Posted on 27 Jun 2016 by Kyle Johnson

Mirror’s Edge Catalyst

The Defence

Developer: DICE
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Genre: Action, Adventure, Platformer
Platform: Consoles, PC
Review copy: Yes
Release date: US 07 Jun 2016
EU 09 Jun 2016

The Prosecution

Minimum
Recommended
OS: Windows
CPU: Intel Core i3 3.5 GHz
AMD FX 3.9 GHz
VGA: Nvidia GeForce 650Ti
AMD Radeon R9 270X
RAM: 6 GB
HDD: 25 GB
DirectX: 11
Controller: Full
Mod Support: No
VR: No
FOV Slider: Yes
FPS Lock: 120+
OS: Windows
CPU: Intel Core i7 3.4 GHz
AMD FX 4.0 GHz
VGA: Nvidia GeForce 970
AMD Radeon R9 280X
RAM: 16 GB
HDD: 25 GB
DirectX: 11
Controller: Full
Mod Support: No
VR: No
FOV Slider: Yes
FPS Lock: 120+

The Case

The sequel to one of the breakout surprises of 2008, Mirror’s Edge Catalyst moves away from the level-based City of the first game to the open-world City of Glass. Further changes to the timeline, characters, and more make Catalyst more of a reboot than a prequel proper. Does Mirror’s Edge Catalyst do enough to soar above the original, or does it stumble, impacting on the city streets below?

The Trial

I’d like to imagine that DICE sees the Mirror’s Edge series in the same way they view the Bad Company series. As well-reported, a sequel to Bad Company hasn’t materialized because DICE isn’t quite sure why people liked earlier games in the series. Looking over the litany of changes made from the original Mirror’s Edge, it seems clear that even though they didn’t understand what made the original great, DICE went ahead and developed a sequel regardless.

One zipline to blunt head trauma, coming right up.

Case in point, the story. Far removed from the personal tale that snowballs into something much larger in the first game, Catalyst’s story seems as though it was ripped from a Shadowrun campaign, with small people stealing something they shouldn’t from a megacorporation, which then unravels a wide-ranging conspiracy that involves every inhabitant of the City of Glass. There’s nothing wrong with complexity in a story, but subplots, character motivations, and the plot itself ultimately go nowhere, and leaves little incentive to experience it again.

Not only that, but the characters themselves are dreadful. Around other runners/members of a terrorist organization, there seemed to be this pervasive fog of angst. There wasn’t a single iota of humor in the entire campaign, and angry argumentation seemed to be how all characters sorted out their differences, Faith included. Though not as bad as say, Homefront, little character variety made it hard to enjoy the story missions. This may be compounded by the lack of stylized animated cutscenes, but that is personal preference.

The story also seems to assume that you know a considerable amount already about the characters before even playing. Multiple references are made to an “Exordium” comic, and little is explained about the City of Glass and the mega-corporations inside the game itself. Character backstories are alluded to during flashbacks, and vaguely mentioned in-game, but never fully explored. Side characters are explored for two or three missions, and then discarded without a thought. Without fully committing to any one group of characters, the entire campaign ends up feeling half-baked.

If you must look down, at least know where you’re going.

One would expect that DICE has learned to improve on the movement functions, and they have done so admirably. Running, jumping, climbing and more are all far more fluid and engaging than they were in the first game. All of the controls have been mapped to a few specific buttons, and stringing together extended parkour moves no longer involves wildly flailing on the keyboard, hoping something works. Gliding across the rooftops of the City of Glass has never been easier, and it’s empowering to feel adept at doing so.

One thing that DICE was rightfully criticized for in the original was the awkwardness of combat. You’ll be happy to know that while we now have more combat options, fighting is still awkward, and delightfully grinds the entire game to a halt. Light attacks are only useful when running at full speed, and doing such attacks builds “focus,” maximum focus making you invulnerable to bullets. This is fine in theory, but when you’re forced into combat arenas, your only solution is to use the same two or three heavy attacks, sprinkling in some aerial moves along the way. Kick them in the head enough times, and security officers trip over their ankles before falling to the ground unconscious. With no weight to attacks, combat comes across as lame more than anything; Faith clearly isn’t a fighter, so it leaves me wondering why there’s even combat at all.

Outside of forced combat however, there’s plenty to do in the City of Glass. Hidden bags, platforming challenges, races, a whole array of collectibles, all of this does its best to keep you entertained. For the most part, it works, though some of the collectibles force you to stop and sit through an animation for three or so seconds. Delivery missions are scattered about as well, all of which are locked behind a rather strict time limit. This would be fine if Runner Vision worked, but it seems designed to deliberately mislead you in parts, forcing you to retry over and over to execute a perfect delivery.

I always imagined surgery theatres to be more sterile.

