Mirror’s Edge Catalyst (Xbox One Review)
Parkour seemed to be all the rage a few years ago, if you were one of those able enough to find creative ways to avoid using the stairs then most likely you had considered the possibilities of running up a wall and doing a back flip. I for one wasn’t one of the avid “Free Runners” sporting questionable fashion choices or sliding up and down railings, but I sure got a kick out of watching those who thought they were good fail miserably as Parkour was forced in to the mainstream – be it games, movies, or adverts. Then parkour died off, companies even went as far to rename the mechanics to “dynamic traversal” or “clamber mechanics” and only one game truly lingered in our minds for being the true embodiment of the sport, Mirror’s Edge and now, hopefully, Mirror’s Edge Catalyst.
Mirror’s Edge was an unrefined gem and a speed runners delight. Much like the sport the game focussed on new and interesting ways to navigate the gorgeous world that Faith inhabited, and aside from a few clunky choices it worked majestically. Then Mirror’s Edge seemed to disappear, no real news of a sequel until 2013 in which EA stated they planned to reboot the franchise as Mirror’s Edge Catalyst. It’s hard to say if a reboot was needed but the promises of improved gameplay and a smoother approach kept fans who had asked for a sequel on their toes.
Mirror’s Edge Catalyst takes us back to a young faith several years after the prologue comics as she is released from imprisonment and is met by a friend who hastily indoctrinates Faith back in to the world of free running against the large corporate entities that aim to take over the world. From here we see Faith catch up with old friends and generate new rivalries as her group gets caught up in the shady dealings of the companies they steal from. Catalyst is littered with characters and every one of them fails to make an impact, even begging the question – has anyone in the developers ever met a human being? Many of these new introductions to the series fall flat and just fail to really make an impact, even emotionally charged moments feel lacking as you struggle to really feel loss for key characters that had 10-15 minutes screen time in this horrifically short campaign. And unlike its predecessor, Mirror’s Edge Catalyst doesn’t present the same linear flow to the story, but asks players to run around a massive map just to continue cut scenes and progress the story – sometimes to the tune of 10% completion on the wheel of progress. Thank god for fast travel.
Then again, Mirror’s Edge Catalyst was never really going to the story was it? Catalyst’s main focus is exactly where it should be, on the massive cityscape that shimmers in the light of day. Although the story doesn’t benefit from the sprawling map littered with ledges and new traversal methods, the gameplay sure does. Unlike the original your time to play and learn the mechanics is well invested by exploring the map and jumping from ledge to ledge as you follow the red trail of crumbs that leads you from point to point, exploring nooks and crannies in the process. And it would have been perfect if it weren’t for Mirror’s Edge Catalyst’s new upgrading system. A system so void of ingenuity that its purpose is literally to stop you from experiencing the full map until you progress the story and collect an unprecedented number of meaningless collectibles. Due to the confines of these upgrades you start off like a free running Derek Zoolander with the simplest of 180 turns requiring you to complete X amount of missions until you could do standard human things.
Another major issue with Mirror’s Edge Catalyst’s gameplay is an overreliance on combat, unlike the original users are forced in to situations they need to fight K-Sec guards and absorb bullets with the new focus shield – a shield that seems to deflect/absorb bullets based on the kinetic energy you store. With a garish HUD for enemy health and a whole tech tree dedicated to combat upgrades you will find yourself swarmed by faceless guards without the traditional fight or flight scenario presented to you previously. There are even some forced combat sections in the form of arenas, at this point if you have chosen to invest your hard earned upgrades in the more interesting aspects of Mirror’s Edge Catalyst you will truly struggle as you endlessly strafe left and right punching some bike gear clad body guard as a horde of enemies fail to take down one woman – clearly an indication that K-Sec are very lax when it comes to the training of their staff.
And these design shortcomings are a true travesty, as when Mirror’s Edge hits the high notes they truly resonate with the type of gameplay you expect. After completing the story you have a massive playground to collect loads of runner bags, voice recordings, electronic chips, other electronic chips , and gridleaks – although I am not actually sure what purpose the last 3 serve beyond providing you with exp. And these collectibles work alongside countless side missions that cover climbing puzzles, time trials, and delivery missions that all feel great once you are able to run freely across the rooftops, swinging from point to point with the new mag extension to Faith’s equipment.
And if finding new routes through the city is not enough for you Mirror’s Edge Catalyst has a massive focus on the online social aspects allowing you to set challenges and place beacons throughout the world, challenging your friends to reach the same points you have with the L.E, system or creating your own time trial routes and seeing if anybody can work a ledge quite the way you can. It would be perfect if the game allowed more customisation that the hideous ghost images for your player model, and it in fact does but requires you to log in to the Mirror’s Edge website and customise it all there which is a total bummer.
Ultimately Mirror’s Edge Catalyst falls short of all our hopes and dashes what little faith I had in the series, pun intended. There are some truly brilliant moments and Mirror’s Edge Catalyst looks gorgeous and feels brilliant to navigate once you finally get all the gadgets and extended slides etc. but forcing you through the campaign to get any real modicum of enjoyment hurts the experience drastically. It’s a shame because Mirror’s Edge was once a game my friends and I would rush to beat each other’s times in the online trials, completely ignoring the main game and it’s something that remains but the asking price is just a little too much to keep the same excitement we once had for the series and it’s clear that even though they were able to clear up some of the issues Mirror’s Edge previously had that the overall vision is just a little too blurry to make Mirror’s Edge Catalyst a great game.