After a wait of around 9 years, Mirror’s Edge: Catalyst has arrived to the glee of the cult following it had accumulated in that time. With this new iteration, the developers have proven that they’re prepared to listen to fan outcry. Especially on very particular improvements. They have opened up Faith’s world as an open world experience. They’ve also gotten rid of the previously clunky weapon mechanics and improved hand-to-hand combat. The City of Glass is fairly large with plenty of activities to do. However, in this long awaited game, Dice’s refreshed delivery of Mirror’s Edge will likely end up disappointing you. Unfortunately leaving you relieved to see the credits roll.
Avg Game Length: 8.5 hrs
For what it’s worth, the City of Glass is an interesting depiction of the future. The original 2007 game hinted at ‘Big Brother’ societal oppression but never quite exposed us to it properly. This time around, the world in which Faith lives enjoys far more exposure. It wastes no time letting us know ‘how things are supposed to work’. We see this as she’s released from prison at the start of the game and commanded to “find employment within fourteen days”.
We soon learn that regular people in this society are known as ‘the employ’. These guys are hooked up to The Grid, allowing for the Conglomerate of Corporations to keep a close eye on them. As well as govern with total security. Of course, these people are blind to the freedom of thought they could enjoy. That is, if they were illegally off The Grid, becoming known as ‘leeches’. Interestingly, we have a game world that is both a utopia and a dystopia all at the same time. For Dice to attempt to effectively explain this kind of society was a tricky task. Which they have achieved in some small part but mostly squandered it with a totally forgettable story
Try To Have Faith In Mirror’s Edge
The story in Mirror’s Edge: Catalyst feels totally uninspired. What was supposed to be Faith’s origins story sets her up as a rebel in a war. She is vandalizing and stealing as she hops from place to place. The many runs that she gets sent on basically turn the game into Homefront: The Revolution but with free running instead of guns.
Aside from the cut scenes, we get the most out of the story from dialogue during gameplay and secret recordings. Not only would this be an inherent issue due to the concentration required not to plummet to to your death. But all this dialogue is somehow set at too low a volume to really hear.
After playing for about two hours, so much will have already been missed that apathy sets in for any stories the game has to tell. There are twists to be had here and there but, like the majority of the game, they are poorly presented and have little impact when they drop.
Cool Futuristic Characters? Nope
Adding insult to injury, the story’s characters are paper thin. There’s never an established investment in any of them, including Faith. There is barely any emotion in anything she says, making the low volume dialogue issue even more of a problem. Most of the characters encountered just end up being unlike-able a**holes. Even Faith’s friends end up yelling at her at some point. This wears thin pretty quickly.
Sadly, it leads to character deaths not having any impact at all. The writers for this game have done a fairly decent job in creating conversations that expose Faith’s past. However, they have also failed to realise that clobbering their audience over the head with arguments does not make for effective drama or storytelling. Mirror’s Edge: Catalyst ends up feeling a little washed up as a result.
Runs… So Many Runs
It also feels like we’re being clobbered over the head with certain environments too. There are many areas to explore in the city. Yet, with only one or two routes into each district, you’ll often find yourself running along the same old tired routes over and over again. The monotony of having to do this is made worse by the fact that your move set is almost identical to what you got in the original. The only new things are a grapple gun (that can only be used is specific areas, like the rope arrows in Thief) and poles that allow you to swing around corners. Seriously. Only some moves from the original are available from the start. So you’ll have to run these tired areas in side missions to earn the XP needed to land-roll or do a quick turnaround.
This presents another problem as you’ll have to cherry-pick which delivery runs you do to start with as a majority of them will be impossible. That is, without the added speed the land-roll crucially offers. This means many players will waste numerous attempts on something that they will not be able to finish. No matter how flawless their run may be. This was a developer oversight as the option to do these impossible runs should not have been made available to the player until leveled up to standard.
When It Works, It Works
The free running mechanics are at their best when Faith has to navigate her way through lasers up an environment-puzzle tower (best way to describe it, really). These bits feel like Portal without the portals. The most functional part of this game is the free running mechanics but they were already sat on a silver platter from the previous game.
Yet, good mechanics on this aspect won’t stop you from smacking into glass walls that look like an avenue. Or falling down holes that you would only know were there by…well, falling into them. This is the inherent problem with the City of Glass – ‘is that a wall or a corridor?’, you’ll mutter before deciding to just go for it. Plummeting to your death, usually.
Mirror’s Edge: Catalyst’s Use Of The Frostbite Engine Will Save The Day, Surely?
It’s safe to say that we were all excited for what this game had to offer graphically, with the fantastic Frostbite 3 engine. Sadly, the fantastically rendered Battlefield engine was just not enough to save Mirror’s Edge: Catalyst. At the very least, we could have enjoyed some eye candy. Textures are muddy and soft. Frame rate issues abound (especially in cutscenes, going out of sync sometimes!) and NPCs look like they’re from the last generation.
The problem that Dice had to face was spreading the power of the Frostbite engine across a huge open world. Instead of condensing it into separately loaded linear sequences as seen in Battlefront. Suffice it to say, this turned out to be too ambitious a task. Visually, the game suffers for it. In hindsight, it makes the release trailer (mostly pre-rendered cutscenes, you’ll notice) seem quite dishonest.
Breathing A Sigh Of Relief, The Credits Rolled And I Was Tired
To wrap up, Mirror’s Edge: Catalyst is slightly better than the ’07 release. As I said, the developers have done everything that was asked of them. Unlike many negative reviews, I feel like the developers can’t be blamed for the failings of this game. They bit off more than they could chew. The power of the Frostbite engine held them back in order to release on consoles. The game closes, leaving us with the impression that it intends on a sequel that I don’t believe it deserves. Here’s hoping that if a sequel does happen, the Dice team goes back to the drawing board.