The game development team DICE is most commonly known for their work on the extremely popular Battlefield series of games. What isn’t as well-known is their stand out title from 2008, Mirror’s Edge. This game was incredibly unique in its time. A dystopian world starring a resistance composed of parkour specialists known as “runners.”
It was crisp, clean and full of color, unlike just about every other game at the time. No one ever expected it to get a sequel, and yet, here we are. Mirror’s Edge: Catalyst is out for the PS4. Is this title still a breath of fresh air, or did lightning only strike once with this series? Time to find out!
A Story Fragile as Glass
Mirror’s Edge: Catalyst is a full reboot of the original game. Some would say it’s a prequel, but DICE made it clear that they were starting from scratch on this one. The game takes place in The City of Glass which is a futuristic sci-fi location featuring lot’s of clean, smooth surfaces, and occasional splashes of color.
It’s ruled by an oppressive and controlling government that monitors just about everyone in the city to ensure they are playing by the rules. The setting is striking when compared to many other games we’re used to. It has a very clean look with a mirror sheen to everything (pun intended).
In Mirror’s Edge: Catalyst, you play as Faith. The games begins with her being released from prison, expected to join the working class and fall in line, but she has other ideas. She’s quickly reinstated into her old group, but it’s clear things have changed since she was last running with them.
The game’s story comes in fits and bursts. You’ll get some character interaction per mission, but it takes a few missions before you get to perform a big mission for the runners. It’s moments like these when the game shines with an awesome set piece or an intriguing development.
Here’s the thing, nothing about the story here is bad. It’s all functional, it all works well. I’ve seen some feedback on the game around the internet saying that the story is so bad that you could skip every cutscene and not miss anything.
That’s not true. If the writers of the game didn’t have a very strong command of the language, or the story was about as interesting as Duke Nukem Forever, then sure, I’d say it’s bad, but Mirror’s Edge: Catalyst tells a competent, story at worst, and an intriguing one at best.
At no point is it so bad that I wanted my time back. I reserve that emotion for Michael Bay movies in most cases. Personally, I wasn’t a big fan of the cheaply animated cutscenes in the first game, so this game’s pre-rendered FrostBite 3 engine scenes work just fine for my tastes.
It’s not going to reinvent the wheel when it comes to dystopian stories, but it does hit all the right beats, and it gives you plenty of excuses to do some epic free running. I wasn’t expecting a story to rival The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt or even something to make me question my world views, but I did get an intriguing glimpse into a world not so different from our own.
We pretend like something like this could never happen, that mustache twirling corporate scumbags don’t actually exist, but where do you think those caricatures came from? We live in a world where we’re constantly monitored, but many of us choose to ignore it.
Mirror’s Edge: Catalyst takes this to an extreme, but it’s not wrong. Like I said, it doesn’t reinvent the wheel, but that doesn’t mean this wheel can’t roll like any other. Yes, the story could have been better, but it’s not so bad that it should be skipped entirely.
If Mirror’s Edge: Catalyst was just another shooter, then I wouldn’t recommend it based on story alone. Lucky for us, though, it’s not.
Free Running Isn’t Free, but It’s Fun!
Mirror’s Edge: Catalyst lives and and dies by its gameplay. The original game inspired multiple other titles to try out the formula, with mixed results. Dying Light, for example, was clearly inspired by the title, as they made a fun little tribute to Faith when the game released.
It’s true, though, that Mirror’s Edge had some of the most unique gameplay of its time. The simple fact that it managed to pull of first person platforming that well was a miracle in and of itself. The new game in the series manages to take that same level of parkour perfection and amp it up.
While not required, the game is open-world this time around, which offers a lot of different ways to traverse the environment. Right off the bat, you’ll be able to perform many of the free running skills you could in the first game, but several of them are blocked behind a skill tree.
Upgrade points and skill trees are an odd choice here, but it doesn’t take long to get the skills you want or need thankfully. Some of the more interesting traversal options are hidden behind story milestones, but you’re able to start picking up skills fairly quick by doing some side missions or optional activities.
