Mirror’s Edge Catalyst Review

Heart of Glass.

The city of Glass is beautiful to behold, a monument to minimalist perfection with white buildings, strong primary colours, and an effortlessly futuristic look. Dig beneath this gleaming exterior though, and it’s clear that it’s rotten to the core. It’s utopia to the rich and powerful, but only because they can live off the dreary existence of those below them.

Even the opening few moments, with Faith being released from nearly two years in juvenile detention, show some of that corruption and the dark divide between classes in this culture. It’s the start of a story that cuts a lot deeper than in the original, with Mirror’s Edge Catalyst going further with its themes of totalitarian rule, government surveillance and the underworld that thrives in the shadows. Aside from Faith, almost all of the characters here are new creations for this game, but there’s more than a few nods and winks to characters, relationships and historical events that featured in the original. That said, not every note is struck cleanly, with some characters being rather weak and one dimensional and a few clumsy plot points.

Story was never really the big selling point of Mirror’s Edge, though. This was all about free running across rooftops, full of death defying leaps, and Catalyst loses none of this. There’s a fantastic sense of weight and impact as Faith scrambles up walls, vaults over railings, or tucks and rolls through a landing. Having the left shoulder button and trigger mapped to have Faith go over or under obstacles works just as well as before.

Faith has a few new moves to pick up over the course of the game. She comes out of juvie with more than enough to get around the city’s rooftops, but experience points earned from missions let you unlock the rolling landing, fast 90º and 180º turns, or give you more of an edge in melee combat. However, progressing through the story also sees Faith’s traversal augmented with a wrist mounted grappling hook, the MAG Rope, to swing on or zip line up to specific points in the world. Outside of a few notable moments, it’s used quite sparingly, with the focus still very much on free running, as opposed to Batman-esque freedom.

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The open world is a triumph of design. It’s constantly expanding with new areas for you to run through as you complete story missions, each of which has its own visual identity thanks to the strong colours and tone of the area, but there’s more than enough reason to stay within an area afterwards, with a smattering of side missions, time trials and plenty of collectables. It’s only by doing these that you can start to get a real sense of the environment and start to learn some of the paths that you can take, gaining a sense of familiarity and ingraining the incrementally faster routes that you can take. This is especially true once you’ve unlocked new abilities and tools and you’re given more opportunities to diverge from the Runner’s Vision line.

It’s telling that the game’s speed runs give you a basic route to follow to your goal, but force you to diverge and take often vastly different routes in order to get a three star time. At the same time, a lot of the side missions and optional content have very strict time limits that can be onerous and punish you for minor mistakes, forcing you to learn them by trial and error.

In addition to all the missions and challenges built into the game, there’s a user created content system that lets you create and share a time trial that’s as short or as long as you like, or a ‘Beat L.E.’ that challenges others to reach a certain location. You simply have to reach a point and tap a face button in order to place a new checkpoint, which very simply shows off the breadth to the world design and Faith’s parkour skills.

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It’s an unfortunate side effect of the open world that having the Runner’s Vision turned on is so very necessary. You can can revert to just having certain objects highlighted in red, as from the original game, or turn it off entirely – some self-contained puzzles and missions turn it off by default – but heading to a new part of the city will simply see you getting lost and pausing the game to check where you are all of the time, instead of getting the exhilarating rush of leaping from one rooftop to the next and finding your way through the unknown.

A number of problems do persist throughout the game, and these are similar to those which DICE grappled with in the original Mirror’s Edge. Put simply, the combat threatens to suck the life out of the game every time it rears its head. The whole point of Mirror’s Edge is to keep running, to keep moving and flowing through the area. To that end, any sort of momentum will build a shield that protects you from taking damage, and you can basically run past the vast majority of the guards that you come across, bop them on the side of the head if they block your path, or use the speed of traversal to land single hit takedowns, but there are points where you’re forced to stand and fight.

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Thankfully, these instances are few and far between, but they stick out like a sore thumb when they do appear. Enemies can come at you with batons, pulse guns, SMGs, or be highly trained anti-Runner experts. They are stupid to a fault, often getting caught in indecision over how to get to you, but the tougher enemies take several hits to dispatch. The worst example was the final boss fight, pitting you against two of the toughest enemies in the game. I quite literally ran around in circles for 10 minutes, building up my Focus Shield each time, so that I could risk turning to land a punch and not lose health. This came after a torturous skyscraper ascent with platforms breaking underneath my feet, so that by this point, I actually wished for a gun just to get the fight over and done with.

