Review: Mirrors Edge Catalyst – Stumbling Over Rooftops.

Mirrors Edge Catalyst is the sequel to the cult hit Mirrors Edge, which was released in 2008 on the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3. The original was well received, obtained great reviews over-all, and was praised for its unique gameplay. The sequel looked to build on the original by lengthening the campaign, and moving to an open world environment. The fans have been shouting for this sequel for years, and now that it’s finally upon us, will it soar to new heights, or stumble and fall from the expectations?

Catalyst starts with your character, Faith Connors, being released from Juvie. We don’t know why she’s there, and the only hint given is the frequently advertised Exordium comic book that provides a quick backstory. This is a trend that is becoming more and more popular with games, and is starting to wear out its welcome. It doesn’t take Faith long at all to fall back in with the Runners, a group of messengers/rebels that stick to the roof tops of Glass City, defying the Conglomerate. The Conglomerate is an oppressive regime led by a man named Kruger, and is made up of the rich only referred to as “The Family’s”. Kruger’s main goal is total conformity, and constant connectivity with everyone in the city……so in other words, they are the Borg. As you progress through the game, Faith continues to annoy the Conglomerate, works to uncover some of Kruger’s nasty secrets, and to thwart his evil plans.

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Having never played to original game, I was able to go into this installment with zero expectations on what I believed it should be. That being said, I was still disappointed. Catalyst’s story is lackluster and hard to follow due to its poor delivery. With the exception of the cinematics, the visuals are pretty ugly and felt as if the entire world was built in a user map editor. The free running did have some really fun moments, but was mostly frustrating due to the sometimes unresponsive controls, and cheap deaths. The community aspect of this game is really nice, with things like being able to create your own time trials, and tagging billboards that will show up in a friend’s game. The combat system is one note, and not fun at all, and the majority of the supporting characters are lacking just that….character.

In the beginning, most of the side missions are way too difficult to complete until certain movement upgrades are unlocked further on in the game. There was no scaling as you went, challenges that were available from the start were built with the expectation of having skills and equipment that had not yet been obtained. This led to a lot of frustration, and the eventual abandonment of these challenges/side missions.

The meat of this game is obviously the free running. Once you got the hang of the controls, and got on a role, it could be a blast. It was very satisfying to take a leap of faith (see what I did there) from a high rise, landing in a role, continuing to a wall run, making a 90 degree turn, and jumping to a pole only to swing onto yet another platform. The problem was, these moments were way too far and few in between. Due to unresponsive controls and overly picky parkour mechanics and timing, suicide became a very common occurrence. There are no instant respawns after dying, which will be A LOT. Instead you are treated to a loading screen after every plummet, and when doing things like delivery missions (delivering a package from point A to B) the entire run must be started over again. For a game that seems to concentrate on fluidity, there was certainly a lot of ways to make the ride extra bumpy. The constant state of dying, and long load times continuously took me out of the experience, leaving me more and more frustrated with every suicide.

As I progressed through the game, I started to care less and less about the narrative. Having never played the original, I was not up to date on the story, which the developers did nothing to alleviate me from. All of the supporting characters were for the most part very dry and uninteresting, and EA DICE failed to establish an emotional connection from the player to them. The most interesting character in the game was actually a sassy little robot named Kuma, who only had a few moments of screen time. From time to time, Faith would dream of a tragic event in her childhood that is now the driving force behind her actions. These bits are delivered to the player in still images with dialogue in the background. Moments like these were when I was most engaged and interested in our protagonist, it’s just a shame that the rest of the game failed to deliver those same feelings. The story is delivered mostly in the form of constant chatter while you’re trying to do your parkour thing. I really struggled to listen during these segments because I was so concentrated on preventing my own suicide, furthermore, the dialogue came through really quiet (even with the audio options at their max) with a radio static that only achieved in furthering that difficulty. All these factors, mixed with the story just being dumb, led to my completely impartial view towards the events unfolding in front of me.

