Time has been very kind to Mirror’s Edge.
This isn’t to say that DICE’s 2008 first-person free-running sci-fi adventure has aged well – it hasn’t – but in the years since its release, it gained a substantial cult following.
It’s largely this slowly swelling collection of fans who are responsible for DICE producing Mirror’s Edge: Catalyst as the game’s predecessor was written off as an underperforming loss by EA. This explains why the new game feels more like fan service than a genuine step forward.
Mirror’s Edge: Catalyst Review – Campaign
Mirror’s Edge: Catalyst is set in the same crisp, shiny and impersonal city from Mirror’s Edge although it takes place several years before the events in that game. The city is run by an oppressive mega-corporation called Kruger that uses armed thugs and electronic intrusion to keep the population suppressed.
The action kicks off with free-running rebel Faith being released from a juvenile detention centre. Once outside, she runs into fellow parkour anarchist Icarus, who snaps off the government tracker she’s wearing, installs a BEAT link and then the pair of them are off to rebel HQ.
The opening level of Catalyst not only serves as a useful tutorial – even to returning players since Mirror’s Edge has always had a fiddly control system – but it puts the game’s best foot forward. Like its predecessor, Catalyst is best when players are charging through the game’s myriad environments using a series of leaps, vaults, slides, wall-runs, zip-lines and somersaults to guide Faith through the city of glass.
Mirror’s Edge: Catalyst Review – Mechanics
This level, incidentally, also encompasses Catalyst’s main appeal. Aside from its initially striking visuals, the game’s selling point is its fluid free-running action. A lot of the time – particularly when players are free-running between story and side missions – the parkour feels perfunctory, but when the level design compliments the game’s central mechanics (as it does on many occasions), Catalyst positively shines.
The parkour mechanics have been augmented by a couple of gizmos – such as a grappling hook (Nathan Drake who?) and a disruptor that can shut down fans blocking Faith’s progression – and there’s a handy ‘Runner Vision’ that points out pathways through the rooftops. If players have completed a particularly challenging run in a timely fashion, they can craft and publish their own time trial, challenging other players to beat their time.
There’s also an upgrade system divided into the categories of ‘Movement’, ‘Gear’ and ‘Combat’, but it feels unnecessary. It closes off certain moves to players until they’ve progressed to certain parts of the campaign, which feels daft since movement is the biggest draw in Catalyst.
In other words, what worked in the original Mirror’s Edge works brilliantly in Catalyst. It’s just a shame that DICE hasn’t cut what hampered the previous instalment in this series, and has instead, brought all of the drawbacks to its new game.
Mirror’s Edge: Catalyst Review – Combat
As was the case in Mirror’s Edge, the combat in Catalyst is terrible. The game offers players slightly more variation in Faith’s attacks, but a lot of them are tricky to pull off and some don’t land even if the timing of them seems on the money. Players are likely to spam a combo that consists of kicking an enemy and then running away, as this is the most reliable tactic. They also don’t even have the option to pick up and use any firearms that enemies drop.
Catalyst’s story – like that of its predecessor – is also a convoluted mess. While it doesn’t have anything in it as ridiculous as the twist in Mirror’s Edge, its characters and plot points are hard to keep track of and harder to care about due to how generic they feel.
Players may find themselves tackling an admittedly enjoyable level, but they may forget why Faith is at the location it’s set in. When one of the more memorable characters is captured by Kruger, the scene carries the dramatic heft of thin air.
Mirror’s Edge: Catalyst Review – Visuals
The city in Catalyst looks beautiful initially, but the more players traverse its rooftops, the more it starts to feel unworldly. If the Mirror’s Edge franchise is anything to go by, the future’s urban aesthetic will be designed by the same folk who produced Apple’s iStores and it will feel just as shiny and soulless at the same time.
There are quite a few secondary quests, collectibles and side missions dotted around the game’s central hub. If players spend the time to rinse them all, they’ll find these take up the bulk of their time, and since most of them involve Faith running from one point to another in under a certain time limit, they start to become repetitive very quickly.
Mirror’s Edge: Catalyst Review – Conclusion
So Catalyst, then, feels like what Mirror’s Edge would’ve looked like if it had debuted on the current gen. Imagine the original game with more content, a central hub and prettier visuals, and you pretty much have Catalyst.
What worked in the first game works here and what didn’t hasn’t exactly been improved upon. It’s by no means a bad game, it’s just not an incredibly remarkable one.
It will likely satisfy the fanbase – and good job too, because they’re the main reason it exists – but newcomers and anyone who found the first Mirror’s Edge wanting will probably wonder what all the fuss is about.
Mirror’s Edge: Catalyst was reviewed on a PS4. The review code was supplied by the publisher.