Mirror’s Edge Catalyst – Review
Platform – Playstation 4, Xbox One, PC
Developer – DICE
Publisher – Electronic Arts
MSRP – $59.99 USD
(Editor’s Note: This game was reviewed on the Playstation 4 with the game copy being provided by Gaming Instincts.)
It has been roughly eight years since DICE and EA took a leap of faith and injected the industry with a double shot of original intellectual properties; those original IPs being Mirror’s Edge and Dead Space. The former was a fairly polarizing game and sank into obscurity for a while the latter saw sequels as well as a spin-off. Mirror’s Edge was a very risky and ambitious game. While it bit off a bit more than it could chew in a narrative capacity and was woefully short, it was still mechanically tight and pleasantly visceral experience.
It seems that the folks at DICE attempted to address the issues that plagued the original title with a soft reboot called Mirror’s Edge Catalyst. Like the first Mirror’s Edge, Catalyst is a first person platformer that revolves around traversing a near future dystopian/Orwellian urban environment using platforming mechanics inspired by parkour. This is done all the while completing mission-based objectives along the way. Though Mirror’s edge Catalyst dances around a game design concept that the first title so desperately needed to adopt, it does so in a clumsy way that is somewhat heartbreaking. Technical issues, graphical snafus, an unnecessary character progression system and somewhat awkward practical physics hold this game’s feet as it tries to ascend to level of excellence that certainly was attainable. Even with these issues, Mirror’s Edge Catalyst emerges from the mess as a somewhat enjoyable experience despite these problems.
Story and Narrative Structure
As mentioned before, Mirror’s Edge Catalyst is a soft reboot of the first title from 2008 and still focuses on Faith Connors. This time around the story attempts to be an origin tale for Faith that shows how she emerges as the capable and tough we know her to be in the previous game. Catalyst definitely shows some improvements over the first title because now the setting is a little more fleshed out. Instead of just taking place in an unnamed dystopian city, Catalyst’s is the pristine city of Glass which shows the best of what the country Cascadia has to offer. It is odd just how futuristic the city is compared to that for the first game which theoretically takes place after this entry. Nonetheless, it is good that setting is at least conveyed to the player in some form.
Faith is a runner , an on-foot currier who thrives on the rooftops of Glass evading the police while transporting delicate information for clients who are discontent with the constant surveillance of Kruger Security or K-sec. The story begins with her being released from jail and reuniting with the rest of her crew. What follows is Faith’s quest to settle a debt to a previous employer Dogan while taking on assignments given to her by her mentor Noah. The initial setup is a solid one and is probably the format that the first game should have adopted. Unfortunately, there are some things that hamper the fairly basic story from keeping the player engrossed in the game.
This may simply be a matter of personal taste, but the characters in Mirror’s Edge Catalyst are pretty flat and heavily adhere to various stereotypes. Even Faith falls into this trap which is sad because she was a believable strong and character in the original; someone who the player rally behind and root for. Now, Faith feels phoned in as the stereotypical angsty teen. The other characters are not far behind with Noah being the stoic mentor seemingly sans imperfections and Icarus being the pompous rival who is simply a jerk towards Faith.
The dialogue also adds to this issue, as it sometimes feels forced as if to make the player feel that there is more to the story than there really is. These two issues bleed into the third issue being that the plot points and twists are far too predictable. This is an area where Catalyst needed to nail because it was an issue with the first in which it was rushed and too ambitious. The story Faith’s latest outing feels the same way, but for different reasons and struggles to resonate.
Gameplay in Mirror’s Edge Catalyst, like its predecessor, revolves around traversing the environment using platforming mechanics inspired by parkour and engaging in melee-based combat with the K-sec officers should the occasion arise. The differentiation between the original and Catalyst begins with changes made to the game’s overall level format, changes made to the combat, how missions begin and the abilities at Faith’s disposal. All these changes to the initial formula make Catalyst a very different experience for better or worse.
