Archives by Day

July 2018

Mirror's Edge: Catalyst

Platform(s): PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One
Genre: Action/Adventure
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Developer: DICE
Release Date: June 7, 2016 (US), June 9, 2016 (EU)

About Brian Dumlao

After spending several years doing QA for games, I took the next logical step: critiquing them. Even though the Xbox One is my preferred weapon of choice, I'll play and review just about any game from any genre on any system.


Xbox One Review - 'Mirror's Edge: Catalyst'

by Brian Dumlao on June 16, 2016 @ 12:00 a.m. PDT

Mirror's Edge sees the return of Faith, on her way to becoming a legendary runner in a totalitarian city overrun by corruption.

Buy Mirror's Edge: Catalyst

Eight years ago, Mirror's Edge was a pretty distinct game for the time. It was presented from a first-person perspective much like DICE's other games, but it focused on the feeling of seamless parkour. When most games went for realism, it strove for artistry with an almost stark-white city with red highlights to help you carve a path from point A to B. While you could shoot at people and were forced to use guns in some stages, the combat was never as satisfying as the run itself. The game did well enough to become a cult hit, but it wasn't enough to warrant a full sequel. After a change to the newer generation of platforms, we get Mirror's Edge: Catalyst, a reboot or reimagining of the game, depending on who you're asking.

You play as Faith, a type of courier known as a Runner who lives in the city of Glass, a metropolis controlled by a conglomerate of corporations. Shortly after being freed from the penitentiary, she's rescued by her old cabal, and it doesn't take long before she returns to her old lifestyle. On her first big return job, she stumbles upon an important artifact and snatches it in hopes of using it to repay her debt to a crime boss. This quickly leads up to a series of events that change the entire city.

The story template is well-worn futurist material by now. Corporations are the sole source of employment and are also the police. Anyone who's not employed by them is considered expendable, but that news is hidden from the general populace. Meanwhile, technology is almost essential for living. Many characters seem very one-note and even unlikeable. The description can also be applied to Faith, who means well but never goes beyond being a tough woman who's haunted by the memories of her parents' deaths.

Like the first title, the focus is on traversal, as evidenced by the fact that you're either standing or running throughout the game and never leisurely walking. Movement is kinetic in that you're meant to do things that promote forward movement instead of outright stopping, and that's all governed by the bumpers and triggers.

The game outfits you with two tools to make traversal more interesting. The first is a disruptor, which you can use to take down drones and disrupt large fans so you can pass through them unharmed. The second is a rope, which can have up to three different uses depending on where you are in the campaign. Initially, the rope is a means to swing across large chasms, giving you that Bionic Commando or Spider-Man effect. Later on, that rope becomes a winch that lets you latch on to places and get pulled up. Finally, you get the power to use the rope to pull down fragile objects to create more openings for yourself.

Running is the best thing about the game, and that can all be attributed to the tools and the building layout of Glass. You can vault over pipes, latch onto ziplines and slide off rooftops as you look for new obstacles and surfaces to see what you can do next. This enjoyment increases when you get a feel for the mechanics and begin to see lines in the world that promise exciting travel opportunities. Though you aren't scored on it, you'll want to seek out spots where you can hop a rail, slide under a gate, wall-run to a ledge, catch a zipline, break through a set of doors, slide down a roof and ultimately end up on what should have been an unreachable floor. You can even record all of this so you can upload it for others to see. It is the closest that parkour fans will get to a Tony Hawk-style game.

Of course, the open-world setting means that there are many pathways to the goal, some of which can be impossible enough that many players will often fall to their death and endure a fairly lengthy load screen before they can return to gameplay. To combat this, there is a tool called Runner's Vision that is activated by default and gives you a path to your goal. You can interact with objects that are highlighted in red. Runner's Vision is completely optional, so players who like finding their own way around the world can turn it off, but for everyone else, the line is extremely powerful. The pathway is exciting, and while it doesn't offer the fastest route to a goal, a number of players may leave it on because it takes the guesswork out of getting from one mission to another.

Like many games nowadays, there is an experience system where XP is gained by completing missions and grabbing collectibles. Initially, the XP system gates off abilities and upgrades to coax you into doing everything before tackling the story missions. It can seem like an annoying way to tack on longevity to the game, but there are two things that make it seem harmless. The first is that your moves are unlocked naturally via story progression and not gated by upgrade points gained by XP. With the exception of the landing roll, the only move-related items you get are upgrades, like longer slides or increased climbing speed. Secondly, the main mission provides you with enough XP to get essential upgrades out of the way, such as health increases, so the XP from side missions is more of a bonus or a way to max out things early.

