Whilst we’ve spent quite a significant amount of time with both the EA Access version and our review copy of Mirror’s Edge Catalyst, we’d like a little bit more time before publishing our final score and conclusion.
Mirror’s Edge Catalyst effectively reboots the franchise as we are again introduced to Faith, a young woman with a troubled past. Raised away from her parents, Faith spends her life as a Runner, a work for hire messenger that specializes in obtaining and delivering packages in not-so-legal ways. Facing a conglomerate of corporations, Faith and her friends face a threat that threatens to control society.Catalyst is pretty much a simple “people vs the corporate overlords” type of story, though it never becomes enough of an intriguing story that you’ll actually pay attention to. With a plot that never outgrows its ‘corporate overlord’ cliches, the question raised is whether the game is able to lean on its characters. However, the sad reality is the fact that whilst its plot is lackluster and extremely forgettable, its characters share all of the same problems. Faith, for example, has much more of a back story, though her character never really develops in a way that makes the player care about her as a protagonist, which is an issue that extends even further into the supporting cast.
The game ultimately tries to tell a story with good intentions, but its narrative and characters lack so many dynamics to make it memorable. I’m still finding myself questioning what was happening in this narrative, but the plot points and characters motivations (or the lack thereof) left so little of an impression that I felt I had been given little to no relevant information for most of my time with the game.The first Mirror’s Edge wowed many players with its simple, yet incredibly appealing visual presentation that in some ways still holds up to this day. Running on the newest iteration of the Frostbite engine, that also powers franchises such as Battlefield, Need For Speed and several of EA’s other franchises, Catalyst carries the burden of having to improve its presentation enough to have the same effect as its predecessor. The result is a mixed bag, as the game carries a presentation that is both an improvement and a stand-still moment in regards to the first game.Starting with the positive aspects, the art design of the world of Mirror’s Edge Catalyst is simply a visual feast to look at. Sporting an intentionally sterile, yet colorful futuristic design, the city of Glass is quite the visual feast to look at, making traversal throughout the city quite the visual treat to experience. Environments are pretty varied considering the visual tone the game is going for, though the world did seem radically different throughout my run when it came to lighting, which is one of the greatest strengths of the game in my opinion. The only questionable aspect of the world design wasn’t only connected to the actual art design, but the plot itself as well, which is the fact that the city of Glass is pretty devoid of life. For the more linear formula of the first game, it made sense, but the city of Glass in Catalyst often feels like an abandoned dystopia only occupied by a handful of enemies hell-bent on taking down the player.
Up close the experience is a little less refined than you’d expect from a Frostbite title. Details such as jagged edges on objects can be quite apparent up close, which can be especially distracting on highlighted objects throughout the course of the game. Faith’s hands share a similar issue, where the edges of the model seem rather unrefined in comparison to the rest of the game world. These issues seem minor on paper, but considering the up-close nature of Catalyst’s first-person gameplay, these problems are noticed pretty easily. This is accompanied by a strange phenomenon that causes the overall presentation to be quite blurry at times as if there’s some kind of bloom effect going on that’s not quite doing what it’s supposed to.Starting off with the core gameplay of the game, Mirror’s Edge Catalyst is a total refinement of the original when it comes to traversal and combat. Whilst the original game already had a lot of the formula down when it came to fluidity and function, its predecessor has gotten this aspect of its gameplay design down to a science. During the course of the game, I found myself continuously finding enjoyment in doing my own thing and making my way throughout the city on my own terms.However, this is the part where the structure of the game falls apart. Moving on from the linear gameplay of the original, Catalyst moves the player into an open world where the player has the freedom to follow their own routes and explore. However, aside from the added freedom of movement throughout the game, the open world of Glass has a downside that is heavily impacted by its mission design. Many story missions and side objectives are set up in a repetitive manner where the player is tasked with either retrieving or delivering objectives, which makes a lot of the underlying content feel like filler material that is meant to sell the shift to an open world design.
Consisting of 19 main story missions and 9 different types of optional missions, the game often feels more limited in options than you’d expect. Optional objectives like Billboard hacks and Dead drop deliveries often feel like you’re working through an open world checklist, which can become quite tiring after a while considering the structure of many of these missions is incredibly similar.The funny thing about Catalyst is that the game is at it’s best when it’s the most like the original, which is during time trials and the more linear story missions solely focused on traversal for the sake of traversal, which is ultimately the strength that the game forgets it has and tries to needlessly compensate by adding features and dynamics that make the basic premise seem more complicated than it ultimately needs to be.
One of the biggest changes to the gameplay of the franchise is the higher emphasis on combat, which to be fair is handled quite elegantly. Faith has quite an extensive move set when it comes to first person combat, which in many ways is as fluid as the actual traversal mechanics that take the spotlight. Ranging from heavy/light attacks to traversal-based attacks and shifts in movements to avoid attacks, the game offers enough variety to create mechanics that don’t interfere with the core of the game, but strengthen it in multiple aspects. The only downside is that certain combat situations can be quite disorienting when the player needs to dodge multiple attacks, but for one of the most well-executed improvements in the game that is quite a nitpick.
The Xbox One/PC version of Mirror’s Edge Catalyst was primarily tested for the purpose of this review