and all of a sudden talk of a Mirror’s Edge sequel gained traction which was then followed by an official announcement from publisher EA. However most of the original team would not be involved and, rather than continue from where things were left at the end of Mirror’s Edge, this would be a reboot come prequel to the original. A couple of years down the line there was an announcement of a delay in 2015 and so here were are in 2016 with our hands finally on Mirror’s Edge Catalyst.
The original Mirror’s Edge look-and-feel is alive and well. The colour drained palette with focus on primary colours makes a player of the original feel well at home. The angular nature of most of the buildings lends itself to running routes filled with precise movements but it’s also a world that begs to be explored. Unlike the original which followed a level-based approach to gameplay, Mirror’s Edge Catalyst is an open-world free-for-all. Missions and side-missions alike are strewn across the city of Glass ready and waiting for Faith to pick up at her leisure. Whilst this makes the city feel more alive it does remove some of the clever level design that was present in Mirror’s Edge. It also seems stripping away the confines of a limited amount of space per level has opened things up to occasional laziness when it comes to Glass’ rooftops; you’ll generally find things up here rather boring and rarely are you tasked with any complicated manoeuvres.
Thankfully, however, the internal levels still retain a puzzle-like nature. Aided with the game’s runner GPS known as Runner Vision you’ll find that whilst the route looks easy you’ll need to be quick and accurate if you want to make your way through the level. Our button accuracy was particularly tested during the the Gridnode side-missions. These are giant computer rooms than you must climb to the top of and hack to unlock the ability to fast travel to nearby safe houses. Laced with laser beams you must make your ascent in a careful and assured manner as breaking one of these beams will alert the nearby city security force. It’s a shame there’s not more of these levels but we’ll take what we can get and in all fairness the multiplayer component, which we’ll get to later, will really test your parkour mettle!
Movement and the act of running is where Mirror’s Edge: Catalyst really shines. The slight blur as you start running, the sound of Faith’s breathing and the gentle thuds of her feet just, well, feel right. Not only do you get the sensation of running but, should you overstep and go over the edge, like us, you may also feel a little uneasy as you hear the wind rush and Faith’s panic breathing. It was something the original got right and it’s good to see they’ve maintained this. However one slight oddity when it comes to the look of the game is, despite being powered by the latest Frostbite engine, NPCs and the game’s characters have an odd “flat” feel to them when not in a cutscene.
As mentioned already the game’s audio is well put together especially in relation to running. The ambient soundtrack suits the game rather well and suitably steps up in urgency during the game’s more frenetic moments. Speaking of frenetic, this rather accurately sums up the games approach to combat. Mirror’s Edge: Catalyst takes the first game’s aversion to guns to the next level by removing them outright for Faith. Whereas before you could disarm a foe and choose to not use it there’s none of that here. Should you meet members of KSec, Glass’ private security firm, then your only options are to incapacitate or avoid them entirely. Whilst KSec officers have firearms they’re linked biologically to their owners so of no use to Faith. To combat our heroine’s inability to use weapons is Faith’s focus shield. Essentially the faster she’s running the more focus she has and as such bullets and hits from enemies merely knock her a bit off her stride rather than damage. Lose your focus shield, however, and Faith is a sitting duck and easily overwhelmed.
For the most part you can avoid taking on KSec, however there are missions in the game where you’re going to have to take them on. There are six main classes of enemies - Guardians (basic melee), Protectors (armed with batons), Shock Protectors (ability to use an energy punch), Enforcers (they have guns) and Sentinels (combat trained NPCs, the hardest opponent to face). Each have their own weaknesses and with the right combination of movements they can be taken down relatively quickly. That is, of course, if it weren’t for the combat controls. Combat in the original Mirror’s Edge, wasn’t exactly graceful but since you could avoid most confrontations or incapacitated with one movement it wasn’t much of a problem. In Mirror’s Edge: Catalyst however DICE have decided to up the combat. Now Faith has two different types of attacks, one used to get past foes quickly, the other designed to incapacitate. The latter requires finesse and use of the thumbsticks, the bumper buttons for jumping manoeuvres and the Y button.
