It’s been a while since the original Mirror’s Edge burst onto the scene, its revolutionary first person parkour experience wowed as many people as it gave others motion sickness. And whilst it may have gotten mixed critical reviews, it became a cult classic pretty much overnight. Now, a mere eight years later, EA and Dice have decided to reboot the franchise with the recently released ‘Catalyst’, can nearly a decade of fan feedback recreate the hype and following of its predecessor?
It’s not long before we get to see the titular Faith, what with her being locked up in juvie for, at the minute, a mysteriously unbeknownst crime. Prison reformation hasn’t done her the world of good however as within five minutes of exiting her custodial home from home, she’s back to the rooftops attempting to prove she’s still got it as a runner. After conceding the fact that you owe ‘scrip’ (generic future currency) to someone named Dogen, you’ll be off on your way to meet up with your fellow acquaintances, each of whom share a similarly bizarre name.
Taking around 7-8 hours, the main missions should at least keep you occupied in terms of gameplay, even if the story doesn’t. You’ll learn snippets of information regarding the generic evil conglomerate known as ‘Kruger-Sec’ who essentially come across as a private military corporation; with your inevitable goal being to try and take them down. Your rag tag bunch of rebel friends will aid, assist and make questionable choices for you throughout, fortunately leaving more time to appreciate by far the best aspect of the game, the free-running.
Inconsequential plot aside, the meat of the game happily focuses on what garnered its predecessor so much love. The immersive first person style of Mirror’s Edges’ parkour is just as entertaining as it once was, in fact, due to the newly open world map, I’d say it’s much better. Fluid navigation is made easy by employing just a couple of shoulder buttons; L1 is used for high movement such as leaps and wall running, whilst L2 is used for sliding and landing safely. Combining moves together comes into play often; especially so if speed and timing is a priority factor. You can chain huge leaps into wall runs, into grabbing ledges etcetera and, providing the landscape allows it, you can continue almost indefinitely.
Keeping your momentum up is not only worth it for the timeliness and speed benefits, but also to charge (and keep charged) a shield of sorts that helps protect you in the game’s other aspect, the combat. First off, there are thankfully no guns that you can wield; it’s all down to your martial arts prowess instead. Whilst it’s certainly a vast improvement on the previous Mirror’s Edge combat system, it’s however, still by no means perfect. An early tutorial walks you through the basics of light and heavy attacks, and demonstrates how to use the environment to your advantage. A heavy head kick from a side will push an enemy for example. And if you can orchestrate the engagement to a point where you can ‘push’ them towards a box, railing or even another enemy, they’ll take considerably more damage, potentially even disabling them outright.
On top of this, if you can incorporate your parkour skills into the mix, you can deal even more devastating damage. For example, kicking off of a wall run directly into an enemy will, in a large amount of cases, instantly debilitate them. Now, as good as this sounds in theory (and indeed in practice during the tutorial, it is) there are often times where there are forced engagements where applying tactics such as those aren’t particularly viable. Instead you’ll resort to spamming whichever attack you know works on that individual enemy archetype.
As far as finding things to do when you’re not on a main mission, there are the usual obligatory collectables to hunt down, fleshed out side missions to discover, and a myriad of different ways to get from point A to point B within a, sometimes strict, time limit. Of course there are only so many ways to freshen up the free-running experience and the developers have done a decent enough job at trying to mix things up and add a little variation. But the vast majority of the smaller, simpler side quests rely too heavily on time trial-esque runs. There is an option to design your own courses or tracks for your friends, and even the community to try out, however it’s unlikely to bring anything truly new for you experiment with.
Stylistically of course, there’s little that comes close to rivalling Catalyst. The sterile cleanliness of the city is forever eye-catching and the usage of bold primary colours to signify routes or enemies is as effective as it is gratifying. The stylised ‘runner vision’, when activated, will point you vaguely in the right direction if you lose track of your objective, yet thankfully it’ll never be the optimal route for the sidequests. Graphically it’s a little hit and miss, with most of the cutscenes looking exceptionally sharp and high in fidelity. Playing in-game doesn’t quite maintain the same level of polish, however the framerate feels high and consistent, which for me, is often far more important. A noteworthy bonus being that you can change the FOV in the settings, on a console game no less!
Mirror’s Edge Catalyst feels like a bit of a mixed bag. Sadly, the fairly unlikeable characters and the emphasis of the plot on seemingly the opposite of what I’d like it to focus on, i.e. the city itself; lead to a rather lacklustre narrative. However the gameplay, besides some of the combat sections, holds up very strongly. First person free-running doesn’t feel any better than this, and once you get your hands on a few of the upgrades, the fluidity of the movement system really shines. Some repetitive side missions can slightly mar the experience, but if I’m honest, most of the fun I had was either on a main mission, or just simply exploring at my own pace. Catalyst might not have been quite as good as I was hoping for as a whole, but in some areas, it certainly excels.