Weirdly, there’s also RPG elements in Catalyst as well. Some of these are more functional, such as more health, or better combat moves, but something such as a double wallrun, or a quickturn feels as though it should be available from the start. Experience is thankfully never hard to come by, and even skipping almost three-quarters of the open-world content, I was still able to unlock everything at the end of the game.

Ultimately though, the longer I explored the City of Glass, the more I realized just how flat it was. There’re few instances in which you have to climb and investigate the environment, but for the most part, you’re running and jumping with little change in elevation along the way. Large, vertical environments are left for the story/side missions, of which there are far too few of the latter. It gives a sense of the open world being tacked on, leaving me to wonder why Mirror’s Edge even needed to be an open-world game at all. To put it bluntly, DICE copied some of the worst elements of Ubisoft open-world games – there’s plenty of things to do, but few have any consequence.

If anything, the only feature to make use of the open-world aspect is the asynchronous multiplayer. Anyone can set up custom, untimed races across the skyline of any length, and people can also place GPS nodes, most of which provide their own platforming challenges. Multiplayer in Mirror’s Edge shouldn’t ever be anything more than this, and it does the job excellently.

‘Nonviolent resistance,’ indeed.

The city itself looks great, so long as you don’t get close to any objects. Textures rarely stream in properly, meaning that if you suddenly stop for collectibles, combat, or anything else, Mirror’s Edge will be fuzzy until the renderer catches up. The Frostbite 3 engine goes a long way in developing a grand sense of scale, but it still has its issues. Night time in the city looks absolutely gorgeous, especially in the high class areas. Neon lights splay across walls, and there’s a constant sense of energy not found in other areas.

Sound design has always been DICE’s forte, and it shows in Catalyst. The squeak of shoes running across glass skyways, the ethereal hum of cleaning robots on rooftops, the faint buzz of traffic below; it all blends in a fantastic aural experience.

Solar Fields also returned to provide the music for Catalyst, and it’s much more subdued this time around. There’s no standout tracks, but nothing really terrible about it either. An ambient producer by trade, it’s pleasant to listen to in-game, but not really worth checking out otherwise. A shame, compared to the impressive work done for the original.

At least grappling hooks still exist in dystopian futures.

Catalyst was thankfully a relatively bug-free experience, though in prerendered cutscenes, the audio would often jump ahead of the actual video by about three seconds, making the final sequences an unintentionally hilarious affair. Otherwise, no crashes to report, and no issues with hardware.

The Verdict

Catalyst is a prime example of a sequel everyone thought they wanted, but is ultimately going to be disappointed by. There’s nothing terribly offensive about it, and DICE should be commended for trying new things, but these elements rarely work as a whole. Excellent campaign level design and freedom of movement is hampered by a rather lifeless open world and a story that can be a slog. The social features make great use of the environments, but many collectibles don’t, the game breaking down completely in combat. For a game all about flow and endless movement, Catalyst sputters and starts constantly.

Case Review

  • A Grand Connection: Social features are perfect for the game world.

  • Be Like Water: Movement has never been easier and more fun.

  • Scaling the Heights: Specifically designed levels are outstanding in construction.

  • Background Noise: Music is passable, as is much of the world.

  • Shoestring Story: Plot is obtuse, confused, and not worth the time.

  • Missing Souls: Characters are universally flat and unlikeable, missing much information.

  • Pancake Palace: Open world is vertically flat, with little worth doing.

  • Citizen, Please Stop: Any combat wrecks the flow of gameplay.

3 Score: 3/5
An unworthy sequel to an innovative original.

Evidence

  • Controls: Complete set of customizable controls that allow full mouse and keyboard key binding or controller layout change.
  • Gameplay: The game allows you to either enable or disable most visual aids like runner vison or stamina and focus bars, as well as disable user generated content.
  • Audio: A standard set of volume sliders with the addition of channel configuration and speaker type for that little bit of extra audio customization.
  • Video: A proper set of video options allowing you to select the monitor, resolution and refresh rate, as well as FOV and enable or disable motion blur.
  • Other: Enable or disable usage data and crash report sharing with EA and DICE.
4.5 Score: 4.5/5

It’s worth saying this right upfront, I love Mirror’s Edge and am horrendously biased. So, in my heart of hearts, this could be fifteen minutes of dancing turd coated in Vaseline, and I’d still give it top marks. Truth be told, I want to give it top marks, and there’s a lot of evidence to support Catalyst deserving it, but there are those few, tiny little niggles that hold it just back from perfection. Like the cutscenes being locked at thirty frames. Which is just plain bizarre considering the game isn’t locked, like, at all. Apart from your GPU, which the game has an option for, allowing cards with greater memory to make better use of it. Whilst lower end cards are locked at a lower setting to reduce power consumption and so forth.

