Mirror’s Edge Catalyst (2016)

So you already know that I’m a fan of Mirror’s Edge despite the game’s own attempts to cut itself off at the knees. I’ve replayed it and when I found there was going to be another game in the series, I was very excited, given that games like this aren’t really made very often. It was one of the reasons (not the reason, I admit) I bought a PS4. And now, I’ve had a chance to play it.

So I guess I’ve played it, if nothing else.

The game is weird. It bears the hallmarks of the preceding game – clean lines, a world of white and a dedication to chasing the wind and faceplanting – but the developers have tried to broaden the type of game it is, and thrown a bunch of extra stuff in there. Instead of a limited series of locations, Catalyst offers an entire city to besmirch with your falling meat-bits. And along with that, it offers a variety of different tasks – races (both dev- and user-made), delivery missions (races with some framing guff), fragile delivery missions (races with some framing guff about not breaking the MacGuffin you’re delivering), find-the-object challenges, jump-through-the-floating-wotsit moments and billboard capturing runs.

That seems to be a lot of stuff, right? Right. And it feels entirely unnecessary – the sort of thing you’re meant to do when you have a massive world to explore, even if the world isn’t really as open as it seems. The inclusion of all this stuff feels like a misstep, frankly, as the ascetic nature of the original was the draw – now here we have an icon-covered map straight out of an Assassin’s Creed game. And that would be fine, if we weren’t dealing with 3D platforming as a key mechanic.

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If only it were as fun as this looks. 

A key, frustrating mechanic. That makes attempts to beat time-trials or to reach particularly fiendish heights appear more trouble than they’re worth. I hadn’t completed all (or many, to be frank) of the optional missions when I finished the main story, and I can’t see myself going back to do so.

The game does handle movement a little better, and once it gets going there’s a real sense of flow, of speed. But often, tiny missteps mean you’re sent to a loading screen as everything resets. For a game built on repeat attempts to find the perfect way through a series of obstacles, it’s a bummer, and makes the game more frustrating. I think I ended up gritted-teeth playing the game from 2/3 of the way through, just to see it to its end.

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Yeah, so I’m on top of the world. Big whoop. 

One thing that has changed – and not for the better – is the way the player is shown where to go. Objects still turn red, indicating your path, but it’s much more indicated by a trail of digital smoke. And in my playthrough, the fucking smoke had a tendency to lag, or even worse, to drop out completely – not what you want when you’re being shot in the arse by techbro security officers. I get that having more choice about what to pursue means that there’s no way to code a single, right way through the world – but this never seemed to work well for me.

Likewise, there’s a skill section, with points being earned by mission completion and story progression. I didn’t complete my upgrades, and I still completed the game. To be honest, I didn’t notice a hell of a lot of difference to my performance (other than with the health bar upgrade) to my upgrades. There’s other equipment you’ll nab through the story’s progression (a disruptor you’ll never use, and, more helpfully, a grappling hook) which actually have uses but otherwise? Eh.

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Sadly, Faith isn’t able to breakdance her pursuers to death.

It’s just a strange experience. Catalyst is a closed-world game pretending it’s open. There’s a limited amount of places you can go, and the missions have some DICE-approved set-pieces, particularly later in the game, where your action is dictated by transformations in the surrounds. You’re generally teleported into and out of these places, with no real way to return to them later – so the lean towards openness is undermined by the corridor-shooter nature of these sections.

The game’s storyline doesn’t really make a lot of sense. It’s a prequel – we’re dealing with a pre-tattoo Faith Connors – but the family story that’s told doesn’t fit in with what we already know from the original game. There’s also a prequel to this prequel in comic form as well, as loading screens repeatedly informed me – but I am not particularly moved to seek out what it was landed Faith in the starting-scene juvie cell. Faith’s more unlikeable in this game, as is pretty much everyone else. There’s family and faction drama, terrorism and histrionics and death and it all just washes over the player. It’s strangely empty, the words and gestures, a series of interchanges to provide an excuse to parkour-stumble your way through the city.  I didn’t feel particularly positively towards anybody, though in a corrupt technopolis maybe that’s the point. The story only engaged me when I realised it was dicking with what had been established already, which I can imagine isn’t the intention.

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How about nah? Because like everyone else, you’re a massive dick.

I desperately wanted to like this game. I’d been really excited through the development process, and I dug what I’d seen. I’m still glad it was made, because odd IP from a big publisher is a Good Thing. I just wish it hadn’t been so average.

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