Luke spends his time playing video games, binge-watching TV and hanging out with his German Shepherd, Ziggy and Bernese Mountain Dog Pandora.
Xbox One, PS4, PC
June 9, 2016
It feels like it was just yesterday that the original Mirror’s Edge was released, giving us the first ever first-person parkour game, giving the free-flowing exhilaration of leaping across roof tops, scaling tall buildings and sprinting across the city that we had never seen before. While fun, it was ultimately a short and linear experience that couldn’t quite carry the concept for an entire lengthy adventure. I loved it anyway, so when Mirror’s Edge Catalyst was announced eight years later, I was excited to see what they would add to flesh out this cool idea into a larger scale escapade. It turns out that parkour across the city doesn’t quite work in an open-world game, but there is a very enjoyable campaign to be experienced beyond all the filler.
Faith is back, and this time she actually has a personality! I mean, it’s not a very fun or friendly personality, but the major criticism of ‘lack of story and character’ from the prequel is certainly addressed here, with plenty of fully fledged cut-scenes and conversations via audio as you explore. It’s a shame, then, that most of the characters are pretty forgettable or just generally unlikable. Even Faith herself who I wanted to root for as a strong female bad-ass is kind of grumpy most of the time; it might fit with the world they’ve built with an oppressed city like Glass, but it doesn’t make her super engaging as a person. The story hits the familiar beats of a group of vigilantes and a resistance movement against those in power, but really we’re not here for that, we’re here for the sweet parkour.
And sweet it definitely is. Despite many attempts and decent efforts from other games, nothing else quite captures the brilliant feeling that Mirror’s Edge Catalyst provides of easily jumping, climbing, wall-running, rolling and falling with grace. When you chain together an entire run for minutes at a time without having to stop, it’s fun and fresh, made incredibly simple by having the best path ahead shown via objects highlighted in red, called Runner Vision. The red pops on a colour palate that is full of greys, blues and yellows, and never feels obtrusive or like the game is holding your hand, as the path shown isn’t always the fastest, rather the most logical. The traversal is done using the shoulder buttons which works surprisingly well, and the best moments are when you manage to complete a run or mission without ever having to stop moving; it’s genuinely breathtaking.
“The clean and crisp style makes running from one end of the city to the other extremely satisfying…”
Less convincing is the combat, and there is much more of it here than in the original. There are entire missions dedicated to eliminating all of the enemies in the vicinity, and if you were looking for proof that first person melee combat can work and work effectively… this isn’t it. It’s not bad by any means, and when you do manage to pull off a successful combo it looks the part, but there were other times that it felt clunkier than it should. Kicking enemies into each other throws them off balance but just looks a little silly, and too often after they go into ragdoll-dead-mode they often just kind of fall with their face through the environment, breaking immersion. Still, I’m glad there is no gunplay, as that seemed at ends with the games ethos last time around.
The main missions in Catalyst are strong, showcasing a variety of different movement skills that you’ll need to get through, including some areas that require you to really think outside the box of how you’re going to create your path. These missions are by far the tightest and most well realized which is in direct contrast to the range of side missions and distractions that the rest of the city is filled with. Essentially, they usually involve running from one location to another on a time limit, doing things like delivering packages or finishing speed runs. They wear out their welcome quite quickly and after trying a couple of each, I found myself steamrolling ahead with the campaign because of the monotony.
There are some specific side missions though that are totally worth doing, including the puzzle-like rooms that require you to ascend to the very top point on what looks like the inside of a computer. These areas where you have to think for yourself without the assistance of Runner Vision are very engaging and test your wits, reminiscent of some of the more difficult radio towers in Far Cry, but way better. So I guess when you look at stuff to do outside of the main story, it’s about a 50/50 success rate.
On top of that, there are a bunch of collectibles scattered across rooftops that you’ll need to find, but really these are more annoying than anything else. You need them to boost your XP and get more abilities, but to grab them requires you to literally stop in your tracks and push a button to collect them. This means that the incredibly fun and free-flowing parkour that is Mirror’s Edge Catalysts bread and butter is constantly interrupted by the need to stop and press X, with very little pay-off.
I mentioned the games colour palate before, but it’s worth talking about, as despite some muddy textures and by-the-numbers character models, the city itself has a really smooth and bright aesthetic, with white buildings, electronic billboards spilling yellow announcements and different shades of purple and light blue bouncing around the interiors. The clean and crisp style makes running from one end of the city to the other extremely satisfying, and the glimpses of Faith’s arms as you climb, her legs as you roll up from a landing and the reflections as she runs past the various windows is solid and help to highlight the minimalist tone.
Mirror’s Edge Catalyst does some wonderful things and manages to flesh out a simple idea into something much more sustainable this time around. Not all of the ideas work, but I can’t help but just be glad that the team at DICE were able to go back to what was clearly a much-loved concept and really focus in on it with more detail. There’s a lot of filler and the open world doesn’t feel as alive and breathing with things to do and see as other games, but despite its fairly unlikable characters and predictable story, I still find myself wanting to run. I appreciate the game for providing me with a genre that nobody else has even really bothered to attempt; it’s flawed but still fun, and while it perhaps doesn’t live up to its full potential in a crowded open world market, it is still nice to experience the freedom of movement that only Mirror’s Edge can provide.