Race across rooftops and fight ruthless foes for a chance at freedom.
PC Release: June 7, 2016
By Ian Coppock
In 2008, a video game called Mirror’s Edge was put out by DICE, a subsidiary of Electronic Arts. Mirror’s Edge featured something that video games hadn’t really covered in detail before: parkour and free-running. As a young runner named Faith, players were given the opportunity to take daring runs across a breathtaking, beautiful city. The gameplay wasn’t perfect, and the plot was weak, but Mirror’s Edge‘s novelty struck a chord with the gaming world. Finally, eight years later, that chord has resounded with the production of Mirror’s Edge Catalyst, a game that, like its predecessor, seeks to let players run wild.
A follow-up to Mirror’s Edge has been in various forms of development since the original game’s 2008 debut. According to industry hearsay, the prototype of Mirror’s Edge 2 was in development for some time, but was scrapped by Electronic Arts because it failed to meet their quality standards. The rumor came as a shock to many gamers, because it revealed that a sequel had been worked on, and it revealed that Electronic Arts has quality standards.
Anyway, DICE went back to the drawing board and came up with Mirror’s Edge Catalyst, which was announced at E3 2014 as a prequel to the original game. Though it was marketed as such for quite some time, Mirror’s Edge Catalyst is actually a full-scale reboot.
Like its predecessor, Mirror’s Edge Catalyst is a first-person adventure game set in a gleaming, futuristic city. Unlike in the original game, the city actually has a name: Glass. Wait… the city’s name is Glass? That’s… hmm. To be fair, perhaps there’s a law in the Mirror’s Edge world stating that each city has to be named after its most commonplace construction component, in which case Glass is a most fitting name indeed.
Glass is under the dominion of the Conglomerate, an alliance of 13 corporations that control every aspect of everyday life. Citizens in this totalitarian society either work for one of the corporations, or eke out an off-the-grid life on the rooftops. Faith falls into the latter category, and the game begins as she’s released from a brutal one-year stint in jail.
Not a minute after walking out of the prison’s front doors, Faith is rescued by another runner named Icarus, who takes her back to the runner HQ and her old boss, a man named Noah. Faith is happily reunited with her community, but takes issue with Icarus, the new guy, who’s determined to prove that he’s actually the best runner Glass has ever seen. Faith also owes a debt to Dogen, a major crime boss, for an unspecified failure, and he makes it clear that he intends to collect soon.
Faith’s first new job for the runners is a heist at a prestigious bioscience company, and she breaks into the building the same way she’s done many times before. This time, though, an altercation with Gabriel Kruger, head of Kruger security, sends her fleeing out of the building with hundreds of goons gunning for her. Whatever she stole from that building must be of great import, and sets the game’s main narrative into high-flying motion.
Faith’s abilities as a runner comprise the core of Mirror’s Edge Catalyst‘s gameplay. The game is best summarized as a first-person action runner. As Faith, players can, well, run, but she can also perform wall-runs, rapid climbs and other stunts to get up and around the city. Just like in the original game, Faith must employ a combination of running and jumping to get around, especially since there will be bullets flying after her more often than not. Continuous running allows Faith to build up Focus; the more Focus she has, the more bullets will miss her. Not the most logical system ever devised, but it forces the game to remain reliant on its greatest mechanic: movement.
The implementation of these parkour tricks is smoother than that of the original Mirror’s Edge, in fact. It’s exhilarating to tear across a gorgeous city, performing half a dozen stunts in half a dozen seconds. Faith’s moves are all about getting up or down to somewhere as rapidly as possible, and Mirror’s Edge Catalyst does an outstanding job of not only making these moves flow together, but in granting a profound sense of freedom. Mirror’s Edge Catalyst also adds a new tool called the mag rope, which allows Faith to swing between skyscrapers like Spider-Man.
The original Mirror’s Edge had some great free-running gameplay too, but one area that it mishandled was the combat. In her 2008 debut, Faith dealt with metro-cops by punching and kicking at them, or stealing their guns and tearing things up. It wasn’t a terrible system, but it interrupted the flow of running and it was a little weird to go from hopping around on rooftops to lugging around a machine gun. Players had little choice but to resort to guns, since punches and kicks only do so much against Kevlar.
In Mirror’s Edge Catalyst, the guns are bio-metrically linked to the cops using them, so melee combat is Faith’s only recourse when faced with an enemy. Fortunately, the melee combat is far superior to that of the original game. Instead of running up to an enemy and punching them until they (hopefully) drop, Faith can perform a variety of evasive and combat maneuvers to get the job done. She’ll have to, if she wants to survive; most enemies in the game are also melee combatants, and skillfully dodging their attacks is crucial to victory. Mirror’s Edge Catalyst makes the combat simple, but challenging.
In stark contrast to its rigidly linear predecessor, Mirror’s Edge Catalyst is an open-world game, with entire square miles’ worth of city rooftops to explore. In addition to making their way around the city to complete the story missions, players can also complete side jobs around the city. Faith can run clandestine deliveries for paying customers, or help her fellow runners out of jams with the law. Glass is also replete with timed challenges, in which Faith has to get from Point A to Point B as quickly as possible. Players can even create and run their own challenges.
