Marie Popo and Paimon sponsored WWE match
For the past eight years or so, I’ve been waiting with baited breath for a second Mirror’s Edge game. I’ve put countless hours into the original across multiple platforms, I know it inside out, and could easily still play it to this day and have a blast. Mirror’s Edge is my favourite game – it came about at a time where I was so bored and disillusioned by games as a whole that I was considering selling my PS3, and it convinced me not to. So forgive me if I seem to be biased when it comes to Mirror’s Edge Catalyst; I’ll hold up my hands and wear that on my sleeve as I attempt to separate the fanboy from the serious, professional critic.
In many ways, this is the hardest review I think I’ll ever write – not just because the original Mirror’s Edge means so much to me, but because having played through this reboot, my opinion is being dragged in so many different directions that my head’s spinning. On the one hand, from a purely mechanical standpoint, Mirror’s Edge Catalyst is the most fun I’ve had with a game in years. On the other, everything else surrounding that core gameplay, from the mission design, to the storyline, to the game’s message, and the world it builds, is pretty terrible.
Let’s start with the good, though. Like I said, at it’s very core, Mirror’s Edge Catalyst is just. So. Damn. Satisfying. Now that the city of Glass has been unlocked and fleshed out into a bonafide open-world, the parkour mechanics of the first game finally have a chance to breathe, and gracefully leaping across rooftops with effortless flow feels like nothing else. DICE have seen fit to throw some new moves into your repertoire this time around, too – you can roll out of a slide to keep your momentum, wall-run back-to-back, vault yourself higher into the air than ever before, and use a grappling hook to pull yourself across chasms – it all feels brilliantly smooth and quickly becomes second nature. Platforming has never been something first person games have excelled at, but Catalyst nails it, and if all you want to do is run around a big ol’ virtual jungle gym, you’re going to have fun with this game.
While Glass is tremendous fun to get around, it also tends to feel fairly lifeless, despite having a ton of stuff to do. One look at the overworld map and you start having flashbacks to whatever the last Assassin’s Creed game you played was – icons are scattered around everywhere, what feels like hundreds of them – representing a bunch of side-missions of different types, although most essentially boil down to “reach the target before the time expires”. The game even has its own version of tower scaling, though it’s admittedly a little more involved. These equivalents take the form of disabling Grid Nodes, gigantic indoor servers that actually represent some cool environmental puzzling, as you do your best not to trip the security systems and have your ass get beaten. These are actually the best of the side activities on offer, often requiring you to put some actual thought into what you’re doing, and while they aren’t super challenging, they never failed to give me a little kick when I completed ‘em.
The biggest issue with the open-world format I have, is its lifelessness. I get that the world of Catalyst is designed to look sterile (and I personally love its art direction, with its sharp white motif contrasting with equally vivid reds, blues and oranges), but there’s no reason that it also needs to be sterile. Catalyst wants us to believe that we’re in the heart of a conflict between evil megacorps, extremist freedom fighters, and a gang of not-so-legal but generally affable couriers, but yet there’s absolutely nothing going on in the world, save for the NPCs dotted around to bark at you when they need a delivery done and a few story missions where the proverbial poop hits the proverbial fan. And come on DICE, I know you’re working off the Ubisoft remit here, but Catalyst doesn’t need a progression system – locking basic moves from the original game behind a skill tree feels unnecessary, especially early on, because without your forward roll – probably the most valuable weapon in your arsenal, the game just isn’t the same.
Speaking of the story; it’s probably Catalyst’s main weakness, because it’s terrible, and there’s very little to redeem it. It’s like a Banksy piece; completely up-front with all of its themes and its message, has absolutely nothing to say outside the generally well-accepted and well-known “hey corporations maybe aren’t all that great you guys!”, and never even tries to go anywhere beyond the very surface of it’s themes. You might as well stick a Dismaland logo on the uniforms of the K-Sec grunts you spend your time taking down. The pacing and script is also a complete nightmare – with an absolutely abysmal ending, and a twist that you couldn’t see coming more clearly if it was two inches from your face, screaming at you. Seriously, I keyed in on it during the first proper mission of the game, and if you know anything about the original, you probably will too.
It’s a shame, really, because Catalyst really does come across like it’s trying very sincerely, but badly missing all of its marks. The cast is genuinely diverse, with characters of every race represented in prominent roles, it’s just a shame that, Faith aside, absolutely none of them are likeable in any way, shape or form. There’s even an autistic character, Plastic, but she’s sadly not well-handled, feeling more like someone skimmed a Wikipedia article about autistic behaviour patterns than actually put the effort into portraying the condition properly. Catalyst is both a reboot and a reimagining, set before the events of the original Mirror’s Edge, while making some changes to the pre-established (and admittedly sparse) canon.
As such, exploring Faith’s backstory and growth could have been lots of fun, but the supporting cast is so weak, their motivations so poorly explained, that it stunts your ability to care. They all have stupid names, too, I mean, who names their kid Noah? Honestly. Faith deserves better; she should be the poster-child for female protagonists in gaming – strong, nuanced and human, without being presented as an object of lust, but DICE failed her.
It doesn’t help that so much of the mission design is clunky and ill-conceived, missions often times feel illogical in how they’re laid out; as if parts of them are missing or were rushed out with little thought – it’s as if DICE knew they’d nailed the actual gameplay mechanics and expected that the rest would take care of itself. Of course, it’s equally just as likely that the less than stellar design of the story missions is due to compromise; because Catalyst, just like the original, feels wrought with the kind of inconsistencies that scream sudden and unexpected cuts to the budget or time afforded to the development.
It feels like plenty of what we were promised simply isn’t here – sure, there’s an open world, but opportunities to run around at street level are nonexistent, and the promised underground areas are tiny, almost to the point that you wonder why they even bothered, since it’s not like they couldn’t have the terrorist cell hanging out down there holed up somewhere else on the rooftops. Likewise, the promised multiplayer is effectively non-existent – you can set your own little time trials for asynchronous racing, or leave little “Beat” marks around for other players to find, but given that there was once talk of running around with your buddies in real-time, I can’t help but feel let down. There’s so much obvious potential staring you in the face at every turn when you’re playing Catalyst, but the game just never seems to want to grab you by the hand and take you with it into classic territory.
Catalyst is by no means a great game, but warts and all, I’ve found myself falling for it. Just getting around and exploring Glass is an absolute thrill, and despite all its flaws, it is, at it’s core, the most fun just being in an open-world game has ever been. It’s not a game that’s going to make you a fan if you didn’t already love the original. It’s probably the last time we’re ever going to see Faith, and it’s let her down in many ways. The industry as a whole needs more franchises like Mirror’s Edge, ones that are willing to take a leap into uncharted territory (you thought I was going for the lazy joke there, didn’t you?) and try something different, even if, as is the case here, it doesn’t quite come off. I hope that someday, Faith will get the game she deserves, and while this may not be it, I’ve got no doubt that we’ll still be running the rooftops together years from now.