Erik Fattrosso ’17 / Emertainment Monthly Staff Writer
Where does one begin with Mirror’s Edge Catalyst? It’s the prequel/reboot of the cult classic of the same name released way back in 2008. It’s grown quite a devoted fan base in the last eight years largely because of its originality, especially for the time of its release. In a year that was plagued by sequels and remakes, Mirror’s Edge came along toting a futuristic world and a complete emphasis on first person free-running. That being said, it’s equally famous for being not very good. While there were certainly moments of greatness, the game just had too many crippling flaws to really be considered something special. Couple that with lackluster sales and it was hard to imagine that the series would ever return. Many were surprised by the announcement of this follow up in 2013 and clung to the hope that developer DICE would fix the issues that held the original back. While they certainly haven’t delivered a worse game, and this one does fix many of the old problems, it brings enough new ones to once again hold the series back.
Starting with the good here, the free running is fantastic. Traversing the city of Glass is an amazing feeling and chaining together a series of jumps, slides, and rolls is an experience that you just won’t get in another game. Just like the original, Catalyst succeeds when it just focuses on its core premise of running. The controls have been streamlined, giving you one button to jump and one to slide, and for the most part your inputs will do what they’re supposed to. 1 out of 10 times lead character Faith may leap blindly to her death instead of grabbing the pipe right in front of her, but it works enough for it to not be a huge issue. This is the best first person platforming has ever been in any game, period.
With that out of the way, it’s everything else that starts to derail the game. The shift to an open world instead of the linear levels of the original could’ve worked wonders, but it more often than not just serves as a detriment to the rest of the game. This is due partially because the open world is pretty small and you’ll find yourself running through the same areas over and over again, and more so because the world is barren. There are not notable landmarks and every building looks the same, coupled with the fact that there aren’t any people here. Occasionally you’ll see someone through a window, but that person will literally always be there. The world doesn’t feel like a world so much as it does specifically designed for Faith to traverse it. While that may sound okay, it defeats the entire purpose of having an open world in the first place. More, longer levels would have been much preferred here. The open world isn’t helped by having the least interesting side objectives that have ever been put into a video game. From floating yellow orbs called Gridleaks, to secret documents, to audio logs, the world is filled to the brim of mindless collectibles that serve no meaningful purpose. Worse still, finding these requires you to stop running, contradicting the games whole thing about running being the most important thing to do. The world is also littered with dashes and time trials to complete, but they all cover the same ground you’ll be traversing time and time again going to real missions and the time limits are unrealistically strict. Even in the beginning of the game they require complete precision if you want to pass them. These are made even more difficult by a progression system that seems to exist solely because that’s what most games have nowadays and Mirror’s Edge is trying to get into the big boys club. Many of Faith’s abilities, such as rolling or quickturning, are locked behind an experience system. Not only does this not fit in line with the rest of the game, but it removes any reason to even attempt the many time trials until you get all the movement abilities. Completing some without the locked moves is impossible if you hope to reach the leaderboards in any capacity. As an added bonus, reading the map is confusing. Some activities are colored yellow to mark them being completed. Others are marked yellow when they still need to be finished. Good luck trying to figure out which is which.
Something that was heavily criticized in the original was its awkward combat system, and DICE seems to have taken that to heart. They removed the ability to use guns (a smart choice), and replaced the really terrible combat system with one that’s just mediocre. There are two different forms of combat here. The first has you dishing out attacks on the run, leaping into enemies or shoving them into each other as you barrel through. This actually works really well and is enjoyable no matter how many times you do it. The second however has you standing still instead. This form of combat when you aren’t isn’t terrible, but it isn’t fun in the slightest either. It looks and feels clumsy, and once you figure out how to take out enemies by constantly kicking them in the back it gets repetitive and tedious. Prior to that, it’s just frustrating. Luckily, the game largely lets you ignore enemies, but there are several moments later in the game when you’re forced to fight wave after wave with no other option. Without question these are the worst bits of the game, and they really highlight the flaws in the combat system. It’s worth a quick YouTube search to see the combat in action, because words can’t quite do the awkward-ness justice.
On a technical level, the game is a mixed bag. Graphically it gets the job done, but it’s certainly nothing to write home about. Outdoor areas tend to look better than others, but there are scattered low-res textures and horrendous texture pop-in in almost every area. The really vivid and clean look of the original game is gone here, replaced with something that largely just looks muddled. Despite the flaws, the game still has frame rate issues. It runs at under 1080p on both consoles, but supposedly at a steady 60fps. However, on the PS4 version at least, there was noticeable framerate drops during more high-octane moments. On the opposite end of the spectrum, the sound work is absolutely fantastic, with a score that fits the tempo of the game and small touches like Faith breathing heavily after executing a tough move help to sell the atmosphere. Footsteps sound great with an impressive amount of variety that changes reliably as you hit different surfaces. Voice-acting is as good as it could be given the material, but we’ll get to that in a second. The largest issue with the audio is that it has a habit of cutting out intermittently for a second or two. Seemingly out of nowhere, all audio will just stop temporarily, leaving you with a silent game until it pops back in.
Despite the much larger focus on story this time around, it falls completely flat. It attempts to tell the origin story of Faith in a lead up to the original title, but it doesn’t really do anything right. All the characters, including Faith, are largely unlikable and obnoxious. Most of them spend their time brooding and they don’t have much personality past that. The game opens with Faith being released from prison (you’ll have to read the comic book if you want to know why she was there), and almost immediately she begins breaking laws again when she joins back up with her old friends, the Runners. This group fights back against the strict, Big Brother-esque ruling government. Nothing after that is ever a surprise, and much of the plot hinges on the mystery of Faith’s childhood and parents, but it’s genuinely hard to care. The story isn’t interesting on its own, so withholding information from the player to create a mystery only serves to push them further from it.
Even with the move to open world, the game is still relatively short. Completing the story and all the side missions is easily accomplished within 8-10 hours, although you probably won’t be complaining that there isn’t more. As good as the actual free-running is, even that starts to get a bit old by the end, not helped by some extremely frustrating final levels. The game features the ability for players to create and post their own time trials online, so those still invested have a theoretically infinite amount of content here, but those are still all limited to the same map as the rest of the game so it’s unlikely that anyone will last that long with it before growing tired. There’s a great game in here somewhere, it’s just too far buried beneath garbage.