The point of these challenges, aside from a few more bits of exposition, is to build up experience. Mirror’s Edge Catalyst introduces light RPG elements to the Mirror’s Edge universe. Faith can level up and spend points on new moves and gear. Though it’s an interesting way for players to make their own spin on running, most of the perks that are available offer only minor tweaks to Faith’s abilities. The ability to climb a ladder slightly faster than usual is helpful, but it won’t do much for players looking to get off of the beaten path.
Mirror’s Edge Catalyst also starts to fray a bit when exploring the open world. Almost all of the side challenges are the same challenge: get from Point A to Point B under such and such a time limit. Sure, the game dresses it up as various things, but it all boils down to doing the same mission over and over. It doesn’t help that many of these missions have arbitrary requirements, like knocking out certain numbers of guards along the way. Why? What bearing does this have on Faith’s mission? It’s like asking the paper boy to smash every mailbox on his route because it somehow makes the newspaper better.
The icing on the cake is when the mission fails and Electronic Arts puts up a loading screen chastising the player for not avoiding the guards. So, suffice to say, Mirror’s Edge Catalyst‘s transition to an open-world format is rocky. It doesn’t help that many of these missions boil down to online community gimmicks, like putting a gamer tag on a billboard. Who cares about that? Like the corporations that run Glass, Electronic Arts cannot abide people who just want to stay off the grid.
Though Glass’s side questing is mediocre, its artwork and visuals are most certainly not. As of its release, Mirror’s Edge Catalyst might just be the most graphically impressive video game ever made. The city bursts with strong color, the lighting effects are second to none, and the diversity of its buildings is outstanding. As much time will be spent just gazing into Glass as actually playing around in it, and deservedly so. The level design is an intricate maze, weaving long stretches of vista with opportunities for parkour. It’s all carefully coordinated to give Faith a great deal of freedom in her running, and that sense of wild abandon is thus passed on to the player. It’s a very fluid experience.
No game, though, is immune from launch-time bugs. Mirror’s Edge Catalyst suffers from strange texture bugs, in which the character models’ clothing will short out. This happens during both gameplay and in-game cutscenes. For some reason, the pre-rendered cinematics have a tendency to tank the framerate, even on powerful machines, though they usually right themselves about 10 seconds in. Shockingly, the game’s signage and lettering can look quite muddy even from some distance away, and it takes far too long for the textures to load and clean themselves up. Usually, Faith’s long gone before this has happened.
The story of Mirror’s Edge Catalyst is significantly improved over that of the original game, but that’s not saying much. Innovative as it is, the narrative within Mirror’s Edge is soup-thin and replete with plot holes. The story of Mirror’s Edge Catalyst contains no immediate similarities to the old story, save the presence of Faith, but there are echoes.
At times, Mirror’s Edge Catalyst risks being too derivative of its predecessor. Though Faith’s not out to save her sister as she was in the last game, her discovery of a horrific plot the Conglomerate has for the city contains the exact same crescendo. Discover secret, get chased by the cops, run around the city solving the mystery. Players of the original game may feel underwhelmed by how similar the two narratives are.
Though Mirror’s Edge Catalyst employs the same type of story as its predecessor, that story is much better told in this game. Anyone who’s played a DICE game knows that storytelling is not their strong suit, but they did a good job crafting a dystopian thriller with Mirror’s Edge Catalyst. Each character has a believable story arc; Faith herself evolves from a selfish survivor into someone willing to take a stand for complete strangers.
It’s impressive how egalitarian the game is in its portrayal of women. Faith looks a bit more sexualized than in the previous game, but most of the game’s leading cast is female, which is nothing short of a complete rarity in the world of video games. Many of the cops you go up against are also female, which is a subtle but important touch. Each character is reasonably multi-dimensional, and they occupy complicated niches on both sides of the story. The narrative does rely a bit too much on the convenient inventor trope; Faith is assisted by a hacker named Plastic, who can just do everything from her computer; but the dialogue is better than average, especially for a DICE game.
Though Mirror’s Edge Catalyst mishandles its attempt at open-world gaming, and its narrative contains precious few new ideas for longtime fans of the series, it’s a welcome return for one of the most novel first-person action games in recent years. It’s not the sequel to Mirror’s Edge that many people wanted, but it’s much closer to what the original game should’ve been. If the original Mirror’s Edge has a failure, it’s that its story did not take advantage of its own premise. A dystopian future city should’ve been replete with much more than a conventional rescue story.
Here, Mirror’s Edge Catalyst comes much closer to a narrative worthy of that idea. It takes the good but thin ideas offered by the original game and fleshes them out into their full potential. Its parkour running mechanics are unlike most anything else on the market these days, and it advances the glorious sense of scale achieved by the city in Mirror’s Edge. Get the game and enjoy it. Longtime fans will enjoy a smoother run as Faith, and newcomers will find a new type of fun.
You can buy Mirror’s Edge Catalyst here.
Thank you for reading! My next review will be posted in a few days. You can follow Art as Games on Twitter @IanLayneCoppock, or friend me at username Art as Games on Steam. Feel free to leave a comment or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org with a game that you’d like to see reviewed, though bear in mind that I only review PC games.