Reviewer: Michael Mendis
Publisher: Electronic Arts
ESRB Rating: M (Mature)
Platforms: Xbox One (reviewed), PlayStation 4, PC
When the original Mirror’s Edge was released back in 2008, it merged two popular game genres in a way that had never been done before. Developer DICE (best known for creating the Battlefield first-person shooter games) created a first-person platformer: a game that took place entirely in first-person and focused not on combat (as pretty much every other game that played from the first-person perspective had), but on parkour-style climbing and jumping. It was a unique experience that quickly gained a cult following of players who spent hours not only completing the game’s main story missions, but replaying the game’s obstacle courses to get the best times possible. Fast-forward to 2016, and DICE has just wrapped up development on Mirror’s Edge Catalyst, a reboot that takes the mechanics of the original game and places it into a big open world.
In Mirror’s Edge Catalyst you play as Faith Connors, a young woman who lives on the rooftops of the city of Glass, hiding from the authorities as she and her fellow “runners” earn money by secretly and quickly delivering packages for various customers. As mentioned above, Mirror’s Edge Catalyst is a reboot of the original; some elements of the game’s story and lore remain the same (Glass is still a near-futuristic city run by a big brother-esque totalitarian group of corporations), while others have been altered (Faith’s sister isn’t a cop like she is in the first game). Altogether, the story premise is quite strong, and combined with the game’s absolutely stunning art style (which has some of the best use of color that I have ever seen in gaming), this makes Catalyst one of the most intriguing and unique AAA games on the market today.
Unfortunately, the game’s actual story fails to live up to its potential. The plot is completely forgettable, and the story’s twists are way too predictable, robbing key moments of their dramatic weight. The characters themselves aren’t much better; most of them (including Faith) are either just as forgettable as the overall story, or else are memorable only for how annoying they are.
If the game’s story is disappointing, the high quality of the game’s traversal mechanics helps make up for it. Running around the city of Glass is an absolute treat; the parkour mechanics from the first game could be a bit clunky at times, but in Catalyst they have been refined and are now as silky smooth as they always should have been. The controls take a little time to get used to, but once you have mastered the basic flow of chaining together Faith’s jumps, slides, and wall runs, you’ll quickly find yourself sailing through the city, seamlessly leaping from rooftop to rooftop and scaling tall structures. Nailing a smooth run is incredibly satisfying, providing an experience that you just can’t find in many other games.
While traversal has seen a clear improvement from the original game, the combat mechanics unfortunately have not. Fighting is still rather clunky and repetitive; most enemies can be defeated with a few basic attacks, and while there are several different enemy types (multiple melee classes and a ranged class), they don’t pose much of a threat once you learn their attack patterns. Faith can perform a few fancy combat moves when attacking from high above or when jumping off of a wall, but these flashier moves aren’t essential and are only likely to make you vulnerable in the process. On a rare occasion you’ll get to see Faith perform a cool takedown in third-person when finishing off a group of enemies, which is a nice touch, but is, as I said, quite rare; I wish I could have seen it more often in the game.
Perhaps the biggest change from the original game to Catalyst is the open world structure. While the first game was entirely linear and mission-based, the new game sets you loose to explore Glass. In addition to the main missions (which contain a mix of traversal and combat), there are side missions and time trials scattered throughout the city, many of which are quite challenging; while a lot of these missions simply ask you to get from point A to point B in a set amount of time, some have special modifiers (such as avoiding being spotted by guards or security cameras) to keep the player on their toes. The basic races (time trials with no modifiers) also have leaderboards, encouraging players to really master the game’s parkour skills and learn the best routes. On top of that, all of the story missions can be replayed to your heart’s content, giving speedrunners yet another reason to come back again and again.
Alongside the open world structure is an upgrade system; as you complete missions and challenges, Faith gains experience that allows the player to upgrade her combat skills, traversal moves, and gear. In a way, it feels like a rather pointless mechanic; most of the important skills you need can be unlocked within the first few hours of gameplay, and aside from an unlockable tool that stuns opponents, none of the other upgrades are all that memorable. The new grappling hook, heavily advertised in the game’s marketing, can only be used at specific spots in the environment, and its presence acts more as a way to gate players (some parts of the city can only be accessed with the hook, which you only get part way through the game) than as an addition to gameplay. You can also unlock runner tags: customizable symbols that will appear when you hack certain billboards (and will show up in your friends’ games as well). For some bizarre reason, though, you cannot change your tag from within the game; you have to log on to a separate website in order to do this. Why the developers failed to implement this into the main game, saving players extra hassle, is beyond me.
Altogether, I can’t help but feel a bit disappointed with Mirror’s Edge Catalyst. It’s not that the game doesn’t have anything good going for it; the clear improvements to the traversal mechanics and the myriad replayable missions and time trials offer plenty of fun moments. But Catalyst’s missteps, namely the bland writing and poor combat mechanics, bring the whole game down. And that’s a real shame considering the how unique this game is in a lot of ways, especially among big budget, AAA titles.
OVERALL SCORE: C-