Mirror's Edge Catalyst Review
The faith awaits in the city of Glass...
For me, Mirror's Edge (2008) became one of the most loved games of all times. I've completed it a huge amount of times, just because I loved the visuals and parkour mechanics so much. The city of Glass was an example of an anti-utiopian city, sterile on front, but rotting inside. The game, beloved by fans, wasn't meant to become a hit, but we waited for the next chapter year after year. But now, 8 years later, the time has come to start everything anew. Welcome, to the Mirror's Edge Catalyst!
The main feature of original Mirror's Edge was a gameplay mechanic, and in Catalyst it was recreated bit by bit. Jumps feel the same, rolls and wallruns, everything is familiar. But a lot of stuff has changed, and in the good way. The MagLev system (basically a hook) is one of the main new features. It's not like in Just Cause 3 or anything like that, because it can be used only on certain areas of the map, but it really freshens the gameplay, adding new ways of engaging and evading enemies.
The next big change is a totally revamped combat system. DICE went full-on runner-style: Faith can no longer equip weapons, at all, that's not her style. And that's great! It really threw me off in the original and I like how it fits the character now. In terms of melee combat, the game now has a clear division between light and medium attacks. And the main advantage of the former is an ability to attack while running.
For example, you run by the wall, the K-SEC enforcer appears in front of you. Jump, kick, run away. No pauses, everything is completed in one fluid motion and that is exactly what I loved about original Mirror's Edge. Your main goal is to catch the flow, and never stop running, which is a lot easier now, having such a huge world, compared to the original.
The fans were pretty worried by the fact, that the game now has an open world. They thought it will ruin the experience, but, in fact, it has tied pretty well into the original concept. The reason for that is, for the most part, the linear structure of the main story missions. Like 8 years ago, you run across the predefined path, enjoying how Faith overcomes another obstacle on her way. At the same time, the whole city is opened to us, and it's filled with a bunch of collectibles and sidequests. In the end, the open world is here, but it's not thrown into your face. You explore it as you want. And when you'll finish the main story, you will have a place filled with stuff to come and run through.
The most important thing is that the city has a lot of layers. Many buildings are free to enter, and a lot of scyscrapers have a way to get to the rooftop and enjoy the view of a vastly improved city of Glass.
But you won't be able to run across the city without being noticed. The K-SEC operatives will appear here and there and will try to stop you. And sadly, exactly here the "the new and improved" combat system falls short. The idea was great, but in the final game it came out to be absolutely horrible at times, especially if you will prioritize movement upgrades instead of the combat ones, which is to be expected in a game about parkour. The damage dealt to enemies (without proper upgrades) is so low, that you will spend an enourmous amount of time trying to disable just one of your enemis, and fall asleep of boredom while doing that. And I'm not exaggerating, you will be forced to find some place up high just to jump on the enemies from the top over and over again.
The feel of the new combat system is even worse because of poorly made game design decisions. Sometimes you will be stuck in an area, untill you clear out all the enemies, and keeping in mind the not-so-great hitbox recognition, the fight becomes a nightmare of a Dark Souls fan: you die over and over, don't have any weapons, and no rolling or dashing, just an ability to make a little step backwards.
On the other hand, those situations are few and far betwen: 3 or 4 during the whole span of story missions, but their positioning is very unfortunate. When there is a major plot twist, you want to know, what will happen next, but you're forced to run around in circles performing the same "death from above" styled hit over and over and over again. I hope you got the sense of frustration.
But there is a bright side, the new "light attacks" are great. They work while running, they blend in beautifully with the animations and do not slow you down. In the ideal world, there would only be light attacks and the "disable all the K-SEC officers" objectives would be gone. Those moves tie in greatly with Faith's run and allow you to neutralize enemies without altering the course.
Your encounter with the enemy should end with a quick stun of an enforcer blocking the way, a light dodge of the K-SEC officer and a remote neutralize of the third enemy. This style is what gives you the most fun and goes well with the runner's philosophy.
Half of the article in, and I haven't said a word about the story. The thing is, the story is in there, and it's a lot more apparent than in the original game, but it's main purpose is still to guide you from one point to another, that's why it's nothing special. The game begins with Faith being released from the jail after two years of imprisonment. She was caught by the K-SEC, and almost caused the runners to dissapear completely, but finally she is free, and ready to change the life of the city once again. Be ready to experience some obvious plot twists and dramatic moments.
The plot is still linear, but it's OK, the game is about gameplay, and I'm glad that DICE spent the most time mastering that aspect.
It took me almost 9 hours to finish the main storyline and a couple of sidequests. For comparison, the original game took around 4-5. What's next? The fact that this game has an open world obviously means it has some stuff to do. It's not Assassin's Creed, but the feel is pretty similar. And I'm glad that most collectibles are marked on the map, and you will be able to get those 100% fairly easily. Someone could argue, that the search is part of the fun, but then just don't use the map, it's simple. I liked the same thing in The Division and I'm glad that it made it's way into the Catalyst. Among the other activities you have a lot of stuff, from sidequests to sprints, which are kind of awesome, I must tell you. They're 100% what you would expect, but in the game about running, there is nothing better than a good track. Especially when you have all the movement upgrades unlocked.
Beyond that, you can deliver secret messages, cause chaos and break down K-SEC's antennas. The latter is pretty boring, though. After destroying an antenna, you will be chased by K-SEC until you hide properly or get into the safehouse. So you're just running around followed by spawning-out-of-nowhere K-SEC's troops. Also, there is a bunch of fast-travel points that can be unlocked it you hack city's data center in the region. I don't want to compare, but I think you feel the similarities to some other game. The one thing I do not understand is that why would anyone need fast-travel in a game about running?
And at last, I want to talk a bit about visuals. Hands down, DICE made an amazing work creating the new city of Glass, the vibe of the original game is still here, but the streets are full of cars and people, roofs are filled with little details and the architecture made a one big step towards futuristic minimalism. And considering all that, the game runs pretty smoothely even on a somewhat old PC (GTX780, i7-2600). I got solid 60 FPS on high preset during the whole game. There were some occasional drops during cutscenes, but they have a lot more post-processing effects and look plain gorgeous. Don't know what to add, just look at the screenshots.
And one more thing. There is an online mode. Sadly, since I've had an early copy, I didn't have a chance to investigate the online modes properly, but I have a couple of things to share. DICE tried to make a very gentle system, which ties into the game seemlessly among the original content. Any player can save his run and allow others to beat his time, also you can place your tags along the city. If you have a bunch of friends playing the game, you might want to hack some billboards, so your friends will see your tag instead of some random ad. Pretty neat. But if you don't like an unexpected intrusion - you can disable this feature in settings.
In the end, DICE was able to save everything we loved about the first game: the parkour, the visual style and a great ambient soundtrack, at the same time expanding all of the mentioned above. The story is a bit lackluster, like in the oroginal, so you can't really blame them for that. Combat system tries really hard to be useful, but it managed to have an absolutely opposit effect of being the worst thing about the game.
Still, it's a good game. If you liked the original, I'm almost sure - you will like Catalyst. Those 9 hours of running in the continious flow, which make you want to stay in the city of Glass will make sure of that.