One major change for the better is the frame rate. While Mirror’s Edge wasn’t bad at all, it ran at 30 FPS back when it first came out. Mirror’s Edge: Catalyst brings this up to a silky smooth 60 FPS and that makes a huge difference in a game where timing is everything.
The parkour feels smoother, the controls are more responsive, and the whole package just feels right. That’s not to say you’ll pick this up and be a master though. I myself had little trouble getting into the groove of things, but when I placed the controller in my girlfriend’s hands, she had some growing pains before the rhythm of the game set in.
My point here is not to give up on it. Yes, it may frustrate you to no end, but once you get the feel of the parkour system in our bones, you’ll move like water through the City of Glass and it will be one of the most exhilarating sensations you’ve felt in a game, I assure you.
Beyond the set pieces of the story, you’ll find several other options to spend your time. Collectibles range from security chips, to glowing orbs, to hidden documents and bags. All of these contribute to your EXP and therefore your level.
Side missions offer a deeper glimpse into some of the characters, and they’re well worth doing in between your major diversions. Beyond this you’ll also find time trials and deliveries which are great for people who want to top the leaderboards.
Time trials, or races, simply have you moving from one point to another. You can take whatever path you like, but the game’s intuitive “Runner Vision” will always help you with the general direction. Traversal points like pipes and ramps will light up bright red as you approach, and for story missions you’ll see a trail of red pixels pointing you forward to the next location.
You can also create your own races and collectibles to place around the city. These can be played by your friends and you’ll be able to keep track of who has the highest score. Even the premade races will offer you a place on the leaderboards, so there’s plenty here for those who want to be competitive.
In all honesty, the game’s biggest fault is the combat. The first game’s fighting was worse, but this game doesn’t make huge strides forward on this front. Thankfully combat encounters are few, and many of them can be skipped entirely.
It works by offering you a light attack, a heavy “stumble” attack, and a finicky circle strafe. The idea is that you should mix up your moves between these three, but more often than not you’ll probably end up flailing around until someone goes down or falls off a ledge.
Traversal attacks offer some cool ways to blast through enemies while you’re running, but even these can be finicky as well. It’s not enough to seriously hurt the game or it’s quality in the broad sense, but it’s easily the most clunky mechanic in an otherwise smooth experience.
Crisp and Clean, With a Few Jagged Edges
The biggest thing many of you will take away from Mirror’s Edge: Catalyst, are the graphics. In passing they offer a striking and crisp look that can’t be denied. Running on the FrostBite 3 engine, the game looks very nice, but it’s not without flaws.
Textures can take time to pop in during the in-game cutscenes, and character models in game can look a little blurry around the edges compared to the environment. The city itself offers a nice blend of glass, metal, and color from giant billboards and advertisements.
The aforementioned “Runner’s Vision” is a great way to show the player where they should go next, without completely holding their hand or otherwise getting in the way visually. It can be turned off, but I found it to be very useful.
The voice acting isn’t incredible, and there are times when I felt myself cringing slightly at some of the dialogue/performances, but it does the job just fine, especially during the heated story moments.
I’ve noticed a frame rate drop here and there, but otherwise the experience stays true to the 60 FPS goal. This goes a long way towards giving the game a smooth feel which is crucial to make its parkour mechanic work properly.
The Final Verdict
Mirror’s Edge: Catalyst is a reminder that new ideas can still create a fun and engaging experience. Like many underdog franchises, it doesn’t quite hit the highs in the story department or in the full gameplay experience, but what it set out to do, it does very well.
Parkour has never been more fun, it’s just a shame the combat and the story don’t match the quality of the free running. Even so, fatigued players looking for something new and different will find a lot to like here, even if the mirror is a little blurry.
Final Score: 8.0/10
Article By - Bradley Ramsey
Insert Date - 6/9/16