I first played Mirror’s Edge in 2009. My friend bought it for PC when it came out and I borrowed it off him a couple of weeks later–this was before the age of Steamworks or Origin activation. Since then, I must’ve played it at least twice a year. It was a short, refreshing campaign that, despite having its fair share of flaws, stood out as an entirely unique experience compared to what else was being released from AAA studios around that time. I challenged myself to complete what I’ve since learnt is known as the “Test of Faith” achievement, in which you finish the game without shooting at an enemy (it’s the way it was meant to be played). It’s one of the very few non-Nintendo games I’d place in a hypothetical top 10 games list. I fell in love with Mirror’s Edge in 2009. For seven years, Mirror’s Edge has helped me through countless tough times and has held a special place in my heart since I first ran across the rooftops of Glass. And, for seven years, I’ve been waiting patiently to see where the franchise would go next. I honestly thought I’d never see the day. But here we are, and Mirror’s Edge has been rebooted–no, it’s not a sequel–as an open-world freerunner, Mirror’s Edge Catalyst.
I intentionally stayed away from every little bit of marketing that EA did for Catalyst. I wanted to go in blank. Literally all I knew about it when I got an email from EA informing me of its impending release was its name. I was a little bit confused for the first fifteen minutes, trying to work out why Faith went to juvie, who this Dogen person was and why Faith seemed to owe him some massive debt. I met Icarus, the stereotypical, angst-ridden, runner, and went on a pretty standard tutorial to refresh the intuitive context-driven “up” and “down” controls that make up the freerunning mechanic (like I needed refreshing).
Then I discovered that Catalyst is set in an open world, a binary opposite from the highly linear pre-determined pathways of its predecessor, and actually started laughing because I began to realise that Catalyst is the game that Mirror’s Edge should’ve been, eight years ago. The vast majority of your time will be spent between the rooftops of Glass and within the higher stories of the buildings, although you will find yourself on the ground from time to time, and not just as a pancake after falling. It all starts off very aesthetically pleasing, but becomes very repetitive very quickly; it’s clever that each of the geographical zones of Glass have a somewhat distinct visual and audio theme, but within these areas it’s common for building after building to get melded together in your brain. Additionally, it’s a little bit disappointing just how not intuitive running around Glass is. It makes sense thematically, but clumps of skyscrapers are broken up into blocks by streets, as they are in real life. Thus, just running towards the objective, while fun and effective to a certain point, resulted in my untimely demise as I willingly leapt off the edge of a building and onto the street below, moving too fast to realise that there was a big gap between where I was and where I had to go.
These issues with free-running could be solved with turning runner’s vision to its highest setting, but on that setting (the default, I might add) it’s somewhat invasive, at least to a fan of the original Mirror’s Edge. On that setting, you see a faint red ghost of Faith run about 2 seconds ahead of where you are, so that you always know exactly what direction you should run. Admittedly, that would fix the issues I have with the big gaps, but then you have the issue that the heavy runner’s vision would break immersion for many. Luckily, there is an option for runner’s vision for the same amount as it was used in Mirror’s Edge, with just red coloured objects showing up every now and then to guide you along your path without being intrusive; however it’s not quite as smooth as maybe it could be–sometimes you’ll see three red things a few in-game metres apart, and other times you’ll be frantically looking for a red object marking the way to go without losing your built-up momentum.
Combat isn’t perfect, but it’s been dramatically improved relative to its predecessor. It can feel clunky at first, but I feel like that is an intended mechanic to emphasise just how poor Faith is against multiple foes, and suggest that the player draw individual opponents aside to take them down one by one. With that in mind, it’s too difficult to draw opponents away from their group, and you’ll often end up running into walls, missing jumps, and generally just fucking up as you’re trying to gracefully bring down enemies. Faith’s inability to use guns is very welcome, however I do miss that playing hand-to-hand only isn’t a choice that you willingly make anymore–but that’s probably just nostalgia talking.
Probably the biggest complaint that people had of Mirror’s Edge was its fairly average plot and character development. I’m pleased to say that Catalyst is a monumental improvement on its predecessor in this respect. Except maybe Icarus and to a lesser extent Nomad, the angsty white boys, every character that you meet throughout the course of Mirror’s Edge Catalyst is interesting, unique, and well-acted. I think that it’s important to highlight the diversity in the female-led cast of Catalyst and how it never feels shoehorned or inorganic, even for a second. I’m not going to detail every character in the game and why I love them, but I want to talk about Plastic. She’s a black, female mastermind hacker with Asperger’s syndrome, and quickly became my favourite video game character in 2016 due to her endearing and clueless personality and unwavering trust in Faith. I mean, Faith herself–an AAA developed game with a woman of colour as the lead character. The relationships between characters are complex and intricate and, despite the lack of sufficient backstory that led me wondering if this was a sequel or reboot (it’s a reboot), the plot in Catalyst is engaging, well-crafted, and more original than it has any right to be.
It’s with a heavy heart that I concede that the city of Glass can come off as a bit soulless at times; at least, more soulless than the city in the original Mirror’s Edge. That’s the atmosphere that the designers were surely going for, I admit, but to me it’s important that an open-world map feels at least somewhat lived-in; it’s the same reason I couldn’t get past the cold, unwelcoming world of Shadow of Mordor. It’s still colourful and beautiful, which is the important thing. Social integration is cleverly done–it’s just simple time trials and races, but that’s really all I’d want out of social content in a Mirror’s Edge game.
Catalyst is a worthy successor to the game I love so much. If just a little more time was spent on making Glass seem less monotonous, and navigating the city was a little more intuitive without having to rely on runner’s vision, Catalyst would’ve been a classic in my eyes. As it stands, Catalyst is an effective and enjoyable proof-of-concept for an open world Mirror’s Edge game, pushing the boundaries on diversity in gaming, and yet I still feel like there’s some missed potential locked away somewhere. The colourful, vibrant, and vivid world of Glass doesn’t have the same weight in 2016, the year of Overwatch, as it did in 2008, the year of Far Cry 2 and CoD: World at War and probably peak brown military shooters. In any case, Catalyst has ensured that I’m happy to wait another 8 years for another Mirror’s Edge game, although I really hope it comes much sooner.
Very Good / Excellent
“Still a solid example of its genre and a highly enjoyable experience. Games rated a 7 undoubtedly have their fair share of issues and criticisms, but still come with a stamp of approval.”
Select Start Media was provided with a review copy of Mirror’s Edge Catalyst for PC.