Where the gameplay shines most is away from the open world and in more concentrated areas that felt better designed for parkour. In these areas, there were fewer irritating deaths, and respawns would place me right back where I fell from. More than once, Faith is sent up to some sort of high rise, and the game did a good job of making me feel that height. The highpoint (literally) of one of these moments was in the last stretch of the game, when you’re scaling the tallest building in Glass City. Having to tight rope balance above over a hundred stories high, while feeling the wind try to blow you off was exhilarating. Follow that with being thrown into the air by an enormous external fan blade, hurtling Faith towards a giant glass window, and you’ve got a great ‘WOW’ moment.

The visuals were somewhat bland and unappealing, with iffy characters models, and a tasteless environment. DICE seemed to be aiming at this theme of conformity, with the overabundance of white, and smooth textures, but unfortunately it comes across as ugly and boring. The entire world feels like it was built in some kind of user map editor. Every so often, vibrant colors were mixed in that contrast the ever present white (like bright orange, purple, and green), but it wasn’t enough to make the surroundings interesting or unique. Even with the low key visuals, more than once I noticed landmarks, or objects in the environment popping into sight only after I started to approach them, which once again took away from the fluidity that this game really needed to rely upon. If there was one thing that the visuals had going for them was the cinematics. These scenes were rendered beautifully and were mesmerizing, which achieved (if only briefly) sucking me into the story at a deeper level.

The combat system was one of the most disappointing things about this game. There was no block, reversal, or disarm mechanic. The only thing I could do was punch, kick, and try to avoid my opponent’s attacks. You could mix it up a bit by jumping off structures or walls to perform more powerful attacks, but it did little to stir up any kind of excitement during these encounters. There are only 5 different combatant types (two of which are basically the same, with only extra armor being the difference), and within those types, there was absolutely no character differences. For example, all of the “Protector” variants looked identical to each other. This seems like lazy programming considering the lack of variety in enemy types.Mirrors-Edge-Catalyst-E3-2015

The upgrade system was about as standard as it gets. Experience points are earned by completing three different activities…… finishing main missions, side missions, or collecting XP orbs that are scattered around the world. Every 1000 experience points earned, rewards you with an upgrade point, which can be applied to 1 of 3 areas….Movement, Combat, and Gear. There was no excitement or gleeful anticipation at unlocking any of these skills, for other than a few movement upgrades that slightly sped up Faiths ability to get around, there were no game changing elements. The combat upgrades increased your damage dealt and max HP, but nothing like new takedowns, reversals, or disarms. This further decreases the drive to complete any side quests to farm XP because the few useful upgrades are obtained early on.

The only things that could be customized were your runner’s echo (a digital looking version of Faith used to demonstrate certain routes to be taken), and your runner’s tag emblem, which appeared next to your Gamertag on leaderboards. Even with this very low form of customization, the tag itself cannot be changed in game, but instead customized on the Mirror’s Edge website or companion app. Why is this even a thing? There is absolutely no reason to separate this from an in-game mechanic, and because of its separation, the majority of players will never take advantage of the tag, effectively cutting their already extremely limited customizing options by 50%.

It should be mentioned that there are no boss battles in this game, even for the final confrontation. Instead of fighting the main antagonist Kruger, the man Faith’s been waiting to take on the entire game, I was treated to two Sentinels (the most difficult of the 5 enemy variants). On top of that, I’m thrown into a room with nothing in it to take advantage of Faiths parkour skills, which devolved the gameplay into running around in a circle, sneaking in a hit whenever I could. After you’ve dispatched the Sentinels, the rest of the Finale plays out in a lengthy cinematic (with the exception of one last quick run) that I can’t help thinking would have been a lot more fun to play instead of watch. The story comes to an unsatisfying end that was supposed to leave me wanting more, and anticipating the sequel, but instead all I felt was relief that the games story had finally come to an end.

Verdict:

Even with my tempered expectations, Mirrors Edge Catalyst disappointed on almost all fronts. Although there was some fun to be had with the free running, it’s somewhat unresponsive controls and picky mechanics mostly robbed me from that experience, and became extremely tedious halfway through the campaign. The visuals felt dated for this day and age, with the exception of the cinematics, and I experienced more than a few glitches (one of which was game crashing). The combat was more of a chore than a joy, and the lack of a compelling narrative, the poor delivery, and uninteresting characters kept me disengaged and indifferent to the games story.

 

Final Score – 6.5 out of 10

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