It’s taken so long for Mirror’s Edge: Catalyst to arrive that your reaction to it as a fan of the original, much-loved (by those relative few who played it), much-flawed, free running gem, is likely to be split between happiness (to see it back, bigger and bolder than before), and trepidation over the direction this rebooted new instalment has taken.
There’s no denying Mirror’s Edge. Catalyst instantly feels more fluid, easier to understand, and generally far more player-friendly than its predecessor. As such, there is bound to be some groans from some of those who have waited nearly eight years for this latest entry, based on their love of the original, flaws and all; but despite how it may seem, developer DICE (of Battlefield and Battlefront fame) is not toying with the fanbase—it’s trying to expand it. If anything, it often succeeds in keeping almost everyone who might have an interest in Catalyst happy. At least in gameplay terms anyway.
Mirror’s Edge: Catalyst storyline
Mirror’s Edge: Catalyst begins with the original title’s heroine Faith Connors leaving a juvenile correction facility, about to return to her old life in the sickeningly clean-looking city known as Glass. Just before she’s about to leave, a man calls to her from a doorway, asking that she come with him. It turns out the man is called Icarus, and is a member of the group of free-running couriers Faith used to be a part of before her jail stint.
These couriers smuggle packages and info drops around Glass by using the rooftops, doing so in rebellion against a totalitarian conglomerate of corporations that hold the city in its collective vice-like grip, headed by a man named Kruger and his swarm of henchmen. Icarus removes a homing device from Faith, which soon alerts the authorities. Faith also has to deal with a debt to a shady individual named Dogen, and it isn’t long before our heroine is getting herself into plenty of trouble with all the wrong people as a battle for the city ensues.
It’s standard ‘rage against the machine’ fare, and while the concept ties into the design and motivations well, the actual storytelling is sadly underwhelming. There’s little meat to the supporting cast of characters. Your leader, Noah, is a bland whirlpool of other franchise’s characters (Nathan Drake meets Rico Rodriguez meets Antonio Banderas, and then they all chip in together to create Mel Gibson’s voice) and like most of the cast, gets little to say that is interesting or engaging. This leaves Faith to do most of the heavy-lifting from an empathetic standpoint. She’s an interesting protagonist, fiery, and defiant.
Mirror’s Edge: Catalyst gameplay and graphics
Once you are thrown into the game proper, anyone familiar with Mirror’s Edge will feel right at home with what they see. Stark shades of white architecture against the blues of the sky above, and the brilliant red of a dumpster that indicates ‘you can do some parkour off that’. As I draw nearer the dumpster, a prompt appears on it telling me to press L1, which is Faith’s general purpose button for clambering around. Here it is used to jump up off the dumpster and onto the nearby building’s roof.
You’re tasked with a simple run at this time, with the game gently introducing your basic move set throughout it. L2 slides Faith underneath obstacles and softens higher drops with a tactical roll, while holding down L1 on certain jumps springs Faith higher to reach greater heights and distances. Movement in Catalyst is already greatly improved from the original, and is indeed better implemented than the only other first-person title with half-decent parkour in it, Dying Light.
Contextual movement plays a big role in Catalyst, as it did in 2008’s Mirror’s Edge, but here it just flows so much more naturally. The redesigned ‘Runner Vision’ leaves red trails to give you a basic GPS route to objectives, and it is super useful for getting to grips with the control scheme and by the time I’d completed that initial opening mission, I felt pretty comfortable with it. Fret not fans who fear casualisation of the game’s core; it is literally only there as an aid, as you can take whatever route you wish without even using Runner Vision. Something the game does actively encourage now as the city of Glass is open world, and ripe for making the most of Faith’s urban exploration skills.
As you progress, you enter newer areas, with the familiar themes all intact, but new verticality is added, and subtle changes in layout and colour differentiate each zone. Your equipment and skills grow with your confidence, pushing you to become a well-oiled running machine by the end of the story so that you can start tackling the myriad side quests and objectives more efficiently. It keeps that flowing theme that Catalyst hangs its identity upon embedded into the very design of Glass.
