Review: Mirror’s Edge Catalyst (PS4)

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Title: Mirror’s Edge Catalyst
Format: Blu-ray Disc / PlayStation Network Download (17.4 GB)
Release Date: June 7, 2016
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Developer: EA DICE
Original MSRP: $59.99
ESRB Rating: T
Mirror’s Edge Catalyst is also available on Xbox One and PC.
The PlayStation 4 download version was used for this review.
A copy of this game was provided by the publisher for review purposes.
PS Nation Review Policy

Mirror’s Edge gained a cult following on PlayStation 3 thanks to its unique gameplay. In an era dominated by gritty shooters (often labelled as “visceral”), DICE created a bright, fresh parkour game.

Taking control of Faith, a ‘Runner’, players were tasked with jumping between rooftops and vaulting over obstacles at a frenetic pace. Most importantly, it was in an immersive first-person perspective.

Eight years on, DICE have decides to traverse the skyscrapers of the City of Glass once again, with Mirror’s Edge Catalyst. Like their first attempt, the basic gameplay of this PlayStation 4 effort is enthralling, but the overall package is far from perfect.

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Gameplay:
Catalyst is a reboot, and as such doesn’t require knowledge of the original game. The story largely features the same main characters, including protagonist Faith, but with a new plot.

“We really put a lot more emphasis into developing a rich story, starting with the characters,” DICE say. It’s disheartening, then, that Catalyst’s narrative is as unimaginative and forgetful as Mirror’s Edge.

It certainly isn’t awful; the story makes sense, stitches missions together adequately and has cut-scenes of perfect length. But, it will not live long in the memory.

Indeed, this is an increasingly generic tale of oppression in a dystopian future, with vigilantes aiming to rebel against the ‘Conglomerate’ which runs the city. The plot points are predictable, while the uninspired cast of Runners and enemies fail to develop a deep engagement.

… an unrivalled thrill when chaining together jumps …
Thankfully, the core gameplay makes up for that with aplomb. Quite simply, Catalyst is a spectacular experience at full throttle.

The controls are flawlessly responsive. There’s an ‘easy to pick up, difficult to master’ feeling and while combos are relatively easy to pull off, they’re still very satisfying and add layers of depth to the gameplay towards the story’s end.

L1 controls jumping, L2 breaks Faith’s fall, plus the sticks are obviously used for movement and camera adjustment. Simple but effective. There is some nuance to the play via the length of hold on L1, but traversing the rooftops in Catalyst primarily relies on good timing and judgement.

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Generous checkpoints are on hand for when those jumps go wrong, which eliminates any potential frustration. Extra abilities – such as a roll when landing or extra stamina – are upgradable through earning XP, which is then used in the well-worked skill tree system.

Momentum is still key to the hook of Mirror’s Edge – the series offers an unrivalled thrill when chaining together jumps, wall runs and slides at high speeds. DICE’s first-person formula for Faith’s movement is a true joy to experience, and ultimately the only major reason to play Catalyst.

… one can venture off the beaten track …
Catalyst’s gameplay benefits from strong level design which never frustrates, in what is essentially an elaborate platformer. In this second attempt, DICE have elected to make the game open-world, which is a welcome move.

Unlike some of its contemporaries, Catalyst doesn’t overwhelm you with hundreds of missions in a sandbox, though. Instead, it smartly funnels the player into completing the main story as efficiently as possible, before exploring the city later.

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Of course, one can venture off the beaten track (or, in this case, window ledges and staircases) at any point, but the in-game markers always direct players to the next mission unless they specifically choose otherwise.

Those markers, like in Mirror’s Edge, take the form of glowing red objects. Whether it be a pipe, door or vent, interacting with those objects will lead the way excellently. Titled ‘Runner Vision’, this aid can be turned off in the options menu, but is convenient in a manner similar to ‘Detective Vision’ in the Batman Arkham series.

… the dearth of fresh thinking on offer …
Due to a combination of Faith’s upgrades giving access to new areas and the obligatory thousands of collectibles to find, the city is ripe for exploration once the main story is complete, adding some depth. Additionally, there are time trials scattered all over the city, which are very addictive.

However, the open-world also creates some artificial longevity during the story, simply by having the player running back-and-forth across the map in between missions. Those missions often involve repetitive and overplayed tasks such as fetch quests and taking down antennas, yet again showing the dearth of fresh thinking on offer.

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Furthermore, there’s a rather casual approach that stems from both the mission structure and the open-world which stops the story from ever ramping up. Disappointingly, there’s rarely a feeling of tension.

