Mirror's Edge Catalyst Review
The original Mirror's Edge wasn't perfect, but it felt like something new when it released in 2008. The violence-averse platformer had a modern artistic edge and intricately woven levels that offered multiple paths worth exploring. However, its defining characteristic was a first-person camera that let players experience the thrills of urban exploration directly from the protagonist’s perspective. Fast forward to today, and first-person games are more diverse than ever. But Mirror's Edge still feels like an anomaly, seemingly leaving the field wide open for DICE's follow-up. Unfortunately, a sterile open world and excessive backtracking drain Catalyst of the fun found in the original.
Mirror's Edge: Catalyst almost feels like a prequel to the original game, though it’s technically a series reboot. We learn more about the heroine Faith, dive into her family history, and even see how she gets her iconic tattoo, but Catalyst also changes several things about Faith’s story and the world. After being released from prison, Faith returns to her old life of performing burglaries and courier jobs for those with a lot of cash and few morals. After Faith acquires a sensitive piece of software, she blows open a corporate conspiracy that simultaneously uncovers buried secrets from her own past. The cast is full of one-dimensional characters, and even Faith comes across as flat and unlikable at times. The story feels rushed, and a few narrative threads never get tied up before the credits roll.
Unlike the original Mirror's Edge, which played out though a series of linear levels, Catalyst is set within an open world of city rooftops. Like most open-world games, Catalyst is full of time trials, side missions, and other collectable trinkets that make a mess of the map screen. You can even create your own checkpoint courses and time trials in an asynchronous multiplayer element, which then appear in the games of your friends and strangers. Unfortunately, these time trials and most of the rest of the side content feels repetitive and boring. Catalyst's sterile false utopia is also largely unpopulated, and almost every area looks like one you've previously explored.
Not only are your surroundings uninteresting, but the open-world structure doesn't mesh well with Mirror's Edge’s gameplay. A few fast-travel safe houses help mitigate backtracking, but there are only so many ways to leap or climb from one roof to the next, which means you climb the same drainpipes and ladders several dozen times.
Thankfully, some thrilling platforming moments await those who are willing to put up with Catalyst’s antiseptic city of glass. Most of the main story missions take place in separate environments, which feel more like the levels from the first game. One of my favorite moments had me bounding though a construction yard and narrowly avoiding turret fire while sliding under a series of sawhorses and discarded machinery. During another memorable moment, I was forced to leap blindly off a skyscraper and ride a drone down to safety. Finding the right flow through a level is the game’s best selling point. I felt like an Olympic athlete every time I launched off a railing then performed two wall runs that kept my momentum going so I could land on an otherwise unreachable ledge. For the most part, the platforming feels great, and I only experienced a few moments were Faith failed to run across a wall or leapt over something I hadn’t expected.
As Faith completes missions or bests her friends’ time trials, she earns experience that unlocks upgrades within her climbing, gear, and combat experience trees. Most of these are basic improvements like bonus damage to certain enemies or the ability to save momentum by rolling after a big drop. But you also earn new tools, such as a disruptor than can stagger enemies, and a grappling hook that attaches to fixed points to help you swing across large gaps. The grappling hook in particular is a nifty addition that changes up the flow of navigating through the city without making it incredibly easy to get everywhere.
When you perform well, you build up a "runner's shield," which makes it harder for enemies to hit you unless you slow down. I love how this encourages you to keep moving and avoid combat. When I was in the zone, I felt untouchable. Unfortunately, you can't run from all of your problems, and when Catalyst forces you to slow down and engage the enemy, the combat system breaks down. Faith only has a few simple combos which most of the harder enemies can easily counter. If Faith is moving at full speed, she can leap off objects and take out most enemies with a single drop attack, but getting your momentum going when you’re cornered is difficult. I had more than a couple Benny Hill moments, where I led a train of enemies in circles as I tried to build up enough steam to leap into the air and take them out. The game doesn't force players into combat very often, but when it does, I pray for an exit.
Another constant irritation is Catalyst’s navigation system. Like in the first game, objects you can grab are highlighted red, which helps you understand what you can interact with. However, now an additional red ribbon floats through the environment and shows you a path to your next destination. Much of the joy of exploring a space and figuring out how to navigate it is lost when an arrow tells you exactly where to go. You can turn this feature off in one of the menus (which I recommend), but you'll likely want to turn it back on when you get back into the open world, because navigating the city without this tour guide is a chore.
Catalyst contains several exciting platforming moments, but most of them are buried under repetitive world traversal and a mundane metropolis. The original Mirror’s Edge is an overlooked gem from last generation, but even diehard fans will have trouble finding the diamonds in this rough.