Mirror’s Edge: Catalyst isn’t quite the Mirror’s Edge sequel we were hoping for. In fact, it’s not a sequel at all, but a complete reboot. That may disappoint some, but honestly, the narrative elements of the original game were rather threadbare to begin with, so I’m not opposed to Catalyst wiping the slate clean and providing a new take on the world and characters of Mirror’s Edge.
That’s not to say Catalyst doesn’t echo many elements of the original in terms of characters, world, story and themes. It does, but it provides a new twist, fleshing out many of these elements in a way the original never did. Well … sort of.
The story of Catalyst (now told through game engine cut-scenes as opposed to the animated scenes of the original) feels oddly incomplete. It sees Faith tangling with the powerful KrugerSec Corporation, and a nefarious plot to wrestle away the free-will of the unwitting ‘employs’ of the City of Glass.
There’s a lot going on, and it’s clear a lot of work went into fleshing out the world of Catalyst. Unfortunately, very little of this work is evident through playing the core story. No, if you want to better understand the world and the motivations of its characters, you really need to dig into the collectible audio and document logs.
The story is all there – at least in the sense that all the ‘key’ moments play out as you’d expect, taking the story neatly from A to B to C. But it’s the moments between those key scenes – moments that would serve to flesh out the world, situation and characters – that are missing. Many times throughout the game, scenes would end abruptly, as if they were cut short.
Many times, I found myself feeling that chunks of the story had simply been cut. This is particularly evident at the very end of the game, when (mild spoiler) Faith finally regains her iconic tattoo. It’s something that’s noted a couple of previous times throughout the story, something that seems to hold great significance to Faith and (I think) her Mother – yet it’s never expanded upon or explained.
In addition to this, there’s the matter of Faith’s alias and a mysterious runner sign – both of which are mentioned once yet promptly forgotten. The story, particularly during the early stages, sets up multiple potential plot points which then disappear entirely.
And this feeling of being incomplete persisted throughout the game, not just in terms of story. The background scenery feels hastily put together, lacking the quality and polish of the rest of the game. The various inhabitants of the City of Glass seem to possess no more than three idle animations and are excessively cloned throughout.
The opening level/tutorial segment, in a neat contrast to the original game, is set during a rainy night, yet it’s the only time you’ll see rain in the entire game. There’s a couple of side missions which set up the ‘hunter’ drones that patrol the rooftops as a potential threat (and you even have an ability in your skill tree to disable them) yet they don’t feature in the game at all.
There’s just so much stuff like this littered throughout Catalyst that feels cut short. And this is particularly true of the supporting cast. The supporting cast of Catalyst is interesting, but the game does very little with them. You meet a character called Birdman early in the game who you assume will play a role within the core story. But instead, he vanishes entirely after a couple of early training missions. Another runner, Nomad, who you also feel will play a role, also vanishes without a trace.
Your mentor and father figure Noah seems like an interesting guy, but barely has enough scenes to establish his relationship with Faith. And then we have Dogen, a crime boss who deserves far more than the limited scenes and missions he has. This is also true of Thane, leader of the Black November terrorist group, who does play a key role in the story, but also fades out of sight towards its conclusion. Thankfully, the adorable hacker Plastic (and her pet robot) get a little more attention.
It’s frustrating to see such potentially interesting characters simply vanish from the story or barely play a role. I can’t help but feel there was far more planned for this story and these characters that had to be cut, either due to budget or time constraints. And this feeling is reinforced by those aspects of the world that either lack polish, or are never expanded upon or used as it seems they were intended.
I don’t know what happened during the development of Catalyst, but it really does feel like a lot of stuff was cut, forcing the developers to stitch the story together as best they could in a way that still made sense. It’s so frustrating when you take the time to delve into the audio and document logs and see how much thought went into building this world and characters … and how so much of it feels wasted.
When I reviewed Mirror’s Edge a while ago, I mentioned how I’d like to see a more open-world in a potential sequel. And that’s exactly what Catalyst delivers. As you progress through the story you’ll unlock new areas of the City of Glass. It’s a large playground, though it somewhat lacks variation. Each area does have its own unique ‘look’ to it, but it’s not quite as pronounced as I would have liked.
That said, traversing this open city is an amazing rush, and exactly the kind of expansion on the original game I was hoping for. And though the core story and missions may feel incomplete, the developers seem to have tried to make up for it with an abundance of open world side content.
