Some really nice moments of clear ambient sound design, but other times it sounds like Faith has her head in a bucket. But it’s all supported by a great OST
Bright and sharp with wonderful art direction, cut-scenes are gorgeous. Plagued by terrible texture pop-in when going to new areas.
Longevity will come from time trial runs and making your own custom courses. Story is good and collectibles will keep you coming back for more.
Better than the sum of its parts when it all works in unison. When you’re at a high level, running feels superb and it's exhilarating to play. It just takes a while to get there.
So, so many collectibles, but that’s the curse of the open world, right? Otherwise there are some fun combat-based rewards in there, and time trial beating will keep you occupied for a while
June 06, 2016
If there was a game that never really needed to go open world it was Mirror’s Edge. The original’s level designed excelled because it had various routes from A to B. Catalyst reneges on that, it seems, and dilutes some watertight game design by letting the player decide how and where to travel to.
Usually, we’re all for player choice. It makes games more interesting, gives you more agency, lets you discover the world at your own pace. But frankly, in Catalyst, there just isn’t very much to explore, really... the city of Glass is a lovely looking place, sure, but it’s clinical.
You could argue that’s what DICE wanted from Faith’s hometown, but it impacts the fun of it all. Every zone has its own wonderful architecture, its own cosy geography, but none of it really tells a story. Open world games can suffer from that at the best of times, but when everything’s as naked and shiny and white as it is in Glass... it just feels kindof unfinished.
Flying jump punch!
Graphically, the draw distances don’t quite do the city justice, either. When you’ve got games like Dying Light doing similar things to Mirror’s Edge but looking incredible while doing it, it’s hard to get excited about DICE’s efforts when every other scene is plagued with texture pop-in and terrible anti-aliasing.
That said, when you’re mid-run and the city is blending to a blur in your peripheral vision and that sharp red UI pops on your screen, you can’t help but admire what Frostbite’s doing. Just don’t slow down enough to look closely and it’s a nice visual experience.
The cut-scenes stand out, however. During main story missions and the more urgent side missions, we’re treated to some of the nicest cinematics we’ve seen on current-gen consoles. Quest givers are animated well, Faith herself looks wonderful and her clothes shimmer in the weird utopian/dystopian light. It’s a shame, then, that when you go back into the in-game engine some of the NPCs look like HD remaster assets. It’s a game of duality, this.
At least it plays well, though, and that’s what really matters. Odious characters giving out ‘go here, do this quests’ aside, the actual free-running is fun. Find a good time trial or delivery side mission and you can sit there for hours trying to get a better score than someone on your friends list. It’s the compelling ‘just one more go’ play of the original game, but don’t bother trying it until you’re about 75% through the story...
...because that’s where it actually gets good. DICE has put in some new toys for Faith to play with - magnetic hooks and the like - and while we didn’t like these tools initially, they soon became part and parcel of that wonderful momentum this game was built on. There’s a rudimentary skill tree built into the game that’s as barebones as it gets, yet the small increments of speed and flow the upgrades give you is noticeable as the game progresses.
Initially the running feels staccato and weird; after every impact you basically slow to a walk before getting up to speed again. In the first Mirror’s Edge, it felt like you were rewarded for having perfect timing with your button presses: hop over this, duck under that, do it all together and you’re steaming through.
In Catalyst, it feels absolutely necessary to never falter: if you do, you’ll lose a precious second in a time trial, or KrugerSec will outright annihilate you. It’s punishing to a degree but also quite frustrating you can feel like you’re making every landing count, hopping every obstacle with ease, and you’ll still get slowed down. Until you’re all but maxed out in the skill tree, it’s worth not taking on any side missions at all for this very reason.
The story itself is bearable but don’t expect it to win any prizes. It’s what you’d expect from a low budget anime version of 1984: some fairly overwrought exposition and buzzwords galore. Still, it’s hard not to believe in Faith and what she’s doing. Everyone in the game with a position of power is an obnoxious bastard, and Faith is just caught in the middle of it all.
But she’s got her own reasons for playing this symphony of condescending arseholes off against each other, and in its own way, that’s kind of endearing. The voice acting is good, and the actors do what they can with the script they’ve been given, so that’s something.
Story progression ticks along nicely and the level variety is actually incredibly refreshing if you spend too much time in the open world, running what are effectively the same routes everywhere. (Pro Tip: unlock fast travel as soon as you’re able: it’s a godsend).
The sound design throws us off... in some areas it’s really engaging and believable the subtle hints of bird sound suggesting that there’s more to life than this damn glass city while in other areas (read: tunnels and corridors) it sounds like Faith’s running around with her head in a bucket.
Welcome to the clinical city of Glass.
When combat kicks up and you’ve got bullets whizzing past your ears and electrically charged angry men coming after you, it gets very muddy a shame considering how well DICE has done sound in the past with the Battlefield series.
Combat itself starts off quite dull (one-on-one encounters are a breeze) but once multiple enemies are introduced and you engage in little ‘arena’ style fights, it gets much more interesting. We figured out a set of moves that pretty much beat anything the game threw at us, but finding the opportunity to do them in various levels was all part of the challenge.
The game encourages you to run past all encounters that aren’t scripted, and we’ll mimic that advice: it’s fun to beat the crap out of those snooty KrugerSec guards in predetermined crapbeating areas, but out in the open world it’s a chore. Occasionally the game will throw a Grand Theft Auto-style police chase on your ass and you’ve got to get out of a sphere of influence before you’re gunned down. We’ll say with complete confidence: this is not fun. We hated these chases, and they invariably just lead to us legging it back to the nearest safehouse. Mirror’s Edge never needed that kind of mechanic, it feels out of place and clumsy.
Overall, Mirror's Edge Catalyst isn’t a bad game and certainly better than the sum of its parts. The open world design weakens everything that made the original great, unfortunately, yet the ability to set your own time trials and run tough premade courses saves the day. It’s a solid game as far as playing the story missions are concerned, but like Faith herself it can sometimes fail to find its legs elsewhere.