Mirror’s Edge Catalyst Review: 2000-And-Late
Ryan Bloom / Aug 24th, 2016 No Comments
Mirror’s Edge Catalyst was supposed to dive deeper into the lore of Faith and the runners. The open world was going to be a better way to experience the fast-paced action. Unfortunately, the game falls short of its goals.
The free-running gameplay and first-person puzzles are entertaining, but the flow is interrupted by a paper-thin plot and bad combat. Catalyst is simply more Mirror’s Edge, and how you feel about this depends upon your feelings toward the original.
When it released in 2008 for Xbox 360, Mirror’s Edge was beloved because it was unique. It wasn’t just another first-person shooter about pelting opponents with bullets to the face. But it’s 2016 now, and Catalyst doesn’t have the same impact as its predecessor.
If you remember Mirror’s Edge fondly, chances are that you did not become enamored with the game because of its plot. However, things seemed like they’d be different with Catalyst. Through most of the marketing of the game, EA hinted that Catalyst would have a more developed story.
This game was supposed to be more about Faith and her origins, but there’s not much substance in Catalyst. It’s not that the plot is all bad, but it has little reason for existence. It’s more of a device to get from one mission to the next.
The storyline that plays out is shallow and predictable, and it is difficult to care about what happens. Despite the mediocre dialogue, Faith and the characters she interacts with never reach the point of annoyance. Instead, their time on screen is underwhelming and slows down an otherwise quick pace.
Icarus, a fellow runner, and his relationship with Faith is especially stereotypical, setting up a childish rivalry that unsurprisingly gives way to mutual respect. His time on screen is particularly tiring early on in Catalyst.
Faith’s familial roots are explored through her sister-turned-rival, with brief flashbacks replaying a pivotal moment in her past. However, the relationship between the siblings is of little importance to the main story, and there is never any closure regarding Faith’s parents.
With such a vibrant setting in the city of Glass, it’s a shame that it’s inhabited by one-dimensional characters and a lazy plot that fails to build the world.
Free-running is the best element of Mirror’s Edge, and it is during these flowing, continuous moments that Catalyst is thrilling. Faith’s urban acrobatics evolve through a rudimentary RPG-like skill tree, but there isn’t much depth to the gameplay beyond that.
In this case, the lack of depth isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Missions get more challenging as you progress through the game and players must learn to conquer new obstacles, but Faith is never overmatched and there are no instances in which you don’t have the right tools for the job. Rather than having to acquire skills, Catalyst requires its players to learn about the environment and how it can be used to their advantage.
Runner Vision, a game mechanic from the original Mirror’s Edge, is back to help direct players who lack a sense of direction. A vibrant red color lights up a path Faith should take in order to make it to her eventual goal. However, Catalyst shines during puzzle-like sequences when it shuts down Runner Vision and forces players to determine their own routes. Players test Faith’s abilities and question whether any combination of parkour moves could allow her to reach the next platform.
Although these moments often are played at a slower pace, they are a breath of fresh air. Figuring out a method to jump, run and climb up a tall building involves patience and an understanding of Faith’s abilities and limitations. These gameplay sequences almost feel more like first-person platforming than free-running, and this makes them unique enough to entertain players.
Faith’s main opponent is the environment, but there are actual characters to fight as well. Combat works in context with free-running, as players can kick down on enemies as they descend from a jump like a gritty Mario jumping on goomba. But the game often puts players in open settings against several AI opponents, and it doesn’t fit in.
This is especially true during one of the game’s final moments. For some reason, Catalyst’s climax involves a boss battle against two high-powered goons. The best way to beat them is by hitting them with powerful moves Faith can perform while on the run, but there is hardly anywhere to pull this off. Players are thrust into this big moment, only to run around like a madman jumping on walls just to hit enemies.
It all leads to an unsatisfactory ending loaded with cutscenes. Catalyst takes the controller out of players’ hands, forcing them to watch as Faith fights her biggest tormentors. This tarnishes the game’s biggest moments and leaves players with little reason to celebrate reaching the game’s end.
Catalyst ditches the linear experience for an open world, but this feels forced as you play through the game’s campaign. The world is repetitive — Faith is required to travel along the same paths many times to initiate new missions. It is not long before you will recognize ways to escape to hideouts, and it can feel like you are just traveling in circles with missions taking place in between.
The city can be beautiful at times, but it can also feel unfinished. Poor NPC renderings complete the unfinished look, and like the world they inhabit, characters are stiff and robotic. Exploration is hardly encouraged, although there are a billboards to hack and data to find.
However, the open world is not all bad. In fact, the side missions are the best part of Catalyst. Timed side missions provide exhilarating races against the clock, and players can also set up online multiplayer races. This is where Catalyst is stripped down to its free-running core, and it can be intense, maddening, and exciting. The plot and open world mask the best of Mirror’s Edge, but side missions and online modes show that Catalyst still has some of the original game’s charm.
Sadly, Mirror’s Edge Catalyst is not the sequel we were all waiting for. It isn’t a bad game, but it’s hardly different from the first game, and originality is what made Mirror’s Edge so great in the first place.
Catalyst has a solid core, and it shines through during fast-paced free-running and puzzle sequences, but it falls apart by introducing an open world and combat that ruins the pacing. The storyline leaves players with more questions than answers. Faith never really questions whether she is doing the right thing. She is fueled by revenge, and obtaining it is the only real resolution.
Despite its many shortcomings, there is still plenty to like about Mirror’s Edge Catalyst. It just had the potential to be so much more.
Mirror’s Edge Catalyst was reviewed on Xbox One using a code for the game provided by the publisher.
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