Even by open-world standards, Catalyst gives you a good deal of side missions. You have glyphs that represent data leaks that are floating in the world and awaiting capture. There are data chips you can acquire from random boxes, billboards can be defaced, and radio towers can be sabotaged. Documents and recordings that flesh out the backstory can be acquired along with secret XP stashes. Then there are the side missions, where you have to make quick timed deliveries from secret stash locations or people on the street. Some side missions even have you traversing huge mainframes without tripping the alarms.

As if those weren't enough, the title lets you create challenges and take on challenges made by other members of the community. The process is rather simple, as you indicate your start point, place the end point, and make the run so a target time is recorded. There have been a number of challenges posted throughout Glass in the timespan of a week. Thankfully, the game limits the number of challenges that are posted at any time, so the map doesn't look flooded.

Interestingly, Catalyst doesn't do a great job of tempting you to leave the beaten path and seek extraneous quests. There are only a handful of times when you'll be beckoned by people on rooftops asking for a quick run, and you'll never accidentally stumble on a spot where a dash can be initiated. The only things you'll run into are user-created challenges. For a game with so many side-quests and activities, you're going to have to put in all of the work to use those things. By the same token, many people won't mind since they'll treat them as post-campaign activities to conquer.

If the game were comprised solely of running and the acrobatics behind it, then it would be excellent. However, it also has a hit-and-miss combat element. You can't use guns against enemies, but you can execute a variety of non-weapons-based melee attacks. You have basic punches and kicks, with the latter allowing you to stun an opponent, double-stun a foe, or push them over railings for an instant kill. Your running also comes into play when fighting, as you can leap or come off of wall runs to execute stronger hits or perform takedowns to quickly dispatch your opponent. Running also gives you the ability to gain a shield that gives gun-toting enemies less of a chance to hit you.

At its best, the combat is passable. The lack of blocking means that you must rely on a quick dodge move to stay defensive and get in some free hits. It's also a little harder to execute against a big group of people since your hits can inadvertently go a weaker opponent instead of the stronger one. Your strikes are meant to be quick, but they don't feel like they have any impact. Your punches and takedowns feel light, so you're surprised when you execute a knockdown blow, since it doesn't feel different from the rest of your moves.

At its worst, the mediocre combat is tiresome because of a number of factors. The weaker enemies can be handled with circle strafing, but the stronger foes are tough enough that your best course of action is to perform long hit-and-run tactics because you're fighting in spaces with less maneuverability or because opponents always have a counter for everything you do. The fights toward the end of a mission are fine, since they act as little puzzles, but the increased reliance on them near the end makes them feel like a slog instead of a break from the parkour.

With the game using the latest Frostbite engine, Xbox One owners already know what to expect from the graphics. Unlike PS4 and PC players, you'll be getting 720p resolution in exchange for a mostly solid 60fps. The transitions between sections of the open world stall the game for a second or two. The character models are fine at first, but you'll notice how much detail they don't have when you transition into cut scenes. Movement is great, with the camera simulating movement for things like tumbles and landings pretty accurately, enough that taking a big fall to your doom will rile up your senses. The city of Glass retains a mostly all-white look with a blue sky covering it, so it looks rather pristine. The other colors and the video billboards pop more because of it and give the game a sense of style that other first-person games are missing.

What doesn't work here is a nasty bug that wreaks havoc on the lighting and reflections whenever you load the game from a save file into the city's open area. Constant flickering textures and obvious breaks in what is and isn't supposed to be affected by lighting appear everywhere, and the only way to correct the action is to encounter a load screen in an indoor area or activate a cut scene. This can be fixed in a patch, but it's the one thing that ruins the game's artistry.

From an audio perspective, Catalyst fares much better. The voice work is done well, footsteps sound light, and the general ambiance of the city fills your ears at every run. The rush of wind and chatter from those looking for your attention also add to the atmosphere, and while there aren't a ton of people on the rooftops, they do make the place feel more alive. As for the music, the mix of soft and hard tunes is perfect for the game, especially since it's never punctuated with something loud and jarring. Every song you hear feels appropriate for the setting. On a side note, while it isn't as memorable as Lisa Miskovsky's "Still Alive" from the first game, Chvrches' "Warning Call" is a great fit as the title's sole licensed track.

Your enjoyment of Mirror's Edge: Catalyst will depend greatly on how willing you are to accept its flaws. The load times can be a pain to deal with, there's not much of an inclination to take on side-quests, and the combat doesn't seem to have improved much from the first game, despite the abandonment of firearms. At the same time, the idea of a platforming-heavy, first-person game remains intriguing, and your moves and the layout of the city make the running aspect one of the more legitimately enjoyable parts of the title. Though it may not appeal to all players, those looking for something a bit different will enjoy one more go-round in Faith's shoes.

Score: 7.5/10

More articles about Mirror's Edge: Catalyst
blog comments powered by Disqus