The Dreaded Backlog: Mirror’s Edge Catalyst
I was not optimistic about Mirror’s Edge Catalyst going in. I heard it was an unnecessary reboot. I heard its combat was flawed and its open world was boring. I heard the characters and stories were bad. Generally people were disappointed with it after the first game. However, it is safe to say I did not love the first game. By the time I completed Catalyst it is safe to say I loved it.
However, before the gushing begins I’d like to get a few nitpicks out of the way. Some of the side missions are way too hard and way too long. I completed them eventually, but with too much hard work relative to the pay off of completion. I was also irked that the game didn’t even give me achievements for all of these stresses. Your ‘runner vision’ is also useful at the beginning of the game, but once you get to your systems you are a faster runner than the ‘runner vision’ can keep up with, and you get lost or have to stop a lot. All that being said, the purpose of the side missions and runner vision isn’t diminished: to actually make you feel like an illegal delivery person, which the first game didn’t explore at all.
Story wise, Catalyst is a slightly mixed bag, but effectively solid. This reboot’s version of Faith Conners is arrogant, head-strong and gets frequently into trouble because of these attributes. However these traits make complete sense for someone who is willing to throw themselves off of buildings to defy law enforcement. Faith makes a lot of mistakes either practically or ideologically. She goes on a long journey literally and emotionally. The game also gives you an occasional sidekick in ‘Icarus’ who is incredibly douchey, but eventually becomes likeable. Characters like Noah and Dogen are also memorable enough. The plot and characters are light, but not so light you don’t care. They all make sense to the world of Catalyst and you don’t want to get bogged down in conversations in a game about constant movement.
As opposed to the first game, the world of Catalyst feels fully developed and lived in. It takes the simple aesthetic of the first game and builds more character and tech in. Stylistically it looks like Blade Runner via an Apple store. This makes sense for a future world ruled by fascistic rogue capitalist corporations. The government is actually a monopoly called ‘Kruger’ and the police are its security called K-Sec. Despite the bright colours of consumerism Kruger pushes on the city, this is a horrible place to live. The lower streets are dark and oppressive, a place of no escape. The rooftops offer some respite from this world, until K-Sec drones, gunships and laser-gunning troops turn up.
As Faith you are a member of a rebellious cell of runners who steal valuable information and release it wide for attention as well as other restrained guerrilla freedom fighter tactics. You have to balance this with side delivery jobs to keep the group funded. Faith also gets to flirt with joining a runner cell that’s gone from freedom fighters to actual terrorists. The game does explore a few basic moral issues around freedom fighting and so on. As well as how many people within fascist societies aren’t aware of the evils under their noses. And so on. It’s light, like the story, but this allows you to reach the action without being bogged down in lore and themes.
So how does one go about being a freedom fighter? Mostly by running. In Catalyst there is the ingenious health bar system wherein your armour is determined by maintaining momentum. This is to represent the bullets missing you as you keeping moving. Even in fist fights staying still is a bad idea. The enemies surround you easily and you don’t have eyes in the back of your head. Faith is a small woman, she cannot go all Arkham Asylum on K-Sec. When you have to engage five or more K-Sec guards it’s a thrill, it’s a pure adrenaline rush when it’s more then five guards and they mix up the enemy types. You have to keep moving inside a small space, trying to work out how to not get tied up. I found the combat system easy to use and satisfying to execute. The fact the attacks are directional means you don’t have to trust the animation to send your enemies where you want. Flying kicks or vaulting kicks from a wall feel amazing to perform. Well timed throws feel awesome to use. The fights are always brief enough so it doesn’t get repetitive. I also appreciate that you never get to use a gun during the game, as you can’t ever pick one up.
The running mechanics are also very refined in this game. The vault function can sometimes be a bit dreadful to time, but aside from that I have none of my complaints from the first game. Faith does what you want her to and when it goes wrong it usually is your fault. The traversal is solid enough that constantly traversing the open world doesn’t wear too thin. By the time the constant traversal does get a little tiring you’ve explored the city enough to open up well spread fast travel points.
Mirror’s Edge Catalyst makes some choices that may piss off the big fans of the original: however this second game is better in every way. The characters and story are better. The world is fully developed and offers constant player choice. The missions are always thrilling and feel epic, even when small and personal. The controls do what they’re supposed to this time and combat is a joy. The visuals are simple, but effective and realistic, in 60 FPS and all without much hard drive space strain. Come for the sensational parkour, be surprised by the story and characters, stay for the steady stream of adrenaline.
(Played on Xbox One)
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