Mirror’s Edge Catalyst
When the original Mirror’s Edge game was released, it played the role of an open window towards redefining visuals in gaming. It was awash with brilliant light and swatches of primary and tertiary colors at a time when gritty grey and dirty metal were dominating the gaming landscape.
As trend waves go, you couldn’t guarantee that Mirror’s Edge was going to cause an overtaking shift in how games were presented to us, but it definitely felt like it made a brief dent. With its clean modernist inspired architecture and unique take on the First Perspective point of view, Mirror’s Edge felt like the kind of game that could make an impact on some level.
The first Mirror’s Edge game introduced a fresh take on the protagonist by introducing us to Faith. A fortified Asian female lead with a strong sense of character. Faith was presented to us as an agile, free-flowing, occasional ass-kicking option, as opposed to the clunky, rhino-styled rage-hero sterotype that was the norm at the time. All in all it was a game against the grain.
The game play pushed concept of First Person Parkour and as a result gave us the closest experience we’ve had in gaming to building scaling and death-defying vaulting across rooftops. In some circles the game was referred Assassin’s Creed in first person. To those who bothered to give Mirror’s Edge a chance, it was clear that DICE was onto something a bit more ambitious with this title.
Despite having these things going for it, Mirror’s Edge didn’t turn out to be the impact that a triple-A title company like EA may have been after at the time. It seemed as if EA took the leap of faith on DICE and their parkour FPS experiment and it didn’t pay off as expected. Which as a personal opinion, was a shame.
Fast forward through a few false starts (including an as of now defunct mobile side-scrolling release) and rumors of a sequel for several years and DICE and EA were ready to give Faith another try on the latest gen consoles.
This time we’ve been given more background on Faith and the City of Glass, the environment she inhabits. Featuring a younger Faith, Mirror’s Edge Catalyst feels just as fresh and light infused as the original, replete with soft focus and a newly conceptualized open world environment.
The story is continued at the point of Faith’s release from Juvinile Hall (a further back-story to her landing in that position is available through the pre-game release of the graphic novel “Mirror’s Edge Exordium”). Once out, she falls back in with her running Cabal and pushes to close her open debt to a local outfit run by a man named Dogen.
The leader of her running group and fatherly figure Noah has Faith get right back to work, running a job with newly introduced Icarus, a fellow runner. Icarus is a kid who typically runs at the same hot-temper level as Faith. The series of events cascading from this first run lead Faith to learn more about her family and her own troubled past.
There will be no spoilers in terms of the story here. Just know, there are a couple of small twists, one of which is highly telegraphed, especially if you’ve played the original Mirror’s Edge. By the nature of a prequel, you’re going to fall victim to these kinds of things though, so you can’t fault the writing being boxed in.
As far as the experience this time around with Mirror’s Edge Catalyst, there are some welcome additions and some continuing hindering elements that may place it only a bit further along than the previous entry.
The first and most obvious upgrade to the franchise is the addition of an open world. The wall that Mirror’s Edge Catalyst runs into with this added feature is one of lacking a fully fleshed out feel.
Glass (the city) really feels like a pseudo open world – mostly because you’re limited to the rooftops of the city. The city streets are visible, but are relegated to being a bland white and feeling unfinished. It seems to be a conscious choice, to keep the focus on the parkour and away from careful exploration. Mind the ground and the security threats, you’re supposed to keep on the move as a runner.
Instead of mission based levels you’re given an open world with the ability to pick and choose your pace through the game. Mission points are placed on the map, to where Faith must travel to trigger the mission. These missions are also available after the game’s story completion if you’re up to achieving a better time. There are also mini-events scattered throughout the map, in the way of races, deliveries, billboard hacking and collectible discoveries.
During a few moments you may be inclined or tempted to take a look around the landscape and down below. Personally, there was a feeling of missed potential in the air. Could it have benefited from taking Faith’s parkour skills from the virtual asphalt to the tops of the skyscrapers? That’s a question best left for another day.
