Review: Mirror’s Edge Catalyst

Mirror's Edge Catalyst from Dice and EA

The original Mirror’s Edge was a game that many have fond memories of. A pretty significant departure from the usual fare of first-person shooters, it became something of a cult classic. I certainly sunk many hours into the game, replaying it multiple times. So I was very eager to get my hands on the new Mirror’s Edge when it was announced. Delay after delay only served to increase my enthusiasm. Now, having had a chance to play all the way through, I certainly feel rather mixed about Mirror’s Edge Catalyst. There are some things it does very well, some things it does acceptably, and some areas where it’s a definite step back over the original.

If you’re feeling lazy, there’s a TL;DR right at the bottom where I sum this all up.

From the beginning

Catalyst is a “reboot” of the original. It throws away the original plot and goes largely in a very different direction.  Some characters remain – Faith herself. Others change – Kate Connors becomes Caitlyn, morphing from a lowly law enforcement officer to the adoptive daughter of the primary antagonist.

The setting is similar – the city is still called “Glass”. Callaghan Construction and Kruger Security remain, even with their logos largely unchanged. But a lot changes here too. The original “Glass” largely hinted at lying somewhere along the border of Europe and Asia within Russia, its scenery a fusion between modern glass skyscrapers and Soviet brutalism. The “Glass” we find in Mirror’s Edge Catalyst is very much more American. It exudes consumerism and materialism. Rather than the faded white punctuated by sharp, bright contrasts, Catalyst’s “Glass” is a bright assault on the senses, where visual distractions are rife. Large electronic billboards pepper the skyline, beaming propaganda to the masses.

I’m not entirely sure why many of these changes were necessary. For me, it loses some of the charm of the original. I guess perhaps this is the result of market research that indicated a more familiar environment would draw in more people. Perhaps many felt a distance from the original setting. I don’t know if that was the case, but it would make some sense.

Politics and power

Curiously, the political structure has shifted within Catalyst in the opposite direction. The original Mirror’s Edge was a city-state, run by a mayor elected by the people. Undoubtedly, that notional democracy was severely corrupted by corporate interests, but everything suggested that peaceful, democratic revolution could occur. Robert Pope was a reformer receiving popular support. The police remained independent at some level too, with Kate a serving police officer, and Lieutenant Miller proving a valuable ally for Faith in fighting the corruption within the system.

Instead, Mirror’s Edge Catalyst drops all of that. “Glass”, we are told, is a city within a wider nation of Cascadia. Lands outside the city are frequently referenced, though often negatively, and often as a place of exile for dissidents. That said, we learn later that dissidents never make it that far, being interned in an underground facility. There is no notion of democracy in this “Glass” either. The city is ruled jointly by thirteen corporations, which in turn, appear to be governed as corporate fiefdoms, directly ruled by the owner for life, and ownership passing down hereditary through the families. Rather than many corporations backing a single corrupt candidate equally, there also appears to be a hierarchy within these governing corporations. All corporations may be equal, but some are more equal than others, and the most equal is Kruger Security, which acts as law enforcement, judiciary, and military, all in one. Though you sprint through a lot of Callaghan construction sites, the only one of the thirteen companies you interact with on a personal level is Kruger Security.

Fighting the man

The resistance also gets a reform in line with these changes in the rulers. Gone is the individualistic, democratic nature of the original Mirror’s Edge, whose resistance was far fewer in numbers and far less organised. Instead, Mirror’s Edge Catalyst has a “Black November” movement, which uses the riots found in the Original Mirror’s Edge as its creation story. Its ideology is distinctly Revolutionary Marxist in its overtones, espousing violence and unmitigated retribution against those perceived to have wronged the proletariat class. Faith and the other runners hold themselves somewhat aloof. They clearly show a distaste for the violence and still seem to hold to the notion of individuality and personal freedom to a certain degree. That, however, waxes and wanes over the course of the game and Faith very much ended up embracing some of that revolutionary violence.