When faced with several foes this quickly becomes a manic procession of button mashing in the hope the right combination is had. We often found that whilst we were focussed on taking out one another would attack or one wrong use of the dodge button would send poor Faith over the edge to her doom. Thankfully this is lessened if you’re fortunate enough to own an XBox Elite controller. Shifting bumper buttons, X and Y to the paddles means fingers are always close to all the important buttons. Traversal and combat become much easier and mishits on buttons are reduced. It’s not perfect but it certainly makes things better - but then it shouldn’t really take an expensive piece of hardware to make the controls more bearable.
What nothing will fix, however, is the game’s story and characters. Whilst I doubt anyone is really playing Mirror’s Edge: Catalyst for the story there is one that unfolds before the player. Unfortunately it’s rather bland but that’s mostly down to its pacing and lack of any real character arcs. There’s no personality to any of them, even Faith, and while it’s not exactly drivel even the twists are easily guessable. It’s a shame but not disastrous as the main game can be completed in under 10 hours leaving you to play the more entertaining side missions and player created time-trials. An equally odd addition is that of Faith’s skill tree. Rather than having all your abilities unlocked from the start, like the original, here you must earn XP to unlock new abilities. It seems like DICE felt obliged to include it as being a staple of the modern gaming world but it’s unnecessary as most are unlocked rather quickly.
Another addition, seemingly included because everyone else is doing it, is all the collectibles. In addition to the classic Secret Bags there’s now GridLeaks, electronic parts, documents and surveillance recordings. The only one of consequence is the surveillance recordings through which you learn that little bit more about the story playing out as well as some of the other goings on in the city. The rest are there pretty much for the sake of it and while some of them require some skill at the game to acquire I’m not sure why it was felt they needed to have so many things to collect. In any event the XP gained can then be used to fill out your skill tree.
So while Mirror’s Edge Catalyst has a weak story it’s very strong in its multiplayer/community features. Whilst there’s no direct multiplayer there are leaderboards for game missions and quests, Beat L.E. and time-trials. The latter isn’t the developer-made ones they are, instead, user created ones. At any point during the game you can create your own time-trial. Make it as easy or as hard as you like then go out and set the time to beat. Anyone playing the game can then come across your time-trial and choose to run it and beat your echo. Given the size and scope of the city, the different ways to traverse it and the imaginative minds of gamers’ chances are in time there’ll be some rather epic ones to run. It’s a fantastic addition and we’ve certainly enjoyed trying to compete with the fastest runners out there. What’s brilliant is that with each run you spot a new way to get from point A to point B so you run it again, and again and again. It encourages experimentation with the game’s mechanics and will no doubt draw in speedrunners from near and far.
Beat L.E. is essentially a community marker. If you spot something interesting you can lay one down and if made public can be seen by anyone. Their uses range from putting a marker on neat spots to helping friends locate those hard to find collectibles. They’re neat even if they’re not really adding anything huge to the game. This isn’t the only way to appear in your friends’ games either as if you hack a billboard this too will show up in their instance of the game. It’s nice to see the developer embrace the community that pushed so hard and likely helped in making this sequel a reality.
Mirror’s Edge: Catalyst
is still an oddball, then, in the gaming community. It’s the distant third cousin that few know and even less understand. However for those that do they’re the life of the party with fun stories to tell and a quirky humour. Whilst the combat is clunky, the story unremarkable and characters you’ll struggle to like the core concept at large is hugely entertaining. The embrace of the community in the form of the time-trials is a masterstroke and will likely continue to produce content for gamers to play long after the release hype dies down. This probably wasn’t the game die-hard fans of the original were expecting but if you give the game outside its story a chance what we found was one of originality and entertainment, and ultimately isn’t that why we buy and play games?