Mirror’s Edge Catalyst is part prequel, part reboot of the Mirror’s Edge series.
The original title came out in late 2008, and while it had many flaws it also generated a small following thanks to its innovative first-person parkour gameplay and unique visual style. As so many teachers told me over the years – it too had potential.
Unfortunately, Catalyst fails to tap into that potential, and falls down many of the same pits the original did. What’s worse is that by now the novelty of sprinting, jumping, rolling and wall-running in first-person has worn off. It still manages to deliver an overall fun experience, filled with exciting moments and a pretty solid single-player campaign.
The campaign follows the series’ protagonist Faith as she leaves juvy and re-joins a group of outcasts and troublemakers called Runners. As the name may suggest – these Runners run. They run illegal deliveries, secret messages, and just for the heck of it, but mostly they run from KrugerSec, the private police force serving the corporations ruling the city.
There’s a story in there somewhere, about Faith, her dead family and her history with the head of KrugerSec. The best way to describe this story is “competent”, as in it does what it’s supposed to do, which is drive the game forward. However, it is mostly the missions themselves that will make you want to keep playing, and not the cast of characters or the things they do.
Personally, I stopped listening to the annoying voices in Faith’s ear about halfway through the game and concentrated on the running.
So Faith runs and runs and runs across the city and through various missions. For the most part, it’s pretty fun, especially once you unlock a few advanced moves, and traversal becomes much more fluent.
Catalyst does manage to make movement much faster and intuitive, and you won’t find yourself staring at walls this time around. During missions, the running and parkouring are amazingly fun to pull off, and you can complete most of them without slowing down too much if you’re good. This goes double for side-missions, as they will truly test your running, navigating and improvising skills.
But let’s face it – first-person platforming rarely works smoothly.
I have experienced my fair share of deadly drops because I misjudged the distance between two platforms, or wasn’t looking at the exact right place when I pressed the jump bottom. The first can be forgiven since it will happen less and less as you adjust yourself to Faith abilities, but the second can be infuriating.
Failing to perform a wall-run just because you didn’t pan the camera slightly towards the wall next to you, or jumping just a little too far to the left because the ledge you aimed for wasn’t front-and-center in your field of view, is more than annoying. A game this fast needs both tight controls and a certain amount of leeway. Unfortunately, Catalyst fumbles in both cases.
Furthermore, the running and traversal are the only fun part during missions, when you are running towards a goal, be it to make an escape or to reach a high place through a series of death-defying moves. In the game’s excuse for an open world, however, things become boring almost immediately.
I think we can all agree that having a big open map is not enough for a game to be an “open world” game – there has to be stuff to do in this world.
In Catalyst, there is only one thing to do – run against the clock. You have Dashes, Time Trials, and Deliveries, but they all boil down to the same thing – get from point A to point B as fast as you can. Since you’re already doing so much running in the story missions, doing these smaller, less intense activities is so underwhelming and repetitive, you’ll probably do two or three of them before abandoning the open world for good; unless you are really, really competitive.
The mix of fun and frustration also exists in combat. It can be really fun and empowering, or it could be annoying and time-consuming. Combat is at its best when you do it on the go – land on enemies from ziplines, wall-run into their faces, slide and break their knees, but never slow down to deal a second blow.
Annoyingly, there are few missions that force you to fight groups of enemies and won’t continue until you’ve taken them all down. These moments are a pain in the ass. Since Faith’s attacks are all centered on movement and momentum, you need to consistently run in circles, rolling, sliding or wall-running to gain more momentum and Focus – Faith’s magic shield that protects here from damage while she’s running.
While taking out a small group of three or four soldiers can be very empowering, once they start coming in waves, combat becomes tedious. Fortunately, these moments are fairly scarce and far between.
When running through the open world, or kicking KrugerSec enforcers off rooftops, it’s easy to ignore your immediate surroundings. However, if you stop and look around you, you’ll realize the new Mirror’s Edge looks quite nice. Well, when it comes to the art style.
The contrast of vivid colors against white buildings is beautiful, and each section of Glass city has its own design and color palette. It’s too bad the technical side can’t keep up, at least on consoles.
It’s possible to see vegetation and furniture blink in and out of existence in the not-so-far distance, and most character models lack detail, with smooth faces and robotic movements that make them appear a bit creepy. Things are different during cutscenes, where everything is simply gorgeous, but only serves as a grim contrast to the actual gameplay.
Mirror’s Edge Catalyst is tiptoeing the line between good and bad like an acrobatic feat gone wrong. When the game works, it works, with fun and fast gameplay, and eye-catching art style. Sadly, the pointless open world, mandatory combat segments and forgettable story push it a bit too far over the edge.Some of our posts include links to online retail stores. We get a small cut if you buy something through one of our links. Don't worry, it doesn't cost you anything extra.