The overall level or environment format of Catalyst is a huge departure from the original, as it adopts the large open sandbox format. The enormous playing field is a striking change because now you are free to explore the city of Glass at your leisure – to a point. In order to incentivize player progression and unlocking new skills the game world bottlenecks at certain points between major subsections of the city. It is unfortunate that DICE decided to segment the world this way,as it only artificially lengthens the game.
In order to unlock the skill and/or items to access these bottle-necked regions you have to take on and complete missions for Noah as well as side missions from random clients littered across the city’s rooftops.While the Noah missions are pretty enjoyable and have serviceable setups, the side missions in Catalyst are actually more robotic and phoned in than those seen in Freelancer – a game from almost 20 years ago. They are fetch quest and that is fine, but how they are set up and presented to the player just feels painfully gamey.
The helter-skelter nature does not end there. Mirror’s Edge Catalyst’s combat features a couple of questionable design choices that makes it feel like a more closed system than its predecessor. Guns are completely off-limits this time around, so Faith has absolutely has to go in swinging. whenever accosted by K-sec officers. No more picking up a downed enemy’s weapon to frantically dispatch his cohorts or grabbing one’s handgun and continuing to free-run because of its light weight. This choice does not really make any sense. The gun-play in the first Mirror’s Edge fitting as something that is was a plausible thing for Faith to do. Using guns as more of a power-up than a permanent fixture while still having the shooting be pretty tight was all that any game like Mirror’s Edge needed to do. It is an idea that needed further improvement and iteration. It did not need to be stripped out.
Luckily, the melee combat in Catalyst works more than it does not even without the gun-play. The combat may come off as being limited at first when one simply tries to stay close to enemies indefinitely and take pot shots punching and kicking them. This will most likely make combat feel like a boring exercise in button mashing futility. Do not fall into this trap like so many other have, reviewers included. Constantly running around the combat area and getting creative about running walls and pushing off of them to transition into more powerful attacks is how combat is meant to work in Catalyst. If you are simply mashing the attack buttons then you are simply doing it wrong. Exciting combat does exist somewhere therein, but you just have to think a bit outside of the box to get to it. Like any beat ‘em up past and present, the key to succeeding with Catalyst’s enemy encounters is knowing how to control or confuse the crowd. Staying in motion and knocking adversaries into one another is part of this dance. By the midpoint of Catalyst the combat really starts to blossom along with your proficiency in using the mechanics and unlocking new techniques.
This segues into the notion of the skill tree system bug by which Mirror’s Edge Catalyst seems to have been bitten. Unfortunately, it seems that few video game protagonists are free from this sickness and Faith is no exception. Instead of just being capable from the outset she has to gain ability points by completing missions which amount to doing things for Noah, deactivating consoles throughout the city and running parcels for clients. These skills help flesh out Faith’s skillset that she had full access to in the first game, but also add some gadgets that allow her to grapple and swing across chasms with ease. Some of these skills flesh her out in the ways of combat.
Again, she had already possessed the majority of the skills in Mirror’s Edge, so barring them behind a skill tree system will most certainly be a turnoff to fans of the original. One could say that it was a way to slowly introduce newcomers to the mechanics, but it comes as being a way to avoid criticism of the first title being too difficult – a criticism that what just a product of the time being the late aughts when game players did not want difficult games. As a result, any potential satisfaction that the player could get from discovering Faith’s plethora of abilities and ways to utilize them is sort of lost in this soft reboot. It is a shame, as it comes off as lack of trust in the player’s intelligence.
That being said, the first person platforming in Mirror’s Edge Catalyst is phenomenal once these skills are fully unlocked. The unbridled sense of speed and freedom is actually breathtaking at times when traversing the city of Glass and not taking a break to find new missions and engaging in platforming puzzles, which thankfully were not thrown out of the formula. When no longer restrained by the bottle-necked nature of the city, it is a great deal of fun exploring every nook and cranny of the cityscape in order to find secret shortcuts and new avenues to make your treks more free-flowing. There are some great moments in this game that transpire during gameplay. You just need to do some digging by unlocking stuff in order to get to it.