There’s nothing particularly complex about the side content in Catalyst, with nearly all of it consisting of a race between A and B. The bulk of this is the delivery jobs and the ‘rush’ race challenges. But there’s also a couple of more combat oriented side jobs, as well as some fun platform puzzle style missions.
If all you want to do is run then Mirror’s Edge has you covered, with plenty to keep you busy during and beyond the core story. It may be rather basic and repetitive content, but it remains true to the heart of Mirror’s Edge – to run, pure and simple. And this is something that’s also nicely tied into its revamped combat system, which I’ll talk about in a moment. But first, I do need to say that the core story missions of Catalyst – the scripted, crafted missions outside of the open world – aren’t anywhere near as good as those in the original.
There are flashes of brilliance, moments when they do hit those dizzy heights (sometimes quite literally). But on the whole, the missions, whilst still good, lack the clever design and engaging moments of the original. They’re not as elaborate, they lack variation in terms of environments, and they don’t offer a comparable rush.
Also missing from the original is the use of guns. I know I’m in the minority when I say I actually liked the gunplay of the original game. There was something very satisfying about kicking a shotgun out of the hands of an enemy, flipping it into the air, catching it on its way down, and then blasting the f**ker in the face.
The limited ammo meant you couldn’t treat the game like a typical shooter. Instead, you stayed on the move, grabbing a gun and taking a shot, before discarding it and continuing on, all in one fluid motion. But Catalyst does away with guns entirely, at least in terms of player use.
The combat system has been overhauled, with a strong focus on persistent movement. Keeping a running ‘flow’ going builds a focus ‘shield’ that effectively makes Faith bulletproof and immune to damage. But slowing down, stopping or taking hits will deplete that shield rapidly.
And though Faith can’t use guns, certain enemies can, meaning it’s important to stay on the move, using your mixture of light (fists) and heavy (feet) attacks to take them out, one at a time, in one continuous motion. I actually feel the game would have benefited by not having guns at all, for either Faith or your enemies. The gun toting enemies aren’t at all interesting to fight, and the game really needed a greater variety of melee based foes with different attack styles and weapons.
The introduction of third person ‘finishing’ moves was a concern for some but honestly, you’ll barely see them at all. The combat feels like it has an appropriate weight to it, and when you do chain together your attacks as you traverse the environment it’s – just as it was in the original – an absolutely fantastic feeling. In fact, I’d say I enjoyed the combat in Catalyst more than in the original.
Catalyst also introduces a new method for traversing the environment – a magnetic grapple. It’s a fun addition, but can only be used at very specific points, and I don’t think the game really needed it at all. Oh, and don’t be worried by the skill tree system. You can obtain all of Faith’s original moves within about twenty minutes of play, so it’s really not an issue. But in terms of overall movement, I think the original still offers the superior experience. Movement in Catalyst feels more ‘loose’ and forgiving, whereas the original required greater precision.
Graphically, Catalyst employs the similar stark, colourful style of the original. Technically, the game is solid, with a constant 60FPS, but it does suffer from some blurry textures and backgrounds, meaning the game never appears quite as sharp or as vivid as the original.
Overall, despite all of my complaints, I still enjoyed the f**k out of Catalyst. I never thought we’d see another Mirror’s Edge game and though Catalyst may be far from perfect, it was great to step back into Faith’s stylish shoes. I don’t know if we’ll get another game. I hope so.
And I hope if we do, the developers have the time and budget to craft the definitive Mirror’s Edge experience – a perfect blend of the elaborate, diverse and cleverly crafted levels of the original, and the expansive open world of the reboot. Not to mention a story that does justice to its world and characters in a way that neither title quite managed to achieve.
There’s still a lot for me to see and do in Catalyst, and it’s a game I see myself playing for some time as I hunt down the last of the collectibles and try to beat all of the various side challenges. It’s also made me want to play through the original again.
Oh, and I don’t know why they changed Faith’s face. It was a little weird at first, but I soon adjusted. I guess it’s not really a big deal or anything. If you’re a fan of the original, you really need to play Catalyst. It’s not just more of the same. Though it may somewhat lack the crafted quality of the original, it offers so much more in terms of world, characters and extra content. Despite its flaws, I highly recommend checking it out.