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To be fair, there are some truly invigorating moments in Mirrors Edge Catalyst, ones earned after a many hours of trial and error, practice and memory. Skitting about the high rooftops, swinging from ledge to ledge, evading gunfire and timing attacks with well-placed kicks are all thrilling, and when come together in perfect sync, make the experience a real joy. Unfortunately, these near existential moments are more rare than common and become tainted by frustration and long stretches of tedium.
As with the original, the real beauty of Mirror’s Edge is its parkour mechanic that puts the player, essentially, in a first-person running sym where they must navigate environments in and on top of the skyline of a near future city. Guided by glowing red indicators and a marked trail, which can be turned off but is not recommended until well into the game, the idea is to move as fast and as fluid as possible to complete missions and objectives. The main playable character is a lithe young woman named Faith Conners, returning from the first game, and unlike most first person games, requires much more precision and accuracy from the player. She has a deep move set that allows her to jump, slide, swing, climb, vault, wall-jump, roll and more, all of which must be performed with split-second timing or risk total failure. Simply reaching the start point of a mission, which can be many rooftops away, is an exercise in patience and dexterity.
But that challenge is also where the game can shine, for when all these combinations work, the timing is right, getting Faith through some often tricky missions is incredibly satisfying. Yet, as responsive as the controls are, there is very little give, and the slightest misstep can end a hard-fought run through a mind-boggling twist of hurdles in a blink, forcing a restart. This is really one of the more difficult aspects of the game, as it is often hard to truly get into a nice flow, and if that doesn’t happen, it can be a messy adventure as Faith hopelessly scrambles for handholds or just plummets to the abyss below. Mastering the routes is an absolute must and learning the environmental triggers that will make her runs more effective and efficient take time and replay. Too often though, there is no forgivingness and a great effort is thudded to a stop when a wall run is mistimed or a swing undershot. It can mean the end of mission or just a constant reminder that practice makes perfect.
The real issue though is combat. Faith has no weapons other her speed, feet, and fists, making combat especially cumbersome and draining since most missions require her to time attacks with movement forward. This can be a real challenge but like any of the mechanics, when done right is inspiring. Leaping off a rope to a roll, then up and over a vent so Faith gains speed and height enough to land heel first into an armed guard’s face is ever so satisfying. That’s just common sense. But strangely, the developers left most enemies lumbering around open rooftops with few opportunities for Faith to get airborne, so many conflicts are settled with repetitive dodge and kicks until their health meters dwindle down. The combat moves are not deep enough to sustain any real fluidity and so too often, they become a chore.
Interestingly, the makers seem to know this and openly encourage you to avoid fights altogether by providing Faith with a shield of sorts called Focus, which makes her just about bulletproof as long as her speed and momentum are not interrupted. But again, as precision is an absolute, that momentum is can be stunted by environments that if mistimed, leave Faith stuck in a combat. Certainly, as time and practice make these events occur less frequently, it’s a hard challenge to overcome.
Meanwhile, as Faith scurries around the roofs and unlocks missions and unlockables, there is an upgrade system that reveals where developers missed the mark the most. That begins by needlessly making the player progress to obtain even basic parkour moves, and while this system is by no means restricted to Mirror’s Edge Catalyst, it is frustrating here as none feel earned and most seem like something Faith would be doing instinctively. Fortunately, it doesn’t take long to get most of the essential ones unlocked fast.
Let’s talk about the environments. This is a mixed bag because there are times when it’s simply jaw-dropping, especially while zipping along the high ledges and making swings over great chasms between tall buildings. There is a often a very nice sense of speed and movement. But there is a sterility to it all as well, the landscape a wash of florescent whites dotted with colored shapes. By no means is it meant to be realistic, but it also lacks that extra sense of style that should give it more life. The characters and animations all sort of feel like previous generation and for gamers growing accustomed to high end details in their graphics, this could disappoint. Still, it settles in and after a while, as I found myself playing more, I appreciated the aesthetic as it made identifying patterns and objects for movement easier to find.
That brings us to the story, one that gets convoluted by nature, as does so many of the open world multiple side-quest games. The tropey evil conglomerate story is neither engrossing or memorable, and the cast of paper-thin characters does little to keep it engaging. Nearly every NPC stands in one place and repeats their dialogue over and over even if you just pass by them, and I lost interest in the main quest once the numerous side missions, races, and time trials became available. In truth, the story, by design, is only meant to give Faith an excuse to run, and that’s all you’ll want to do with her anyway.
And there’s where the most redeemable part of Mirror’s Edge Catalyst lies, with exploring the paths and shortcuts, learning the tricks and combinations, and just getting Faith running as fast as she can go. While the game is flawed, much like the original, it is at least continuing its tradition of innovation. I’ll admit I was hoping for more of that, but at least there are moments when everything feels perfect and getting in the zone has never felt better in a video game.
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Platform: Microsoft Windows, PlayStation 4, Xbox One
Release: June, 2016
Genre: Action-adventure, platform
Mode: Single-player, multiplayer