I never finished the original Mirror’s Edge, it kind of bored me. Despite loving the free-running nature of it, there wasn’t enough of a complete package to keep me locked in. But following DICE’s announcement that they were returning to the franchise, I was giddy with the anticipation of what a fully supported, and progressed Mirror’s Edge could be. After all, the games industry has advanced a tremendous amount in the 7 years since the original Mirror’s Edge release. Unfortunately, the fluid movement and open world design, isn’t enough to compensate for the stream of intensely dull side content, clunky combat, and incredibly sedate main story. Mirror’s Edge Catalyst struggles to provide meaning for a red and white theme park.
The story of Mirror’s Edge Catalyst follows Faith, a runner who has just escaped Juvie and is reunited with her free-running clan. Faith exists in a world where the corporations control everything, and runners defy that control. Runners, they well… run. They ferry packages across city rooftops, acting as ‘runners for hire’, while at the same time they seek to take down the conglomerate… I guess? To be honest, I have no idea. That’s kind of the issue really, the story is presented so poorly, that except for an expository sentence at the beginning of the game, there is little to no context given for the state of the world and the motives of its actors. Most of the story hones in on Faith’s life, her family and her connection with certain characters in the game.
Now let me tell you a little something about horrendous character development. Every new person introduced into the story, including Faith, is numbingly one-note and cliché. There is the arrogant guy you don’t get along with at first, the father-figure, the evil bad, the weird hacker girl, and the violent person seeking the same goal as you through the wrong means. Not one of these characters has any meaningful progression, and are primarily there just to serve up plot points and fill the room. One character in particular, is so poorly written that I don’t actually know what kind of influence the writers intended for him to have on Faith. Throughout the narrative, he went from threatening her, to feeling sorry and showing some sort of humanity, back to threatening again, and then to inspire her at the end of the game not to give up.
Additionally, the late-game plot twist was revealed in such a poor way with little to no build up that I was left thinking: ‘wait, was that the twist?’. Even the audio-logs, which had at least some potential to provide context for the world, also fall flat. In the end, they just amount to a bunch of boring conversations between random workers that lack personality, or any interest in the world to care for their story. All these issues, coupled with an incredibly unfulfilling ending, make the story of Mirror’s Edge Catalyst an intensely forgettable experience.
However, it is clear that the movement gameplay and world design received the most attention in development. The implementation of free-running is fluid and satisfying; while maintaining enough momentum as you parkour around rooftops with relative ease, makes you feel like a pro. The transformation of the City of Glass into an open world map works, and it is noticeable that a lot of effort went into designing the links between buildings, and providing multiple avenues to traverse the skyline. Although, I couldn’t help but feel unimpressed by the game’s appearance. The sterile and colourless buildings make sense from a gameplay perspective, but not enough of the districts diversify from a similar look and feel; aside from a select few story missions, and the swap in lighting from the day-night cycle, I was left fairly disappointed.
Faith also has ‘runner vision’, a waypoint system that highlights an effective path for the player to traverse and arrive at their objective. The problem with this is that you become over-reliant on a stupid squiggly line, and as soon as it disappears, you immediately feel lost. Often the map doesn’t telegraph well enough what paths lead to dead ends or high falls, resulting in accidentally leaping to my death on a few occasions. It just isn’t a simple case of looking towards your objective, and running. Perhaps if I began the game without runner vision activated (an option you can choose to disable), my mind would have adjusted to the map, but as it stands, I wouldn’t advise it. Navigating the world without that damn red line is so intimidating that eventually you just succumb to its orders, never straying off the path in fear of another loading screen.
“The implementation of free-running is fluid and satisfying; while maintaining enough momentum as you parkour around rooftops with relative ease, makes you feel like a pro.”