There is an online component to Mirror’s Edge Catalyst, but it does not translate to any player-to-player competitive or cooperative mode. Instead, the game allows you to create your own time trial runs and broadcast. It is a nice addition that complements the open-world nature of the game, but it would have been nice to have a few friends be able to physically join you in the city to actually race against to practice some melee combat.
Graphics and Visual Presentation
From an artistic perspective Mirror’s Edge is quite a gorgeous game. The game still maintains its sleek and pristine vision of the near future as seen in the original Mirror’s Edge, while expanding on it with more asymmetric elements. Structures sometimes will have some extra textural molding on them and interiors have a little more set dressing to them than what was in the original. Some of these elements feed into the interactive aspect of Catalyst with them being scalable. The use of basic, primary and complementary colors are still as striking and appealing as ever just because very few AAA title would dare stray away from darker muddier palettes. This coupled with the forward thinking Frank Lloyd Wright style architectural design helps to create a world of tomorrow that looks very plausible from a visual standpoint.
The people who populate the game definitely look fine from a stylistic standpoint, main character included. However, some feels off with how they animate and they tend to feel artificial as a result. This mostly affects the non-playable characters. The point is that it should not be anywhere when looking at how the first title handled this aspect with a higher level of aptitude in the first-person cut-scenes.
Music and Aural Presentation
The music and sound design of Mirror’s Edge Catalyst is definitely solid to say the least. Solar Fields returns as the composer and pulls of an electronic score that stands on its own and also pays homage to the original. Catalyst’s score does not have the emotional weight seen in the first game, but neither does the game’s overall story. Therefor such emotional weight in the music is not all that necessary. If you want to hear the Shard’s Puzzle track you can always pop it into the jukebox at the Runner’s hideout.
The sound design fortunately does bear the same weight of the original when it comes to feeling the concussive impacts of grappling onto objects and landing jumps. The sounds of combat are also adequately impactful. This happens all the while listening to the ever-present ambient noises generated by the hustle and bustle of the city. The solid aural presentation really does help to round the game out and also aids a bit in distracting from some technical problems that hold Catalyst back.
Mirror’s Edge Catalyst definitely stumbles quite a bit when it comes to technical aptitude. Most of the issues pertain to the level of detail within the game environment. Unfortunately, it is rather easy to come across woefully low resolution textures and it occurs all too often. It seems as though the team at DICE painted itself in a corner, unable to facilitate a sizable open sandbox environment while maintain the current standards of visual fidelity.
There is also an issue with the engine’s ability to effectively handle various levels of detail, which can be chalked up to poor optimization. Too often the game struggles to load final high-detail textures and assets in the game world. It is as if Faith is so fast that she can outrun the game’s level-of-detail barrier. It is painfully obvious that this title needed more time to iron these issues out. Again, the open-world nature of this probably proved too difficult to fine tune, especially when considering that the game is about speed.
The physics can be a bit hit-or-miss too. This is mostly seen in combat when you kick one enemy into another or into a railing over which they fall. When enemies do bump into each other or fall off of ledges it occurs when just lightly colliding against said objects. It can be almost comical at time and comes off as something that was not intended as the final result.
It is pretty easy to see how Mirror’s Edge Catalyst stumble on its way to the finish line. The game is simply rough around the edges because of questionable design choices. The the progression systems, bottle-necked open world and gun-play removal may have been implemented with good intentions, but these additions and omissions really hurt the game. They almost serve as contradictions to the good elements forged in the first Mirror’s Edge and interesting new ideas presented in Catalyst. However, the stimulating skill-demanding combat (with everything unlocked), the free platforming (with everything unlocked), the striking near future aesthetic and appealing music emerge to make this game fairly enjoyable. Mirror’s Edge Catalyst can be a bit difficult to recommend, but if you enjoy first-person platforming mixed with melee combat sandbox style open world games then this one may be for you.
Mirror's Edge: Catalyst
- Looks beautiful from an artistic perspective
- Combat is fun when fully understood
- Soundtrack and sound dessign are well done and feel impactful
- Pop-in with placeholder objects and low-resolution texture are issues
- Story feels phoned in and characters are predictable and boring
- Features an unecessary progression system and bottlenecked open world