Mirror's Edge: Catalyst
PC version reviewed. Copy provided by publisher.
2008 was a great year when you look back on it. Walter White brought blue meth to the streets of Albuquerque for the first time. Batman hit his all-time high when faced off against the Joker in The Dark Knight. Later in the year Max Payne hit #1 at the box office. Meanwhile, Niko Bellic made Liberty City his new home. We saw the end of Solid Snake and a vault dweller took his first steps in the Capital Wasteland.
During that time we also took our first steps into the city of Glass. A stark and beautiful dystopian city where runners act as the only opposition to a tyrannical government. It wasn’t a huge success, but garnered enough acclaim and did enough right to become a cult classic. Eight years and one soft reboot later, the fans finally get more. It also gives Mirror’s Edge the chance to introduce itself, and Faith, to a whole new generation.
I’m a big fan of the original. It brought a sense of freedom in movement rarely found in other games, even though the whole thing was laid out a little too conveniently, offering no real choice and forcing you down a direct path that tested your reflexes rather than your pathfinding skills. Combined with this was the fresh art style and the stark contrast between the bright vivid colors found in Glass.
Little has changed in that sentiment in the move to Mirror’s Edge: Catalyst. The parkour has only improved in Catalyst, particularly with the inclusion of more ways to get around. Faith gets the use of tools like a grappling hook that lets her swing across great expanses, as well as a minor use of pulling down objects like ladders, wooden boarding that’s blocking a path or a part of a building that can be used as a platform. Within a few hours you’ll have the experience points to unlock the freedom to roll, slide and run along any wall you want like in the original. A few story missions later you’ll get the grappling hook; then, Glass itself becomes your plaything.
Gone are the linear paths, the conveniently hung pipes, the random platforms that have no reason to be there other than as something for Faith to jump on. For the most part anyway. Glass is now an open world, giving you the freedom to look around, choose a path of your own and string together long, impressive and exhilarating runs, as well as challenging yourself to time trials, delivery missions as well as a few puzzle and path-finding sections. Adding onto these are collection quests that can either annoy, or challenge, you. Strewn around Glass are gridleaks, electronic parts, recordings, documents, secret bags and hackable billboards.
There is an issue in the fact that these time trials and delivery missions are ostensibly the same thing, get to a location within a certain time. The time trials are saved by the fact that while they indicate a general route, it’s rarely the best way to go. If you know the city, or plan beforehand, you can shave off huge amounts of time and guarantee a three star rating by ignoring the indicated path completely. The latter is a simple pick up an item, deliver it to a person, sadly within incredibly limited time-limits that tests your patience more than your skill.
Where Mirror’s Edge shines the most is in the pathfinding, puzzle, sections. The secret bags, hackable billboards as well as grid nodes, side-missions for an NPC called Plastic and allow you to unlock fast travel to nearby safe houses, all challenge your ability to climb as well as your ability to figure out a way to where you need to go. These offer a level of accomplishment rarely found in the rest of the game, but are sadly few and far between.
It’s strange that the parts that offer the most enjoyment, bar simply running around Glass, are actually the more restricted and closed off areas, particularly so when you think about my initial remark on the original. However, even these areas offer a choice in which direction to take and extra challenges to think about. Particularly challenging are the grid nodes which have lasers that, when crossed a few times, will alert security to your presence. This brings in the most annoying and tedious aspect of the game, combat.
The original really let itself down when it offered you a gun. It slowed faith down, reduced any thought process to shooting the enemy and just felt like a cop-out. However, it also forced you into this at points by just throwing too many enemies at you. Catalyst commits the exact same sin minus one point: you never get a gun. What’s egregious is when you’re thrown into an arena with a group of enemies and given no choice but to fight.
Thankfully, this only happens a handful of times, but highlights the issues with combat. Fighting is at its best when combined with the parkour. Run along a wall, push-off and use a strong kick against a KrugerSec soldier. A sequence like that feels fluid, strong and exciting. The problem then is the rest of the soldiers, running away to repeat more of the same just seems silly. The alternative is standing your ground and fighting. This simply leaves you kicking alternate side of a soldier’s head, it being the quickest way to get to something fun.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t say that there are other abilities for fighting. The problem is, they’re just not that good. Dodging is decent, though your spatial awareness needs to be superhuman to know where other enemies are. The only real alternatives are the switch move, placing you at an enemies back and leaving them open for a hard attack, or if a soldier is close to a ledge letting you kick them towards it and they will quite literally throw themselves off.
Besides combat, there’s more that lets Mirror’s Edge: Catalyst down. Worst of all, it even focuses more on it than the last game, that being the story. The new antagonist, in name only, is a ruling caste of corporations, the biggest being Kruger Holding. They also control the police force and the grid, a network that all citizens are required to be linked with. Gabriel Kruger, the owner of the company, also killed Faith’s parents.
Tried and tested dystopian sci-fi is all it turns out to be. Throwing out terms like ‘LoCaste’, ‘The Grid’ and ‘Greylands’ will all seem familiar to fans of the genre. Those not, you’re going to feel lost. Even with a higher focus on story, Catalyst tends to gloss over unimportant things like world, character and plot development. It’s just assumed that you already know and care about what’s going on. If not, a loading screen happily tells you that you can learn more by buying the prequel comic book.
Mirror’s Edge had a story that was mostly and afterthought and the lack of focus worked out well. Here, where it expects more involvement from the player, the lack of any direction is noticeable. Even as a fan of the game I simply don’t care about Faith, her allies or even Gabriel Kruger. Throughout the game only one character, Icarus, has any real development. He starts off as a sarcastic but insecure kid, put out by Faith’s return, only to eventually trust and work with her.
Catalyst would have been so much better if either it had a lesser focus on the story, or had actually developed characters the same as Icarus. The rest, Faith, Dogan, Noah, Plastic, all just one liners that stay that way. It’s hard not to just advise skipping the cutscenes and story completely, but that would possibly just confuse you when you enter one of the stories set-pieces or arenas.
Assassin’s Creed, Dying Light and even Titanfall have made parkour style movement a great way to move around. I’d still argue that none have done it as well as Mirror’s Edge, particularly so with Catalyst. What makes it all the more impressive is just how fantastic Glass looks and how smooth it feels. The new generation has been favorable to Mirror’s Edge and, like I said in my Ratchet & Clank review, it’s great to jump into something that is vibrant and colorful. Mirror’s Edge: Catalyst has that in spades, even if the characters are miserable.
While it’s let down by a poor story and a lack of sympathetic characters, it’s easy to overlook that. It’s not so easy to ignore the irritatingly poor and obstructive combat or the collection items that grind you to a halt. The best way to get your enjoyment out of Catalyst is by completing the grid nodes, climbing the billboards and taking part in the time trials that, the time trials can give you as much enjoyment as you need as you and other players can set them, Catalysts approach to asynchronous multiplayer. Even setting yourself the task of just climbing somewhere high, because Glass is your oyster. Freedom. This is where Mirror’s Edge shines.
Mirror's Edge: Catalyst will likely make people feel the same as the original, it'll be a divisive game. The freedom of movement is excellent, vastly improved over the original, but it's let down by a poor story, unrelatable characters and an incredibly annoying combat system, which it forces you into all too frequently. Still an exciting game to explore and look around, it's hard not to recommend Mirror's Edge if you're looking for something different, which it still is.
- Movement has never been this fun, with the utterly excellent parkour system in place, Glass is an absolute joy to explore, move around and even take in. Only improved by puzzle sections where you have to think and find your way to a location.
- Unnapealing characters and development make the story poor at best. The combat is obstructive, particularly when you're foced into an arena, and only good when on the move.