Mirror’s Edge Catalyst Review
Back in 2008, the original Mirror’s Edge released to a deeply divided reception. The first-person parkour platformer was bold and beautiful, yet couldn’t quite capture the imagination of the mainstream gaming public. In the years following its release, it steadily transformed into a cult classic with the fervent hardcore fanbase to match, I counted myself among them. Indeed, prayers were answered in 2013, when EA revealed DICE were indeed working on a new Mirror’s Edge project, one that would take the franchise into open-world territory.
Catalyst is the fruit of their labour, acting as both a prequel and a reboot, it’s a pronounced attempt of a revitalization of the series. However, it is with much bitterness that I must write this is one of the most disappointing games I’ve ever played. The game is formulaic, sterile, cold and utterly deprived of any form of vision. The original wasn’t perfect, but it had something to say, a violence-averse platformer blended with rewarding level design and anchored by minimalist artistic chic. Catalyst has none of the love or soul that adorns its predecessor, instead it’s a hollow wreck.
Devoid of purpose and imagination by being shackled to standardization in modern gaming – the open-world structure. It’s woefully unfulfilling, and it drains the fun and purity that can be found in the gameplay. It leaves the lasting impression of a game saddled with a lost identity, as dictated by marketing checklists.
As mentioned earlier, Catalyst is a reboot of the series and with it DICE has the chance to redefine it’s world, characters and history. As such, they’ve placed a heavier emphasis on narrative than the original, which had almost nothing bar a few stylized cut-scenes. We learn more about the heroine Faith, her family history, the tale behind her tattoos and why she’s always running about. Unfortunately, you’ll not care one bit since the story is so poorly written, being full of one-dimensional characters like: a tech geek that has poor social mannerisms (INTRIGUING), a hot-headed young man who sees you as a rival (FASCINATING) and a wise mentor who you treat as a surrogate father figure (I CAN’T BELIEVE THEY WENT THERE).
Forgive my pettiness, but honestly the narrative in this game is so shoddy it’s beyond parody, even Faith comes across as flat and unlikable. The original had little narrative yes, but it’s simplicity complemented the vision of the game. A nameless city, simple characters, and an obvious conspiracy that unmasked the utopian city. It allowed the art direction and movement to take on greater importance in fashioning the game’s identity. DICE’s response in the follow-up is possibly the worst choice they could have done, flooding the game with uninteresting lore and repetitive exposition. In addition, the city is filled with annoying terminology such as ‘Grid’, ‘Beat’, ‘Scrip’, ‘outCaste’ and ‘gridLink’. It’s a total mess, and one that takes itself far too seriously so you can’t even have a good time laughing with it.
Perhaps what makes Catalyst’s failures more aggravating is that the core gameplay feels great, it’s markedly more refined and faster than the original. Furthermore, the first-person perspective is still as thrilling to experience – the crunch of gravel or squeak of a glass floor under Faith’s feet, the heavy breaths as you built up momentum and the thud of a well-timed punch or kick. When it all comes together, the game really sings as you string moves together to effortlessly traverse one rooftop of the city to another.
This momentum is further complemented by numerous game mechanics, one being that lets you build up a sort of shield that’s fuelled by fast movement. This has the effect of making you immune to being hit by bullets and your attacks become cripplingly powerful.
But when the game forces you to slow down, the cracks start to show. Combat has always been the sore part in this franchise, and despite DICE’s extensive efforts to try and rectify that in Catalyst, it’s still rubbish quite frankly. Faith has a basic set of moves such as a slide-kick, chest-kick, punches and other combos to dispatch weaker enemies with ease. However when the game introduces tougher enemy types later on, your attacks can be easily countered and you’ll have to frantically spam any move that manages to land a hit. What’s more, many of the combat scenarios in the game are forced upon the player with no option to run away or find an alternative path. It’s a curious betrayal of one of the core tenets of Mirror’s Edge.
What absolutely breaks this game though as previously mentioned is how woeful the open-world structure is executed. Simply put, it doesn’t mesh with the gameplay well at all. There’s only so many times you can climb up the same drainpipe, the same rooftop, the same flight of stairs before it gives way to crushing tedium. And that’s only after a few hours’ worth of play.
The expanded open world drowns the city in an impregnable swarm of uninteresting icons and garish online invitations to try and beat the times of your friends and those in the community. Courier missions, safe houses, climbing towers, rescue random civilians time-trials, and collectable orbs. Completing all these activities allows you to gather XP to unlock moves that you could already perform in the original game. It’s depressing and predictable, exposing not only a lack of imagination but also a fundamental misunderstanding by DICE of the strengths of its own creation. The bloat deafens the player to the accomplished gameplay mechanics that lie underneath, the joy of the game’s parkour movement can’t endure this kind of repetition.
On top of this disappointment is how sterile the city itself is. You could argue that’s what the developers were intending it to be. A cold, false utopia emblematic of mindless corporate capitalism. Yet no, that’s not it at all I’m afraid.
It’s missing a signature flair; the city may be split up into separate districts but at ground level they all largely indistinguishable. It’s devoid of unique hazards and landmarks, a far cry from the memorable locales that were sprinkled throughout the original like the sewers, the construction yard or the shard.
Personal tastes perhaps, but while Catalyst can look rather pretty at times, I was underwhelmed at the art direction they chose for this instalment. The original Mirror’s Edge had a clean, minimalist aesthetic that was defined by bold swathes of primary colour. To me, it was a sanitized present-day utopia rather than sci-fi futurism. Yet the latter is what Catalyst has gone with, flying cars, augmented reality and whatnot. Moving past visual preferences, technically the game isn’t too great. Image quality is often poor with flickering textures and it all looks a bit blurry truth be told.
Solar Fields returns to do the soundtrack, but like everything else here it’s muted compared to the original effort. The ambient themes are okay I guess, but nothing really comes to mind, totally forgettable.
In the end then, Catalyst is an enormous disappointment and waste of potential. I would imagine that’s it for the series now, and based on this effort you wonder why DICE even bothered, as you get the impression they’d rather be working on absolutely anything else.
+ Core gameplay mechanics are still satisfying and enjoyable
-Dull, needless open-world design
-Pointless filler content