Mirror’s Edge Catalyst has a lot to prove. It’s the series’ first attempt at capturing an open world and features no usable guns, a formula that I’ve never seen attempted by a big-budget title. In some ways, the game makes the transition from controlled corridors to a wide-open hub world flawlessly. Running and jumping between rooftops is as fun as it was when the original Mirror’s Edge launched in 2008, but anytime Catalyst strays away from that core mechanic, the game quickly becomes downright annoying, and at times actively unfun.
Catalyst serves as an origin story for parkour-master and runner Faith, which is a shame, because she is one of the least interesting people in the game. Flashes of her past are told in still images between missions, and provide almost no context to Faith’s actions other than telling you of her problematic youth. These scenes provide little to no context for Faith’s absurdly flexible morals that allow her to work for basically anyone in the city without explanation. One such turn includes siding with a literal terrorist in exchange for safety, but it’s never quite clear why Faith needs protection specifically—especially since her new boss repeatedly sends her on increasingly dangerous missions. Another has her side with a crime lord to whom she owes money, once again for unclear reasons. When you boil down Catalyst‘s story, it’s an uninspired one about a loose cannon agent operating outside of the law in order to achieve a goal that doesn’t become clear until more than halfway through the game.
One of the stars of Mirror’s Edge Catalyst is its setting, a city called Glass. The place is, for the most part, stylistically gorgeous. Setting waypoints on your map and bouncing from objective to objective, meeting with couriers and quest-givers invokes the same style of exploration that you would expect in most any open-world title. However, I could never get a good feel for the size of the world. Every building is a rectangle adorned with glass and some shade of white, making it difficult to discern one area from another, and even though there are a few recognizable landmarks, knowing where one is in relation to another is almost impossible.
Faith has many tools, both new and old, that aid her in her quest to save Glass. Runner Vision returns from the first game as a computerized contact lens that provides a red line tracing the path to your destination, turning objects suitable for parkour red. A grappling hook is added to her repertoire, but it serves more as a traversal device, unlocking certain areas as you gain more abilities through a skill tree, rather than an excuse for Faith to swing her way through the city a la Spider-Man.
At first glance, gating your progress behind a skill tree seems bothersome, but the progression felt natural, and I was able to unlock abilities as I needed them. You’ll feel properly decked out within the first few hours of play, but the quick introduction of each element does beg the question of why skills are gated behind unlocks in the first place, especially since some traversal skills can’t be earned until after completing a specific story mission.
Once you’ve got a mastery of Faith’s parkour skills, it doesn’t take long before it becomes obvious that Mirror’s Edge Catalyst works best when it’s in motion. Jumping from building to building in order to explore the game’s open world, slide-tackling foes in order to get from point A to point B, is what Catalyst does best, and there’s plenty of this present. However, the moment you stop and look at any aspect of the game, you start to notice just how frayed its edges are. Massive building textures can sometimes take 30 seconds to load in, drones and falling debris play out at an absurdly low framerate even when they are just feet from your face, and low-res detail on the roads and cars below skyscrapers are just a few of the technical hang-ups that immediately become noticeable once you stop to smell the roses.
Another aspect of Mirror’s Edge Catalyst that performs poorly under a microscope is the enemy AI. My main method of taking down any combatant was leading them to the edge of a building—which they were usually very keen on doing—and kicking them in the head, causing them to comically stagger off of said building. I also witnessed multiple enemies who, presumably tired of working for the soulless Conglomerate, decided to end it all and run directly off of rooftops while chasing after Faith. Luckily, the game actively encourages you to ignore foes, as running recharges Faith’s Focus Shield, which allows her to dodge bullets.
The Focus Shield won’t save you in every situation, however, since Mirror’s Edge Catalyst has several unbearable forced combat sections. One particular engagement is set in a closed area, and after a few failed attempts, I realized that repeatedly leading enemies to a small ledge, kicking them off of it, and performing a leap attack on them made the battle manageable, but far from fun. After falling on top of a dozen or so gun-toting enemies, a style of combat that felt more like Space Invaders than Mirror’s Edge, an elite enemy, the Sentinel, appeared, seemingly sporting many of the same parkour skills as Faith. Was the key to taking down this foe besting him at daring rooftop ascension that only Faith, a seasoned runner, can? No, his weakness was more repeated kicks to the head.
Without a doubt, Mirror’s Edge Catalyst‘s has the worst final stage of any major current-gen game that I’ve played. It’s a glitchy mess that ends with an unceremonious and anti-climactic boss fight in a tightly packed, poorly lit room that feels exactly like every other forced fight in the game, but somehow more frustrating.
Besides the campaign, Mirror’s Edge Catalyst also has a couple of options for players to build their own courses. One allows players to drop checkpoints as they run through the prebuilt city, laying out a path for others to follow in the future. Another multiplayer mode lets players place “beats,” which requires others to reach a specific point on the map without any time restrictions. Neither of these tools empower the player to create anything much more impressive than simple checkpoint missions, but the free running that they offered were a welcome change of pace when hopping from mission to mission.
Though there are many parts of Mirror’s Edge Catalyst that fail, when it manages to fire on all cylinders, the game works quite well. However, those moments are separated by dull stretches, frustrating bits that detract from the game’s greatest assets in order to focus on fighting and story conflicts, neither of which I cared about. I’ve dreamed about the many possibilities a next-gen, open-world Mirror’s Edge title could bring since Catalyst was announced back in 2015, but I never thought the end result would be so limiting.
Mirror's Edge Catalyst has a strong core built by its movement system, but when it comes time to do anything else than run from point A to point B, you'll probably be more inclined to run away.
T – Teen
|Mirror’s Edge Catalyst is available on Xbox One, PS4, and PC. Primary version reviewed was for Xbox One. Review code was provided by EA for the benefit of this review. EGM reviews games on a scale of one to five stars.|