Mirror’s Edge Catalyst Review – Mediocre Parkour Experience
Mirror’s Edge is a game that was released in 2008 and featured a unique, free flowing, first-person platforming experience that was hampered by its numerous gameplay and presentation based flaws.
The game was criticized for its bad combat and shooting mechanics, short campaign and the linear level design which was too constricting for its core free-style movement based gameplay mechanics.
In spite of its shortcomings, Mirror’s Edge developed a cult following of critics and gamers that hoped for and demanded a sequel that expands and refines the game’s mechanics.
Although it took them 8 years, EA and DICE have finally managed to bring that hope to life in shape of a reboot named Mirror’s Edge Catalyst.
However, delivering a sequel to a flawed game is one thing, being able to extract the franchise’s true potential and turn the brand from a rough rock to a polished gem is another matter entirely.
Mirror’s Edge Catalyst’s narrative is set under the premise of a near-future, big-brother, dystopian government that comprises of an oligarchy of corporate families forming a conglomerate, which uses a mix of technology and capitalism to solidify its autocratic grip on the city of Glass.
Players are put in the shoes of Faith; a teenage girl, fresh out of juvenile prison, who works against the despotic system by working as a runner; an outlaw group that are off the grid and do covert delivery jobs away from the eyes of authority.
The game’s story is a shallow tale filled with predictable elements and paper thin characters that are given life by dialogue that is full of clichéd quips and delivery that lacks nuance.
Story progression seems very Assassins Creed-ish, where the story missions are activated by travelling to specific spots on the map however the player is free to ignore them and play side missions or simply explore and traverse through the open city.
Free flowing environmental traversal is at the centre of Mirror’s Edge brand’s core gameplay mechanic and this time, instead of linear levels, players can utilise this mechanic in an open world environment.
As Faith, players are able navigate across Glass’ buildings and structures through her extremely fluid free-running and parkour abilities.
Faith’s arsenal includes ability to run, jump, roll, wall run, vault and slide across the rooftops of the game’s open-world city.
Players are required to chain these abilities together to partake in skill based traversal to be able to navigate across the human and environmental obstacles presented in front of them.
The game truly shines when the players are thrust into high speed traversal through elaborate environmental puzzles without breaking their momentum.
This momentum is Mirror’s Edge Catalyst’s strong suit. When done right, nailing acrobatic moves in quick succession creates this feeling of smooth rhythmic movement, which is quite unique and totally exhilarating.
The sense of motion is captured beautifully in how the game uses Faith’s body in first person view. The way Faith’s limbs animate to each and every action really adds to the immersion and provides an experience that is truly unique to Mirror’s Edge’s gameplay.
However the game retains some of its trail-and-error elements that might have worked in the linear world of its predecessor but do not gel well with open world structure of Mirror’s Edge Catalyst.
The incentive to experiment and test new paths is also dampened by the abundance of insta-death chasms that further punish players with loading screens and kill all momentum and exhilaration of parkour gameplay.
Game’s parkour movement does not work too well in closed environments and small structures that require perfect platforming. Not only does it kill the momentum but also makes the movement system seem clunky and unrefined.
Speaking of unrefined, Mirror’s Edge Catalyst tries to correct its predecessor’s combat issues by completely eliminating shooting and gun handling from Faith’s arsenal.
Faith is only able to utilise her hands and feet to deal with any enemy combatants that impede her way. Her abilities are part of a skill tree progression system, where the player can unlock grapple moves and damage increase options as they assemble more XP from completing different missions.
In spite of these abilities, the combat system is clunky, repetitive and definitely the worst part of Catalyst’s gameplay.
What makes it worse is the fact that, most of the time, the enemy soldiers just stand there, waiting for Faith to hit them. Not only does the enemy A.I. stand dumbly to take punishment but also repeats the same attack pattern again and again.
Enemies in the game are good as momentum breakers rather than for entertaining battles, which is a serviceable concept when the player can circumvent these fights, but more than few times, the game puts Faith in a situation where fighting is mandatory and that is where Catalyst’s gameplay is at its worst.
Unfortunately, things are not much better when it comes to the game’s visuals.
At first glance, the game’s environments present a unique visual theme full of clean and glossy walls that feature a mix of clear whites and bright primary colours. These sterile surroundings present a change from what is usually seen in games and evokes a sense of OCD-like discipline that matches the game’s lore.
Mirror’s Edge Catalyst does a great job of mimicking the feel of its predecessor, however unlike the linear world of the original Mirror’s Edge, this sterile colour scheme makes Catalyst’s open world come across as extremely bland.
Not only does the city of Glass come off as totally unimpressive, but low texture details in environment and character models, coupled with grossly simple designs of objects in the distance makes it look like work of amateur designers.
This not only puts a damper on the visual aesthetics but also effects the gameplay as the blandness creates similar looking areas that are easy to get lost in.
This is where the game’s Runner’s Vision comes in handy.
Runner’s Vision is a gameplay tool that sequentially highlights key environmental objects like ledges, planks, boxes and pipes in bright red, so as to act as a guide and lead players to their selected waypoint.
While this tool makes the game environment easier to navigate, it also induces a sheep-like mentality of following the bright red trail instead of properly deciphering and utilizing the game’s environment.
Thankfully the players can reduce or turn off this Runner’s Vision if they so choose, however doing so highlights the blandness and sameness of the game’s open world environments.
On top of that, the game’s art design makes is so that all the transparent and reflective surfaces tend to meld and blend in with the minimalist aesthetic of the game world, which adds to the frustration when navigating these environments at high speed.
Later on, the game mixes up the visuals by showing players the less ‘perfect’ side of Glass, which includes areas like sewers, tunnels and construction sites. These grittier, underground levels have much more detail in them and look more impressive than the majority of Mirror’s Edge Catalyst’s world.
Unfortunately, these grittier levels are few and far between, leaving most of the game world a combination of barren and bland environments that feature too much texture pop-in to even enjoy its basic aesthetic theme.
One thing that the developer is definitely able to achieve is to improve on the original Mirror’s Edge’s length. Not only does Mirror’s Edge Catalyst’s story campaign last 9-12 hours, it also features side missions like hacking, delivery and time trial races as well as an abundance of collectables including gridleak orbs, documents, electronic parts, secret bags and lore related surveillance recordings.
Unfortunately, whether it is the story missions, different side missions or hunt for a collectable, the core mechanic in all of them boils down to two elements; navigating environmental puzzles or beating the clock.
Aside from free running and exploring Mirror’s Edge Catalyst’s open world, the game also gives a handy option to replay any completed story or side mission from the missions menu and also allows for players to engage in some asynchronous online multiplayer by playing and creating user-generated races and time-trails.
Although Mirrors Edge Catalyst solves some of the first game’s problems, it ends up retaining some crucial issues from the past while creating some brand new ones.
While Mirror’s Edge’s core concept of first-person parkour remains unique and effective, everything else is anything but. From its gameplay and story to its audio and visual presentation, everything is mediocre and lacking in polish.
Even in its second outing, the Mirror’s Edge Catalyst retains the sentiment left by previous game’s feature of being full of great ideas that don’t come together in the end. It is unfortunate that even after 8 years DICE has delivered a product where one is left unsatisfied, hoping for a sequel that expands and refines its unique mechanics.