The Frostbite engine and PlayStation 4 can also struggle to keep up with what DICE are trying to do. It generally runs smoothly at 60 frames per second, but there are hitches as it loads in a new area and some very noticeable pop in – you can run up to a billboard or an NPC and stand there for a good five seconds before the highest detail model or texture is loaded in. Standing still for so long only serves to expose the superficiality of some of the world to you, as though you were never expected to stop running. Those mission givers can endlessly cycle through their phrases every few seconds, and looking down at the streets below reveals some rather amusing traffic patterns, even if they’re much improved on the hilarious state they were in during the beta.

What’s Good:

  • Weighty and satisfying traversal
  • A broad open world that rarely limits you
  • Reboots the story in a new direction
  • Plenty of side missions and the ability to share your own time trials

What’s Bad:

  • Enforced combat sucks the pace and flow from the game
  • Poor final story mission
  • The necessity of having full Runners Vision turned on
  • Light frame rate hitches and graphical pop in

At its best, Mirror’s Edge Catalyst is a joyous flight across the rooftops of a gorgeous city, with a grace that belies the weight and impact of Faith’s movement, but DICE seem to forget this on a few occasions, dragging it down with combat that brings the free running to a halt. It’s a fantastic game at times, but just as with the utopian setting, there are problems that lie breath the surface.

Score: 7/10

Version tested: PlayStation 4

Written by
I'm probably wearing toe shoes, and there's nothing you can do to stop me!

11 Comments

  1. Really nice review and absolutely looking forward to playing it! Loved the beta, and also the original ME, so maybe I’m just struck with runners vision ;)

    Maybe a tiny spoiler alert about the final fight in the review? I’d really like to keep the story and experience fresh.

    • Maybe a tiny spoiler as to the actual nuts and bolts of what happens, but that doesn’t really say much of anything about the direction that DICE have gone when writing a new fiction for the game. All you know is that the fight at the end is proper garbage… and actually, you might enjoy it more if you go in with that presumption.

  2. Had this on preorder for a while, then cancelled it after being part of the closed beta.

    I’m not ruling out a purchase as the original was receiving similarly average scores, yet was one of my favourite titles of last generation. With so much on offer right now though, this can wait.

    I think this is going to be a bargain bin purchase.

  3. By the time I finally play the original I imagine this’ll be on EA Access!

  4. Thanks for the review. I didnt like the first game on PS3 but I really enjoyed the free running in Dying Light so I might get on with this game a bit more now.

    Would you recommend I go back and play the first one before starting this game or is it not really necessary?

    • Head back to get a feel for the controls and if you like the gameplay now, but otherwise no need to do so. It’s a fresh start in terms of story, characters and the world design.

  5. Hoping I can pick it up for peanuts from cex like the original?

  6. Goddamnit, EA(If you did force the issue that is), you had to put combat in. No.

    No.

    Sounds like it’s Mirrors Edge 2. That is good. That’s twice as many mirrors with edges on.

    I had hoped that the combat would not be forced but tis an annoyance. But they delivered. :)

    Unlike erm…… er….

    *insert game that was rather crap here*

    I do hope that ME3 doesn’t include forced combat. Loved the original, even if i did…

    trade it in like an utter moron.

    Sounds like i would enjoy it.

    Guess i’ll add yet another game to the must get list.

    I may need a warehouse at this point. :P

    • To be fair, there were many that wanted ‘better’ combat in the original game, so I kinda see why they included it in the sequel.

      Not sure whether I agree with it or not tbh, but in a game like this it should really be a choice rather than forced I suppose.

      • Good point but it shouldn’t have been forced. I found no issues with the combat, if i recall correctly. Just took time to get used to it and well, it was kinda best to always flee instead of fight.

        Damn, i may have to get ME1 now. damnit, that’s two ME1s on my list. *binge drinks tea to cope with the very minor annoyance*

  7. Thanks for the review, confirms my view after playing the beta.
    I loved the first one, was one of my favourites last-gen, I played it until my hands really hurt, nailing those speed runs, and getting the platinum (of which I’ve only got few).
    But the beta rather ended my excitement, although it’s by no means a bad game. But, for me, it’s nowhere near what the first was back then, and it’s quite difficult to pinpoint why. Maybe I’ll get back to it later.

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