Review: Mirror’s Edge Catalyst
Before we get started, I should mention that I haven’t played Mirror’s Edge 1. It’s one of those games that I’ve always wanted to play, but never got a chance to. On some level that’s a good thing, as I can approach Mirror’s Edge: Catalyst with a fresh set of eyes. Or maybe I’m just saying that to justify my own ineptitude as a reviewer. Either way, I can tell you that without that much background on the series, I found Mirror’s Edge: Catalyst to be a really fun game.
It’s not easy to create a parkour game in first-person. First-person viewpoints haven’t historically lent themselves to platforming or climbing. But Mirror’s Edge: Catalyst manages to do a great job with the genre and show how it can be implemented brilliantly.
Catalyst opens with a brief introduction to the world we live in: A futuristic dystopia where ‘conglomerates’ rule over everyone. In this dystopia, ‘runners’ are couriers who operate outside the bounds of society, but who are tolerated to some extent. Then, we’re introduced to the protagonist ‘Faith’ after a brief flashback showing her experiencing a childhood trauma that fast-forward to her behind bars. From there, she’s released, and instead of reintegrating into society rejoins her merry band of runners and gets back to the parkour life.
This releases her into a big, open parkour playground that I found to be really well-designed. There are story missions to play through as well as races and delivery runs. Mirror’s Edge has a variety of obstacles to navigate and things to make use of, including ledges, pipes and ziplines. The parkour controls are simple to pick up: There’s a ‘jump’ button (they call it ‘upwards action’) that you use to jump off ledges, a crouch button that you can use to slide under items, and a ‘Shift’ button that lets you accelerate and build ‘focus’ which you use to shield yourself from attacks. Speaking of attacks, Mirror’s Edge does first-person combat surprisingly well. You have light attacks that you can chain together as well as heavy attacks that you can use to knock back enemies. The game’s physics engine is very responsive, and you can knock enemies into each other, kick them over ledges, and hit them with directional attacks that send them crashing into walls. Of course, your focus is on running, so more often than not it’s advisable to resort to flight rather than fight.
Later on, you get new items like a grappling hook, and missions give you upgrade points that let you unlock new moves like quick turns and rolls. By default, Faith has a chip that shows her climbable objects as well as what path to take. The game uses red highlights to indicate things you can crawl under and jump over/on to by default, and it’ll even display red trails to show you what route you can take. Of course, you can turn off these visual guides, and this can make the game much more interesting. The challenge will then become figuring out how to get from one point or another. Once you have the mechanics down, without even using the guide you’ll be able to string together combos of running, jumping, sliding and rolling. And you’ll need these skills, as many of the side missions will require split-second timing to get to the objective. Seriously, some of them verged on ludicrous. One type of sub-mission is the ‘fragile delivery’, where you’re asked by an NPC to deliver a valuable object. The catch is that you can’t break it, so you need to make sure to use the crouch button to break your fall every time (you can quickly unlock a roll mechanic that lets you break your fall and keep your momentum). The timing of these missions is downright brutal; sometimes I’d be about to reach the objective and someone would yell (over here), but I’d run out of time. The good news is, if you like a challenge, Catalyst has you covered.
If that’s not enough for you, the game lets you compete with friend and strangers online through leaderboards, and you can even create running/climbing challenges for people to play. It’s a type of multiplayer I really like, as it lets you interact with others but still play at your own pace.
In terms of story, Catalyst is pretty evidently a sequel, as many characters and concepts are referenced from the get go, and a lot of jargon is used. You get the gist of things pretty soon, though. A fellow named Noah is the head of the runners, and they do shifty jobs for money. Faith seems to owe a lot of cash (called ‘scrip’ here, because futuristic worlds just have to have their jargon) to a crimelord, and she figures out a way to repay her debt and actually strike a blow against the corporate overlords who have created this Brave New World-esque dystopia. Throughout the story, we learn about Faith’s own past, as well as her motivations.
Catalyst has a pretty simple story, but I like that the decision to go against the Conglomerates isn’t as simple as ‘they are the bad guys, we must fight them’; the runners are actually tolerated by the conglomerates but Faith decides to go one step further and actually do something, much to the chagrin of Noah, who wants to keep things on an even keel. We’re also introduced to the pragmatic, calculating crime lord Dogen and the radical Rebecca (makes her sound like a 90’s cartoon character), who have their own motivations. It’s a fairly simple story, and you can kind of see a lot of it coming, but it’s kept light and the characters are pretty diverse and fleshed out. I also really liked the voice acting.
Of course, while the corporations have oppressed everyone, they’ve also managed to create a gorgeous world. Catalyst’s city of glass is astounding, and it’s filled with color and energy. The game is brought to life beautifully through some very smooth graphics that make the reflections vivid and almost lifelike. I’m happy to say that the optimization is really good as well. On PC, I was able to stay in the 60 fps range on high and ultra, though I did notice more drops later in the game, and I had to turn some settings down. If you’d dropped a lot of coin on your GPU, feel free to try ‘hyper’, although my 970 was humbled by the setting and I was unable to achieve playable framerates.
The levels offer a lot of variety, and you’ll find yourself scaling skycrapers, running up construction scaffolding and climbing around offices. Exploring the city is amazing, as you’re constantly finding ways to get across the rooftops and climb higher, and the level design just amazed me with how creative it was.
Mirror’s Edge Catalyst was reviewed using a PC downloadable code of the game provided by EA Games. This review will be updated by Nazih Fares for the console version. The PC version was tested by Mazen Abdallah on a PC running Windows 7 Pro, with a 4GB NVIDIA Geforce GTX 970 fitted on a 4th Generation Intel i7 4790 3.6Ghz CPU and topped with 8GB of RAM. The game is also available on Xbox One and PlayStation 4. We don’t discuss review scores with publishers or developers prior to the review being published
• Smooth, fluid parkour action
• Intuitive and addictive gameplay
• Creative level design
• Great optimization on PC
• Uneven difficulty
• Not much background for newcomers
• Multiplayer mechanic isn’t that developed