The city is also a tad…well, it falls into the same trap that a lot of open world games do. There are so many bits and pieces of extra content fluff that it makes things feel cluttered, rather than busy and lively. Constantly seeing glowing Gridleak tokens to collect, races to run, billboards to hack so other players can see your in game emblem. It can be a bit overwhelming, and kinda’ distracting when another one pops up, right in your face, when you’re insistent that you’re going to get on with it this time. But then there’s “just one more.” Meanwhile, the new combat system is a bit clunky, though it’s really satisfying to pull off the different attacks. Like knocking one dude into another and dick punching them both in rapid succession.

Let’s be honest though, I’m nitpicking in a valiant attempt to overcompensate for inherent love for the franchise. And failing miserably. It’s true there are flaws, there are complaints to be made. But it is also true that, after a lot of false starts, after a lot of failed starts, there’s a great game that can, and will, appeal to more than the core fanbase, whilst holding true to what made us fall in love with Faith and the City of Glass almost ten years ago. Being honest, this is a personal 5/5, but ultimately…

5 Score: 5/5

First and foremost, I’m a gigantic fan of Mirror’s Edge, it’s been one of my all-time favorite games since it launched back in 2008. With that being said, I’ll try to keep the bias to a minimum. Catalyst is a reboot of the original, but besides a few characters, parkour and an immensely gorgeous city, it borrows very little from its story. The game starts with Faith being released from a K-Sec Prison, and within minutes of her release she’s right back in her old shoes, literally and figuratively, free running around, in and over the rooftops of the corrupted City of Glass. As a runner, her goals are to wrestle control away from the corrupt corporations that have a death grip on Glass City and its people, like Gabriel Kruger, owner of K-Sec, as well as discovering the truth around the circumstances that led to the death of her family.

As Faith, players skilfully jump, climb, slide, punch, kick and zip line around the city, levelling up along the way, unlocking new abilities via XP rewards from completing story missions, side-quests, collectables, and player made time-trials. Each unlock adds more useful combat and parkour skills to her prowess, which in turn opens up the city through new paths and possibilities. Combat is vastly superior this time around, so silky smooth and graceful, tackling multiple enemies at once with a much more robust and refined skillset, with combat to parkour and vice versa, flowing so well together. As expected, audio and visuals are absolutely mindblowingly outstanding, something about the world’s aesthetics have always captivated me. It’s just so mesmerising, and ‘Solar Fields’ is back once again to compose the beautifully intrinsic electronic soundscapes of the Mirror’s Edge universe. I’ve stopped to look around the world more than I actually played the game, my eyes and ears just couldn’t get enough!

Of course, as much as I absolutely love this game, it’s not perfect. First off, whoever was in charge of the default controls should be fired…it was so unorthodox, felt so unnatural, a quick rebinding to the original games setup fixed that tho. Considering my modest GTX 680, the game ran exceptionally well and looked gorgeous, however, I did run into some awful texture streaming issues from time to time. It seems a jarring thirty frame lock was used for ingame cutscenes, for what I can only surmise, as to achieve the dreaded “Cinematic look” which has no place on the PC Platform. Lastly, depending on how you look at it, could be a pro or a con, is what I like to call, the “Far Cry Effect” constantly inundating the player with pick-ups and side quests every few feet. I personally love Far Cry and it’s OCD-like ways, as such, I didn’t mind the frequent barrage of side quests and Gridlock pick-ups all around the city scape, but I can understand why some players wouldn’t like that. So with all that said and done, a marvelous 4.8/5.0 from me, but…with Pixel Judge’s rating system going by increments of .5, mathematic rules dictate I round up.

Comments (1)


Posts: 2
NeonAnderson
Posted 31 Aug 2016, 21:55
Mirrors Edge sequel is already out? Odd I have not heard anything about it on the internet lol!

Not a good sign usually, in general EA sequels have been very disappointing. A trend, that for me, started with the likes of Bad Company 2, Star Wars The Old Republic (MMO sequel to KOTOR) and Mass Effect 3.

They make games so obviously using checkbox development. You cannot make art with checkboxes, you simply cannot.

Big companies can still make art but their people need to be allowed and provided with the chance to develop and utilise their creativity. Pixar is the best example of this, their animations are made within a corporate structure and a systematic approach. But the animators, writers, etc... are all given the opportunity to be creative and delay projects as and when is needed. Finally, the internal people who they have to test view the project actually understand animations and cinematography and such.

In EA the whole process for making games is systematic but without the creative element. Instead everything is done by checkboxes and the whole approach just makes their games feel bland.

Sure their games can still be fun, a functional game will always still be able to provide some degree of entertainment. But a memorable experience that will keep you up all night? EA is incapable of that now.

Just thinking of KOTOR 1 and some of the dark moments in the story still bring physical tears to my eyes. The moments, the music and the set pieces. That is what art in the form of video games should be. Not this crap.