The long awaited successor to a popular, if not successful, 2008 title, Mirror’s Edge: Catalyst puts itself forth as the premier first-person parkour game. With eight years in the tank, developer DICE is hoping that a combination of nostalgia and new technology will give them a free-running homerun.
Sadly, they seem to have struck out. Catalyst is a hopeful mishmash of mechanics, concepts, and aesthetic choices that, while often intriguing individually, rarely come together. Often times these choices are even at odds with each other, leaving us with a game that is less than the sum of its parts.
The story of the game follows Faith Connor. Newly released from juvie, Faith joins up with couriers she used to know and instantly becomes embroiled in a resistance movement raging against the oligarchical Conglomerate running the city as a fascist state. All the while Faith must grapple with issues from her past, including the death of her family and sister.
If this story doesn’t seem to jive with the story of the previous Mirror’s Edge, that’s because it doesn’t. Catalyst is a reboot for the series in the smallest sense of the word. The setting and protagonist are identical, but the events of the previous game are wiped away. Starting over instead of moving forward feels like a strange decision for a game that is partially relying on nostalgia to be effective. This is especially true considering so little was done with the opportunity.
Little is a good word to describe the story and characters both for this game. The plot is boring and expected, the characters vague cardboard cutouts that are easily forgotten. The handful of things done to make people charming or likable usually come off as annoying instead. The temptation arises to skip cutscenes mere hours into the game because you care so little.
The point of the game, course, isn’t the story. When you’re booting up this game you’re booting it up for the stellar parkour gameplay. So the question is: does Catalyst have stellar gameplay? The answer is a resounding “kind of”.
Running around in Catalyst is fun, that can’t be discounted. The problem is the shine wears off fast. The beauty of all that amazing running ability is traversing interesting and varied environments. The tools are there, but the environments are missing.
The first Mirror’s Edge was linear, with sections that were basically parkour puzzles you tried to blast through as fast as possible without ever losing momentum. It made you feel free being able to run and jump and slide through anything the game through at you.
Catalyst decided to become open world, and in doing so loses both variety and quality of design. The world got bigger but it feels a lot smaller. Missions take place in the same areas repeatedly and are issued from hubs you visit over and over. Annoyingly, many of these hubs only have one way in or out. This leaves Faith running the exact same obstacle course to run over and over again.
It’s annoying and frustrating. These are alleviated somewhat with the presence of fast travel, but in a game that revolves around movement and acrobatics fast travel seems somewhat self-defeating.
The combat was something the developers talked about extensively as being deeper and more interactive than before. If that was their ultimate goal, it was an utter failure. The combat is slow and clunky, destroying the pace of the game. It’s also never the best option unless it’s the only option, such as when a room is flooded with enemies and the juvenile Faith is inexplicably tasked with taking on a squadron of police officers.
Lastly, the aesthetic of the game falls flat. This is a real shame because the first game was so beautiful. Mirror’s Edge had this clean dystopian white interrupted by splashes of vibrant color that helped guide you through the world in an understated way. Catalyst, by comparison, is either too bright or dirty looking. The world is white but flooded with red that does more to disrupt and confuse than guide, with the only other color being random injections of blue and yellow.
Altogether, it’s hard to either suggest Catalyst or write it off completely. The running for all the faults of the environment, is fun. It’s arguably smoother than the previous game, and in the handful of movements where the game gives you the chance it feels absolutely great. Sadly, the rest of the game is forgettable or even egregious. Catalyst is not the hopeful resurgence fans of the original were hoping for, and after the middling success of both games, it’s hard to imagine there being another.