Review: Mirror's Edge Catalyst
NOTE: I played Mirror's Edge Catalyst on a Xbox One for about 8 hours. In that time, I finished the campaign, acquired a quarter of the game's collectables, and completed a handful of side missions. This review is spoiler free and only reflects my time spent during this playthrough.
Back in 2008, EA's FPS top tier mega-team, DICE, released a game that was quite a significant departure from their bread and butter Battlefield series. They created a brand-new game that was arguable way ahead of its time. I am of course referring to Mirror's Edge, a game where you play as a freerunner, parkouring on the rooftops of a dystopian city, while trying to remain unfettered from the goons of the mega conglomerates that now rule the world. In my opinion, the original game was a stellar experience. The mechanics were so fluid and satisfying, the world was beautifully realized with a fantastic art style.
Though the game was hardly a success, after nearly eight years, we have been given a proper sequel (or "prequel", or "reboot"). The point is, the small yet passionate fanbase recieved a new entry in the Mirror's Edge series. Mirror's Edge Catalyst is a adrenaline driven parkour game that is fun from start to finish, but uninspired combat and a corny story drag it down.
Mirror's Edge Catalyst brings the series to where most games in 2016 are, an open world with much more to explore and interact with than before. While Catalyst's open world is much smaller and less dense, relative to the likes of Fallout or Far Cry, the game still offers so much more to do than its predecessor did. I always had a blast looking at a building off in the distance and wondering what neat ways I could reach it. The collectables and side missions in the game are typical run of the mill open world offerings. Neither bad, nor good, these options are great for any player looking for more to experience in the world of the game but to the average player, they will probably be ignored.
One new feature that I did enjoy a lot were the Time Trials. Throughout the game, players can post their best Time Trials that will appear in other player's game for them to attempt to beat. I always enjoyed trying to get a better ranking on other's Time Trials. This was a nice evolution of the first game's original Time Trials.
Mirror's Edge Catalyst is seemingly a breath taking game from a visual standpoint. Everything we saw in the trailers led us to believe that what we would get in this game would be incredible. Unfortunately, developer DICE favored locking the game at a solid 60FPS over visuals. While the frame rate is nice, the visuals suffers and textures often look muddy and bland. There were often times when I had to wonder if the first game looked better than Catalyst. Of course, the first game was a more isolated and linear experience but in 2016, this game just does not look all that impressive.
Perhaps the most conflicting element of the game for me was the story. I won't say that the story is necessarily bad, but it is certainly not great either. Overall, the story is littered with plot holes, bad writing, and even worse delivery from the actors. The characters are extremely unlikeable. Aside form the protagonist, Faith, I couldn't find myself invested in any other character. The game's main antagonist is so faceless that I never even felt like he was a true threat.
Sometimes the story would be at such an emotional moment but I simply could not connect with it due to the awful voice acting. The lines always seemed rushed and were provided as if they had no direction. Still, I could see where the writers were trying to write a good story. I truly believe that somewhere deep down, Mirror's Edge Catalyst has a great story to be told. Unfortunately, this game has too many elements working against it to allow that story to shine.
RUN, RUN, RUN
Now onto the games biggest strength, the running. Mirror's Edge is ultimately all about the free running and the parkour and that is where it excels. Throughout the game, you can upgrade you skills and learn new abilities that will help you traverse the rooftops and walls throughout the game. Even towards the end, I still found myself surprised by the new ways I was learning to move Faith. If the whole appeal of the game's mechanics is what has interested you in this game then yes, this game is an absolute blast to play. In fact, I often found myself taking the long route to missions rather than fast traveling just because the game is that much fun.
Once you nail all the mechanics, the gameplay is so much fun. Everything runs so smoothly and and chaining jumps, slides, and swings together is incredibly satisfying. One great new addition to the game is the Mag Rope. This item allows you to swing from certain buildings like Spider-Man. Later the gadget gets upgraded to pull you up buildings and even pull down large debris that may be in your way. The Mag Rope adds a new layer of depth to the game that only furthers the gratification felt when journeying through Faith's adventure.
Then there's the combat. EA and DICE promised fans that rather than shoehorning in gun combat like the first game, Catalyst would feature a new hand-to-hand combat system designed for the game. Sadly, the combat is just awful! It is cool that you can upgrade your combat skills and abilities but none of it is necessary. You mostly alternate between light attack punches and shift kicking your opponents over the railing of a building. Enemies are weak and their A.I. is abysmal. When fighting a group of enemies, everyone will stop and watch you as you attack one enemy at a time. Not only that but enemies nearly throw themselves off of buildings with the snap of your fingers. It is like they want to be defeated easily.
Then there is the Sentinels. Thankfully there are only two times in the game when you absolutely must fight them, with no option for running away. These enemies are significantly stronger than anyone else that you will face. There is a compete difficulty spike when these guys are introduced. I found myself spending more time running away from them trying to regain my health than I did actually fighting them. It behooves me that no one at DICE thought that their strength needed to be adjusted. That said, it's good that they only make few appearances.
Mirror's Edge Catalyst is a divisive game that will have your adrenaline pumping when you're running. However, it isn't without its flaws. There are plenty of boring enemy encounters and bad characters that hold this game back from being the fantastic comeback that fans so desperately wanted it to be. I myself love the Mirror's Edge series and was so excited when this game was announced. I do think it is an absolute blast to play and it's totally worth checking out. I just don't think it will be able to pull in a new audience of gamers that the first one didn't already attract.