You know that really anal friend you’ve got; that one mate that always has everything spotlessly clean, all neatly in a row and ordered in rows of colours? Imagine if that person ran an entire city of the future! Ultra clean windows, glistening clean floors and perfectly square lines as far as the eye can see – all to sooth your obsessive compulsions.
Well, that’s the exact type of squeaky clean sci-fi fantasy world EA/Dice have carved out for us in Mirror’s Edge: Catalyst, and if I’m honest, it gets a bit boring. Don’t get me wrong, it’s visually stunning with it’s hyper-real aesthetic and glossy sheen, but the look is very ‘same same’ for the entire game. If you’re a sci-fi nerd like me, then you’ve seen the cult classic Logan’s Run, with it’s similarly squeaky clean vision of Utopia, where nobody sneezes for fear of coating a nearby surface with the contents of their nose. Give me the gritty look of Bladerunner or The Matrix any day – grit not only gives character and adds to the feel of a game, but it also helps delineate one environment from the next and break up the visual boredom.
So what about the gameplay? In preparation for this review, I went back and played the original Mirror’s Edge on PS3 to get a good comparison, and see just where the improvements have been made. First and foremost, instead of the linear story line of old, we now have a semi-open world to monkey around in. I say semi-open because being as this is a first person Parkour game, you are restricted to traversing the city roof tops and really only spending time in the top floors of buildings, and this aspect hasn’t changed from the original to the new. Along with the open-worldness though, comes the standard ‘collect this thing’, ‘deliver that thing’, ‘take down that crew’ mission based checklist to knock over. Main story missions and side missions mixed with timed running missions are about as good as it gets. Unfortunately, all of the missions are pretty much the same as the last one, just done in a slightly different coloured glass area. Yawn.
Combat from the old to the new has definitely had a major upgrade, with added fighting moves and movement mechanics to take down the KSEC guards with. The close quarters combat animations are very nicely done, and you can see some real technical effort has gone into the combinations and manoeuvres that have been added to the mix. There is a problem though… While the combat is fun when it works, it can be a little clunky and cumbersome when under pressure, and lots of misguided kicks and punches fly out into thin air. To be fair though, I think this is more an issue with first person hand to hand combat in general rather than any fault in the engine’s mechanics. There hasn’t been a game that I can think of to date that has successfully pulled this off and had it feel natural and flow really well.
Okay, time to address the elephant gun in the room. You cannot pick up weapons and use them any more! Whaaaat? This is absolutely the most annoying part of the game. Yes, I understand they wanted to highlight the hand to hand aspect, and make it more about doing in your opponent up close and personal, but I think this was a missed opportunity to add some much missing variety into the gameplay. I can’t tell you how much of a let down it is to masterfully disarm a guard with snake like dexterity only to have the dislodged weapon fall at your feet and become a very expensive paper weight. Maybe they thought there were too many people playing it as a run and gun in the original, ignoring the fight mechanics all together? If this is true, they could have made the weapons have very limited ammo, just enough to help get you out of a tight position. So many times I found myself in a bit of a bind and it would have been awesome to just quickly pick up some steel and dispatch a couple nasties and move on.
The actual Parkour and first person platforming action is pretty nicely done however, with some minor improvements from the original to here. Finding the fastest route from A to B, shaving seconds off your time while using your skills to jump, roll and wall run your way to your goal – this is where the game truly shines. Finding an awesome flow while tagging together combinations of moves gives you an advantage called ‘Focus Shield’, where you essentially become more and more bullet proof as the meter fills up. This is great for rushing an aggressive group of guards and catching them with their pants down. I also turn ‘Runner’s Vision’ off completely for moving through the city. It’s just way too easy with this toggled on, as you see every single line, wall and pipe to use to deliver you to your destination. With it off, the challenge is to find your own way through the roof tops, and this makes for much more fun.
Story wise, it’s great to get some background on where Faith came from and how she became a runner. Unfortunately, the characters woven into the story are way too one dimensional and extremely generic. You literally won’t give two shits about any of the characters the whole way through the game, not even the main character Faith unfortunately. There’s a couple dudes, a savant tech-girl and some other dudes. Meh. I lost interest pretty quickly. The cut scenes are very nicely put together though, a huge leap from the anime style cut scenes of the original. The rendering of the cut scenes is also far superior to the blocky in-engine NPC rendering, and for a 2016 AAA game, the in game NPC’s look very 2006.
So all in all, Catalyst is most definitely a spiritual successor to the original Mirror’s Edge, with improvements and upgrades that make it a superior game technically, but I think in an attempt to give us an open world to explore, it has made it a little too boring and repetitive. You get bored of taking the same routes to the same areas, the fights become boring, especially so without the use of weapons. It’s that boring that I don’t even plan on finishing it – which is disappointing, because I was really looking forward to this game, having loved the PS3 original. If you strip it down to it’s bare essentials, without weaponry, this is just a three dimensional racing game with some clunky first person combat thrown in. Nowhere near enough to keep you interested for any length of time. It could have been so much better. My verdict – probably don’t bother unless you really need to see the City of Glass in all it’s squeaky clean HD glory. Oh, and if you like running… A lot.