If there’s one thing I’ve been thankful for in the first half of 2016, it has to be the collapse of the open-world, Ubisoft inspired, checklist games. 2014 and 2015 were absolutely stuffed full of them, but at long last developers and publishers seem to have run out of steam. It was an exhaustive torrent of 80 hour games with 10 hours of legitimately great content. Never before have I felt so confronted by my own mortality as I collected more metal scaps in Mad Max. Or so I had thought. Because there was one more bloated open-world romp still lurking in the wings.
The lovely, beautiful Mirror’s Edge. It may not have the set the world on fire but it certainly gained a cult following for its streamlined gameplay and intense focus on speed, agility, and finding the perfect line. It was a speed runners’ paradise. If Mirror’s Edge got its hooks in you, it really got its hooks in you; shaving milliseconds off your time your best times became a never-ending obsession.
And then DICE bizarrely announced Mirror’s Edge Catalyst. From the get go it was pretty much commercial suicide. Mirror’s Edge had its audience, sure, but it was never an audience large enough to be worthy of a sequel, particularly with EA on publishing duties.
In an effort to expand Mirror’s Edge Catalyst’s reach then, DICE decided to hamfistedly join the rest of the crowd and crowbar in their own open-world sandbox. It’s bloated a franchise which was once famed for its streamlined nature. It’s led to disappointing reviews galore. However, beneath all the collectibles and open-world side activities lurks a mission-based runner every bit as good as its predecessor. It’s just a shame everything else drowns out the bright spark lurking beneath.
Following precisely in the footsteps of its predecessor, and billed as a reboot rather than a sequel, Mirror’s Edge Catalyst is a first-person platformer all about constant locomotion.
There’s a definite thrill to be had here in its most cinematic moments. When all of Faith’s abilities come together in one cohesive run it’s hard to wipe the grin off your face. But these moments, in truth, are few and far between and Mirror’s Edge Catalyst adds nothing to shake up the formula of the original. By the time you’re a few missions in you’ll have seen practically every potential parkour trick. From this point on it just becomes a case of stringing them together in various combos.
The glistening City of Glass is absolutely eye popping to look at though, and the sense of vertigo is second to none. Faith is capable some incredibly lethal leaps from rooftop to rooftop, and from crane to scaffolding, all capitalised to full extent in the story missions.
It’s just a shame that this makes up such a tiny portion of the game; the rest filled with boring races, deliveries and collectibles, over and over. What’s frustrating is there was never any need for this. Mirror’s Edge fans have never cried out for this. A tight 8-10 hour campaign was all that was necessary.
The chief culprit is ME: Catalyst’s so called open world. The City of Glass looks absolutely gorgeous to run through, the problem is that there’s just nothing in it. The Ubisoft influence is strong in this one, including a map stuffed with icons and various banal activities to do. There’s no incidental details or overheard comments. It’s the very opposite of a sandbox and you being there has zero impact on it whatsoever. It’s just Faith running across endless rooftops, delivering packages ad nauseum.
It’s a lonely yet starkly beautiful place, but hardly somewhere you’d desperately want to explore. Get to the crafted, linear missions and this is where Mirror’s Edge Catalyst finally gets its chance to shine. They feel like actual running courses design to test your wits, skills and reactions, and barrelling along these is Mirror’s Edge at its finest.
Complete objectives and you get experience which can be spent on unlocking new skills and parkour abilities. There are no unique builds though - everyone will have the same fully kitted out character by the end, begging the question why we weren’t just given the full skillset in the first place.
What DICE has unfortunately done is taken one of the most unique AAA games of the previous gen and forced it to conform. The final product is depressingly bland for a game which looks so arrestingly pretty.
Mirror’s Edge Catalyst isn’t a bad game. I daresay if the excess fat was trimmed off it would be every bit as good as its predecessor. However, the concessions DICE has made to modern game trends have effectively nulled what made the franchise exciting in the first place. If you ever want to see what’s wrong with game design by committee, this right here is out. You can’t help but feel DICE has been steered behind the scenes though, and perhaps Mirror’s Edge Catalyst isn’t quite the game they’d originally planned it to be.
Eight years ago Mirror’s Edge felt revolutionary. Today it’s brand of parkour is pretty well embedded in gaming. Dying Light most definitely showed open-world first-person running done right, and you can’t help but compare the two and wonder what went wrong.
Those looking for a Mirror’s Edge 2 would do well to ignore every scrap of side content and smash straight through the story. I know reading back that it seems as if I'm down on this game, but it's only because of the potential I know Mirror's Edge has. Deep down lies the very same core that made Mirror's Edge so fantastic. DICE might have done its best to hide a quality game, but it’s still there beneath the piles of filler.