The player’s free-running capabilities also tie into the game’s combat mechanics. The longer the player free-runs without interruption, the more Faith builds up her ‘force shield’, which lets you dodge bullets, but depletes with every shot taken. If you can maintain a smooth glide across the environment, you will keep your shield bolstered and avoid being shot. The mechanic works well, and it is incredibly satisfying to feel like your performance as a runner is feeding into your ability to shake off enemies.
Though the free-running is the most engaging aspect of the game, sometimes the mission will force you into combat scenarios. This is when things get pretty clunky. Basically, you have a light and heavy attack at your disposal, and you can direct which way the heavy attack knocks them. You can also perform even stronger attacks to one-hit opponents with any form of momentum, such as leaping off ledges. When you’re just fighting one or two enemies at a time, it can feel pretty satisfying; the animations work well, and you look like a badass.
On the other hand, there are many times in which the game lobs four or more enemies of a few different types, that need to be dealt with differently. These scenarios become a huge matter of frustration, as the overall awkward feel of the combat shines through. Enemies stack up, fail to get properly staggered, or when you make a move, you get stuck in a chain of attacks from multiple enemies. In the end, I resorted to just climbing onto ledges, and jump kicking over and over, or; I just entered a boring routine of dodge, kick, dodge, kick.
The combat improves slightly with better ability unlocks, which also enhance your movement. But they don’t add enough flavour to the encounters to differentiate them from the tactics used at the beginning of the game. In fact, the unlocks seem very tacked on, with most of them providing passive health, damage, or shield upgrades. Indeed, all the meaningful upgrades to free-running are unlocked through completing main story missions, and all of them are just variations on the grapple hook. Getting the new tools are interesting, but they don’t get much use in the open world; they are in a large part ignored once you get out of a few select missions.
Aside from story missions, players will receive XP to level up from any of the multitude of side activities or collectibles to complete. Almost all of these objectives lack any variety, most of them are just different variations on time trials or delivering a package. Those that don’t, just have you engaging in more frustrating combat and then force you to lose the heat.
If you’re that invested in the free-running aspect of the game, you might get a kick out of beating your high scores, and finding the best route to the objectives. But for me, it got very old, very fast. Oh, you can also customise your own insignia, which appear plastered across billboards (littered throughout the city) that you hack. There was one set of side missions I enjoyed; ‘hacking the grid’ to unlock safe houses and fast travel points is fairly enjoyable. Essentially, you climb a big server room with a lot of lasers blocking your way, and there are sets of climbable objects to help you get to the top. They are pretty short puzzles that are fun to figure out and complete.
“If you’re that invested in the free-running aspect of the game, you might get a kick out of beating your high scores, and finding the best route to objectives. But for me, it got very old, very fast.”
Lastly, having a negative impact on my review are the PC performance issues. If you’ve been searching around the internet, you most likely noticed there are some pretty significant shortcomings with the game’s release on PC. Primarily, there is a rather large cutscene stutter issue. Despite the game running quite smoothly outside of these scenes, you will enter one which will for whatever reason, be running at a much choppier framerate. Overtime, the stutter will desync the audio, which will be occurring seconds before the action takes place on screen. Not that the game’s story is particularly engaging, but I’d at least have liked to experience it as intended. Stutter can also occur in the game despite graphical settings. i run a GTX970, Quad Core i7 2600k, and a 250GB SSD. PC world did a good piece on the issues which you can find by clicking on this magical link here.
It must seem like I hate Mirror’s Edge Catalyst, and granted, I haven’t flattered it with much praise. But the free-running works. Choosing not to fast travel, and instead skirting along the rooftops is the most enjoyable aspect of the game. Reaching soaring heights, and maintaining the flow of movement as you scale some of the designed mission areas is the ideal experience DICE had in mind. Sadly, too often do you find yourself in cramped spaces, forced to engage in awkward, and just plain un-fun combat encounters. It’s a game that fails to engage its players in any meaningful narrative, and over saturates the world with tedious and repetitive side missions. Mirror’s Edge Catalyst falls short of the potential promised after 7 years to get it right.