The tasks are never time-sensitive, making for a sense of invincibility as missions feel impossible to fail. The style of gameplay is almost wasted in some senses because of this lack of apparent danger.

… somewhat counter-productive and unnecessary …
One area of the game which is dangerous – both for Faith and for the game’s chances of success – is the inclusion of combat. Yes, the major complaint players had with Mirror’s Edge has been shoehorned into Catalyst too.

Admittedly, Faith cannot use weapons this time, which is a major plus-point. But it still feels somewhat counter-productive and unnecessary. The fighting only ever feels ‘right’ when Faith takes down an enemy in mid-flow – for instance, a kick while travelling down a zip-line.

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The majority of the combat, though, has been clumsily implemented and is devoid of satisfaction. The damage is often completely off too, while enemies can look like bad wrestlers if you hit them in the direction of a ledge, for example, as they fling themselves toward it no matter the power of Faith’s connection.

The enemy classes Faith encounters have the most overused, mindlessly generic names of all time: Enforcer, Guardian, Sentinel, Protector. Snore. This uninspiring trait seeps into almost every aspect of the game, meaning it will fail to retain players’ attention over the long haul.

… ultimately stopping the overall experience from fulfilling its enormous potential …
Ironically, for all of the tropes which Catalyst borrows from elsewhere, there’s one feature which the game could have used very effectively to make the story more interesting: moral choices. Without spoiling the narrative, there are times when the idea is slightly teased, before the player is quickly pushed into a linear path.

That wasted opportunity captures the game as a whole. Mirror’s Edge Catalyst has a superb mix of free-running and platforming, which prevents it being one-paced, but the lack of charm and novel ideas beyond that is concerning, ultimately stopping the overall experience from fulfilling its enormous potential.

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Visuals:
Catalyst’s gameplay is helped by its silky smooth flow. In motion, the game is beautiful and its pace rarely causes technical hitches (odd moments of pop-in aside).

In fact, the most noticeable glitches came when the game was at a standstill, such as Faith’s hands going inside ledges when hanging. Also, the game surprisingly encountered problems in combat, with a few severe cases of pop-in and even two instances where enemies got caught in the air before disappearing.

… alter your field of view …
Despite the initially soulless setting one would expect on rooftops, DICE reveal more color and some varied locales over the course of the game. Catalyst presents stunning sights at times, including when those vivid colors are seen at night. By contrast, emerging from an indoor section into the bright morning daylight is always a pleasant view.

The lighting of the game is very impressive, while the shadowing and reflections are also good. One smart, surprising addition from the developers is the ability to alter your field of view.

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Audio:
It’s the attention to detail which turns good games into great games, and in many places Catalyst lacks that extra bit of effort from the developers. One such area is the audio, where the dead air on its lengthy runs between missions and cut-scenes is an annoyance.

Chatter from the other major characters in the game, who either dispatch Faith on a mission or aid her runs, is fairly minimal. To develop the thin narrative and to keep players engaged, Catalyst is crying out for more speech from the decent voice cast.

In its stead, the music which plays in the background is well-suited to the dystopian future setting and doesn’t grate, but it’s also not memorable. Meanwhile, the sound effects – such as the noise of footsteps across different materials – are generally excellent and definitely add to the experience.

… create time trials easily …
Online/Multiplayer:
There is no direct multiplayer per se, but leaderboards provide a fun way to compete with friends. As in many racing games, time trials are immediately followed with a quick-look at how your time fares against friends and the rest of the players in the world (for instance, stating that you rank within the top 40%).

This sparks that ‘one more go’ mentality very well indeed, especially due to the relatively short length (many being less than a minute) of the time trials, with a need to shave off milliseconds with each try. Furthermore, it’s possible to create time trials easily, which then appear around the city in friends’ games.

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Conclusion:
Mirror’s Edge Catalyst features superb, thrilling gameplay at its core, but its idea pool beyond that is frustratingly shallow. The parkour has been executed to perfection, with its sheer momentum driving the player through a gleaming City of Glass to much enjoyment.

However, the combat is a nuisance, the narrative is bland and the depth is questionable. Like the original game, Faith’s latest leap certainly deserves a playthrough, but presents a prime case of wasted potential.

Score:
7.0

* All screenshots used in this review were taken directly from the game using the Share functionality on the PlayStation 4.

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Written by Raj Mahil

Raj Mahil

Game collector. Journalism graduate. Batman addict. Movie goer. WWE nut. Sports obsessive. Arsenal fan. Squawka.com Sub-Editor.

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