Mirrors Edge Catalyst Review (PS4)
The original Mirrors Edge was ahead of its time, providing a first person free running experience before its best features were adapted (albeit often in reduced form) across almost all modern FPS games. From Titanfall to Overwatch, there’s a little bit of free running in almost every shooter now, but Mirrors Edge did it first. Wall running, mantling, vaulting and climbing are commonplace in 2016, so the challenge for the new Mirrors Edge was to build upon the traversal mechanics and fix the problems present in the first entry of the series: poor shooting, formulaic storytelling, repetitive missions and a general blandness. Sadly, Catalyst gets as much wrong as it gets right.
Mirrors Edge Catalyst is a game that’s satisfying enough, but lacks personality and suffers greatly from the generic-ification (not a word, but you know what I mean) of modern open-world games. It turns out that Mirrors Edge works just fine as an Assassins Creed-style open world collect-a-thon, but it could have been much more. Catalyst is as vanilla as a game can be in 2016.
At least the big world map is quite nice. It’s 3D and very white and modern, and you can turn it around to find routes through the city across the rooftops. You’ll be checking back often to choose a new waypoint, selecting either a main mission, side mission or nearby collectible. As is the case with all these open-world games, the map is a total mess of icons, with my “reviewers guide” mentioning there are over five hundred items to find. Why they think that’s a commendable feature I have no idea. Perhaps eventually an open world game will feature randomly respawning infinite collectibles and we can look forward to procedurally generated flags, orbs, diary entries and audio recordings. Indeed I’d welcome procedurally generated diary entries to the ones you find in Catalyst, such is the low quality prose throughout these inane snippets of narrative.
And the story is as dull on the macro level as the micro. Corporations, policy brutality, graffiti-spraying good guys and edgy teenage angst are blended together clumsily in a heavy-handed, cliche-ridden story of baddies and goodies. There’s an old, mystical black man who raises pigeons, and a hard-headed business man named Kruger who runs a security company. Can you guess which is a villain and which is a hero?
Outwith the predictable twists and turns of the story, there’s a difficult knot to untangle regarding how the game ties in to the original. The developers have said it is neither a sequel nor a reboot, but not is it a sequel. You can’t help but feel there’s a distinct lack of confidence exhibited by EA around the games release, and unsure of how to position it, they fail to offer any meaningful explanation of how the story links the two games.
In truth the answer is pretty simple: the story is place-holder stuff in both games, and exists as a very loose narrative frame to hang some free-running on. Clunky dialogue aside (“I thought you were taking a nap. Isn’t that what old people do?”, “Patience never was your virtue.”), the story at least doesn’t get in the way of the gameplay. And when you’re free running across the city and get into a flow, you feel like you’re almost able to outrun the bad writing.
It’s a shame then that the city you’re running across is so bland. The visuals are generally poor, particularly on the characters who look strangely blurry. The art direction doesn’t help on these NPC’s – they all look like skateboarders in a tv advert for chewing gum – and their personalities won’t win you over either. There’s also some strangeness going on with the animations. Sometimes enemies will shoot at you and damage you while facing away from you, their guns twisting awkwardly in their hands. It’s a weird glitch – and not the only one – and it adds to the general feeling of roughness pervasive throughout the game.
It’s not ugly, but it’s very far from pretty. A combination of blurriness and basic flat textures and square geometry – all of which seems to be intentional – combine to make for a very unexciting game to look at. There’s some nice effects when you’re moving fast, but (like a racing game) when you stop to look around at the environment the seams are all too obvious. Looking down at the square boxes (cars?) is a very effective way of dispelling the illusion that you’re in a real, living, breathing city.
The game improves – both visually and in terms of gameplay – when you enter a building. It’s strange because you’d think the rooftops would feel the most free and satisfying when free-running, but the interiors offer some great little traversal puzzles, and generally also have some cool coloured lighting and design elements that makes the game look better.
Still it takes a long time to get to the good bits. The opening is especially poor, and there’s a real failure on the part of the tutorials in the game. For example, when you first get the grappling rope you’re told to hold L1 to climb. Doing exactly as you’re told will result in you hoping over the edge of the building and falling to an ignominious death.
Indeed you press the same button to do almost everything (L1), but the game does a poor job of telling you when you should press or when you should hold, or when you’re timing was off. Too early or too late, it can be difficult to figure out why you’re just missing the strict time limits. And the “Runners Vision” which is supposed to highlight the route to your goal is the biggest failure in the game. It frequently disappears of its own accord, leaving you confused and lost. Clicking R3 is supposed to make it appear, but it seems to materialize or fade of its own accord. Here again the developers lack of confidence is clear. They want to allow you to freely explore, but they know finding a route is difficult across the complex environments, so they fudge. They give you a half-working system then explain it poorly and turn it on or off at random.
And the less said about the combat the better. There are good ideas – something to do with displacing your momentum into your attacks – but they’re so vague and poorly implemented that you’ll struggle to understand why you’re succeeding or failing in fist fights. Perhaps the funniest scene (in a game filled with unintentional humour) is the tough enemies who wear black uselessly punching and kicking thin air while ten feet away from you, like a drunk man in a chip shop fighting invisible potato thieves.
Mirrors Edge Catalyst is a disappointment, but it’s not a disaster. It can be fun to run through and over the city. It can be fun to kick an enemy off a building. It can be funny to perfectly navigate a route over and under and across a modern obstacle course. It’s just a shame the city, the enemies, the story and the game as a whole is so utterly lacking in personality.