Through your runs within the City of Glass, you’re going to need a guide. And in Mirror’s Edge Catalyst, it comes in the way of a path-finding feature which is supposed to help you get around via an echo representation of a runner and its trail. It’s essentially a path guide to your current objective or set waypoint. But at times (you’re even warned about this) it will lead you astray and may drop completely out of sight. So it’s more of a hit-and/or-miss system that shouldn’t be trusted completely. Fully defining your travels by it will certainly find you dropping off ledges to sure restarts quite often.
The argument could be made that it adds to the sense of adrenaline spikes during escape attempts and rooftop racing, but if you lean too much on the path finding, you’ll find yourself on the short end.
Addition by subtraction? Maybe.
To be fair, there are features added to Mirror’s Edge Catalyst that do make it feel more rounded and up to par with today’s gaming norms. There’s an upgrade system that’s fed by XP points gathered by gathering collectibles, completing missions and side quests, as well as getting out of tough spots and scrapes with the KrugerSec authorities.
As Faith traverses through the city a new system called Focus has been introduced. Focus is decribed as “a state where Faith can’t be hit by enemies” – which can be a bit misleading on the surface. It’s best to consider Focus as a “shield” element. Faith’s base health does not take damage while Focus is in effect. Focus is filled by traversing obstacles and exhibiting parkour feats, so keep running, scaling, wall-running, and being an all-around bad-ass and you’ll stack up the Focus.
This is one of the things that really stands out in Mirror’s Edge Catalyst. Having an open city rooftop at your disposal means that running and scaling and pulling off all these feats can at times get to be intoxicating. Getting into the flow of a good run can definitely be a rush in this game, but it will require your own focus and mastery of the controls. It’s a triumph of the game that when you master the landscape and Faith’s movements the game feels rewarding. As a way to temper down that intoxication though, know that the game will challenge you to maintain that focus. It’s a good push-pull feature that takes a while to accept.
Fully rounding out the experience are a few added pieces of equipment for Faith. The first is a pseudo-grappling device on her wrist, called The MAG Rope, which tethers itself to key points in the city, helpful for reaching high areas, where made available.
The second is an area-of-effect stun weapon known as the Disruptor which feeds into a more combative approach this time around for Faith. This system is loaded into Faith’s hand-gear and is fueled through the Focus System. The Disruptor as its name states does temporary damage to surrounding systems via an electrical impulse. It’s useful when surrounded by a group of attackers and Faith is in need of a quick escape or a temporary breather in the midst of battle. The Disruptor will also be found useful to temporarily power down fans to allow Faith a way through some ventilation systems.
Combat in the game is clumsy, but again, that’s not a Mirror’s Edge natural trait. You can use the Disruptor as noted above or attempt to fight it out with a small group before making a quick escape to anonymity. Getting into a scuffle and shifting around to try to dodge attacks from behind is normally comical to watch. A well placed kick to the side of an attacker’s head will lean and stumble him or her in one direction and if another attacker happens to be in the path, well, let the Keystone Cops references ensue. But again, remember, in Glass City, if you’re not running, you’re losing ground.
When the rumors of a follow up to Mirror’s Edge hit the news outlets in 2013 and when the first trailer was subsequently dropped, it really fanned hope for a commitment to a series that offers something different and refreshing. At its core the Mirror’s Edge series has that in spades. With Mirror’s Edge Catalyst DICE has pushed the series into a contemporary space, but to say that it has hit that sweet spot that would make it a fully fleshed out experience would be a bit of an overstatement.
As a whole, the game and the world still feel worthy of the experience. It’s not going to be up every one’s alley. To be sure, it’s not a Call of Duty | Assassin’s Creed mash up. It’s going to demand that you rework your typical FP game’s control tropes. Right trigger doesn’t fire a weapon (there aren’t any) and there is no “block and counter” mechanic. But if you’re willing to shake off those differences and put up with a bit of a challenge, Mirror’s Edge Catalyst offers a good enough reward to keep you returning to the scene.