Video Games Review: Mirror’s Edge Catalyst (PS4, 2016)

The fact that Mirror’s Edge Catalyst exists at all is a minor miracle. When the original Mirror’s Edge released in 2008, it sank like a stone in the sales charts. Despite clunky combat and some glaring clipping issues, it still managed to amass a small fan base who enjoyed its willingness to try something new. Can Catalyst give the series a new lease on life?

Mirror’s Edge Catalyst presents the sort of dystopic future city you don’t often see in science fiction — bright, filled with vibrant colours and tastefully designed skyscrapers made of glass. This veneer of sophistication and modernity is only surface-deep however, with an underclass ruled by corporate bullies. One false move and you’ll end up on the wrong end of a nightstick.

Series heroine Faith is a runner, a kind of freelance courier-cum-burglar that allows the small but growing resistance to communicate off-the-grid and away from prying corporate eyes. The game begins with Faith’s release from prison, fresh from a few years behind bars. She is back on the streets for quite literally a few seconds before she is off the grid and running for her life once more.

Mirror’s Edge Catalyst doesn’t spend a lot of time on Faith, her story or any of the people she interacts with. They’re less characters and more a series of reasons to parkour recklessly around the city rooftops. While the story the game is trying to tell is little more than fluff, what it offers in terms of gameplay is a lot of fun. There are numerous story missions that see you accomplishing incredible feats, sprinting frantically for your life and looking for a way out.

The design of the game’s open-world city is clean and very easy on the eyes. As mentioned previously, despite its unseemly Orwellian underbelly, everything looks bright, hopeful and energetic on the surface. The game isn’t locked at 60fps, but the dips aren’t frequent and are often hard to notice when they do occur.

A significant part of the game’s charm is stringing together a route to your objective by vaulting over walls, sliding under pipes and wallrunning to catch high-up ledges. You can use Runner Vision, a mechanic from the previous game, to help identify the way forward or you can turn it off. While leaving it on allowed me to maintain a pretty frenetic pace at all times, turning it off brought my momentum to a halt. I would continually stop-and-start because it isn’t always clear where you’re supposed to go next.

It wouldn’t be an action-adventure game made in the year of our lord 2016 without an at-times superfluous upgrade tree and Mirror’s Edge Catalyst doesn’t disappoint. Various upgrades can be used to make Faith a better, more efficient Runner but there are some moves, like rolling, that seem like Faith ought to simply know them anyway. A few new items have also been included to shake up traversal, most notably the Mag Rope, a grappling hook that allows players to swing around particular parts of the environment to clear yawning chasms or to haul Faith upwards into areas that had previously been unreachable.

One of the biggest drawbacks for the original Mirror’s Edge was its combat. Mirror’s Edge Catalyst has attempted to right the ship in this respect by removing gunplay from the game entirely. It’s a step in the right direction, however the melee combat that remains still doesn’t feel especially good. new moves have been implemented to try and keep things interesting — dodges and environment kills for instance — but there’s no crunch to it. Punches and kicks, given or taken, don’t really feel like they have any force behind them. It’s quite odd to find yourself in a fist fight and have it feel a bit dull.

Having said that, on those occasions where the combat mechanics pull their socks up and work as intended, it can be pretty fun. These moments come not when you’re trying to drop a bunch of goons in order to move forward but when momentum is key. Charging through an area, dispatching enemies in single, savage hits without stopping is one facet of combat I wish had had a greater focus. I liken this to getting combat right in a Spider-man game — Faith shouldn’t ever be in a position where she has to be a brawler, she should be about lightning fast movement and harassment, always.

Another small mercy is that, when tallied against everything else in the game, combat is representative of a pretty small percentage of the game. DICE clearly knew it wasn’t their strong suit here and they’ve scaled it back accordingly, something for which I am thankful.

The far greater focus has been on traversal, the act of finding your way around the open-world city and seeking out faster routes in order to shave all-important seconds off your transit time. While the game does give you fast-travel points as you progress, I rarely found myself using them because it was just more fun scampering from place to place.

The move to an open world is a smart one. Mirror’s Edge Catalyst has a red hot go at building on the mechanics laid out in the original game. In some cases, it has learned from the mistakes of the original and in other respects, it is still learning. Like its leading lady, Mirror’s Edge Catalyst‘s best moments are those when it is allowed to build momentum. It occasionally trips over itself with dull combat and some uninspired mission design, but it never holds you up for long.

Score: 7.0 out of 10
Highlights: Free-running is great; Immaculate art design
Lowlights: Story and combat both rather uninspired
Developer: DICE
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Release Date: June 7, 2016
Platforms: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Windows PC

Reviewed on PlayStation 4.