These matters are left on a cliffhanger at the end, and I’m left wondering where they plan to go. Certainly, there was a lot of sympathy shown for these Revolutionary Marxists. That’s something that leaves me a little uneasy. However, they never fully commit to going down that route. I’m surprised that they’ve painted themselves into a corner where it seems that in order for the over-arching plot to work, they’re ultimately going to have to make a political statement. And that worries me for two reasons. Firstly, they’ll never please everyone by doing that. And secondly, that an entertainment company is almost always going to try to please everyone. Put those two together and it seems entirely possible that they could ruin the series they clearly have in mind.

Mechanics

After a lot of uncertainty, this is one area where Catalyst puts the original Mirror’s Edge in the shade. Mirror’s Edge Catalyst introduces the open world that Mirror’s Edge was sorely lacking. For a game all about movement, and freedom of movement, it just makes sense to be able to roam all over the city. It is truly a pleasure to just sprint around aimlessly traversing the complex terrain of the cityscape.

Combat gets a massive overhaul too. I wasn’t too bothered about the guns in the original if I’m honest, but the melee-only combat of Catalyst does let you keep up a pace when the former game forced you to slow down to deal with enemy combatants. Instead, in Mirror’s Edge Catalyst, you’re encouraged to keep moving during combat, to use the environment where possible to strike harder. It feels not too unlike Assassins Creed in melee-only combat. Indeed, even the method of just mashing buttons and seeing what sticks that thrives in AC games works pretty well for all but the most difficult of fights.

Eye-candy

As longer-term followers of mine will know, I do enjoy a game that pleases the eye. I’m a particularly visual sort of guy, and so I care about how a game looks on the highest settings at 4K resolution. Mirror’s Edge Catalyst is somewhat middle of the road in this respect. It is an AAA game, and it doesn’t look bad, but there are gripes.

The art direction is less pleasing to me than the original. I know this will be largely a matter of taste, but the simplicity and clean edges of the original has meant that it has aged very well over the years since it’s launched. Mirror’s Edge Catalyst will not fare so well, I suspect. While most textures were reasonable enough at 4K, I did notice a fair few textures dotted around the map that looked distinctly low-resolution. I guess in many cases, they were ones likely to be obscured by motion blur, which I disabled out of personal preference (and the few extra frames were preferable too).

The cut-scenes vary. Some are rendered in real-time by the game engine, but most appear to be 1080p videos, not even particularly high-quality 1080p videos. It really jars on a 4K high-end gaming setup. I guess their target is Console gamers here, but it’s another area that will date the game far more than the original Mirror’s edge, which had stylised 2D animation for the cut-scenes.

The opening segment is set at night in the rain, and that makes the art style look much better to me. I’m keen on the addition of all the visual distractions in the daytime, but in the night, it works as illumination for all the various pathways, and it really does work. The night re-appears in a later mission staged at dawn, where you run through the city as the Sun rises. It’s rather appealing visually and really shows off the game at its best, but it doesn’t appear in the open world part of the game. The rain also adds an extra layer of realism to it, but this unfortunately never appears again. I suppose it does make a notable difference to the frame rate, and they opted for performance, but I’d love dynamic weather and day-night cycle toggles in the settings, even if they’re disabled by default.

TL;DR – the low down on Mirror’s Edge Catalyst

There’s a lot that I’m not convinced by in Mirror’s Edge Catalyst, but it is still an enjoyable game to play. Hell, I could spend hours just running around the city thanks to that open world, something the original was crying out for. I’m not sure I could recommend to anyone to spend the £50 that Origin wants for it, but you can pick it up for £30, and that’s not a bad price. If you want to wait for it in a sale, then I’m sure you’ll be able to pick it up for a steal, and Mirror’s Edge Catalyst certainly a game I would recommend you play. That said, if you’ve not picked up the original Mirror’s Edge, you absolutely must pick it up. On Origin, it’s currently on sale for just £2.12 at the time of writing, and that is a great bargain. You really can’t say no to it at that price.

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