An example of this fluidity is that the only load times I found outside of the startup, were from having Faith plummet to her doom or restarting a quest. The 2008 game was all boxed-in levels that had limitations needed for a game of its time and budget, which was as much a positive for concentrated free-running purity as it was a fundamental drawback for fully utilising that ability. Catalyst though, allows its parkour the freedom of the city, giving you a bigger, better toolset to do your own thing with instead of simply finding the best path within a very linear level.
Even the indoor sections are rife with opportunity, letting you switch between swift attack and strategic escape swiftly and without issue. It can feel a little clunky as you learn the ropes, but before long it becomes second nature, and you sail through areas, chaining movements together in a natural fashion. This is where Mirror’s Edge excels, and with Catalyst, it feels honed to near-perfection.
You can still find the self contained routes with something the game calls ‘Dashes’, effectively time trials that implement aspects of EA’s Autolog system found in Need for Speed titles to challenge and compete with others playing Catalyst. It’s a rather pleasant addition, especially with the tighter controls. Friends and other players can set their own routes for you to best as well.
Combat, easily the weakest part of the original, also blends into Faith’s movement more. Presses of Triangle or Square when a run is blocked by an enemy can knock them down and allow you to keep running with barely any break in your stride, keep your stride up consistently enough and you can enter a ‘Focus Mode’ that allows you to avoid gunfire and non-retaliatory blows whilst running. It makes Catalyst all the more interesting to watch and more of a joy to play. Once you have to stop running however, that’s when combat gets a bit awkward, and begins to jar with the fluid nature of the game.
Of all the things I had to learn in Catalyst, regular combat was the hardest to grasp. It feels a little unwieldy and confusing, and most importantly it feels at odds with the sleek pace the rest of the game exhibits. It is fairly cool to see the finishing moves where the camera switches to third-person and shows you Faith kick ass in a stylish manner, but that’s pretty much the highlight of regular combat. Upgrades do alleviate some of the frustrations, but it’s easily the weakest mechanical aspect of Catalyst.
So, Mirror’s Edge: Catalyst is an improvement on the 2008 model in many ways, but it does still have some issues. While the rooftops and vistas are genuinely gorgeous in a minimalistic way, textures did take a bit too long to load until the patch landed the day before release and shored up what was a rather large problem.
Longevity was my other concern. What is there beyond running? Thankfully the exploration, challenges and various side-missions provide you with plenty of distractions. It’s a shame the collectables aren’t a bit more inspired than the usual audio logs and ‘find x amount of this thing,’and boy, are there a lot of those, but the addition of the time trials, package deliveries, and GridNode challenges among other things make for a decent set of extras, and even the more mundane parts of Catalyst are brighter for the simple joy of flinging Faith around Glass.
Also building some longevity, albeit a bit more artificially than all that, is the skills system. It’s nothing we haven’t seen before, and probably not all that necessary, but I suppose that it does keep drip-feeding you new ways to play in a perfectly gradual manner, so it could well be the right decision. I didn’t feel like the game lost anything for not having Faith get all the moves and toys from the start. Certainly the gadgets turning up gradually was fine as it consistently broke the game out of a potential rut. Every game has its breaking point however, and Catalyst’s will come sooner rather than later for many. The collectables are engrossing to nab for a good chunk of your time with the game, but there’s simply too many, and the motivation to search them all out dims once you’ve passed most of the regular, offline content.
Should you play Mirror’s Edge:Catalyst?
I came to Mirror’s Edge: Catalyst not expecting a lot. It’s had a fairly quiet development cycle and I personally wasn’t all that enamoured with the original beyond the admittedly cool concept and the pedigree of the developer behind it. I came out of my time with Catalyst pleasantly surprised. Could it have been better? From both a performance and narrative standpoint it most definitely could have been, but beyond that, there’s something quite welcoming and pleasant about a game from a studio who sell virtual warfare most of the time being rather passive by comparison. Mirror’s Edge feels far more refreshing now than it ever did eight years ago because in those eight years, first-person shooters have become ridiculously widespread, and the only other first-person options are more sedately-paced, heavily story-driven, and control-light. Catalyst sits in the middle of it all,imperfect, yet special in its own way.