‘Cause You Gotta Have Faith
Most of gaming’s dystopian futures are so Twentieth Century. Atomic bombs, angry superpowers… how charmingly old-fashioned. Mirror’s Edge brings us into the new millennium with a totalitarian future out of Occupy Wall Street’s worst nightmares. It’s a story of haves versus have-nots; drudgery and safety versus precarious freedom. And just like our protagonists, we players get to enjoy a grand flight across the rooftops of the City of Glass, until we hit a moment when that flight comes to a crashing halt.
Our hero is Faith, one of the “runners” who lives outside the system of enforced corporate drudgery by leaping across the sterile city’s rooftops, making illicit deliveries. We’ve met Faith before, but her story is slightly different now, as Mirror’s Edge Catalyst is a bit of a story reboot of the original game. This time we meet a young Faith who has just gotten out of two years in juvie for an unspecified offense. In fact, the early game is a confusing mess of people and places it feels like you’re supposed to know already, and the tooltip screen gives out the helpful hint that you can go buy the associated comic book to learn more about Faith’s past. It’s a deliciously ironic gesture for a game about fighting evil corporations to start out with a blatant upsell like that.
Once you get a handle on things by giving into EA’s merchandising, reading a summary of the comic on a wiki, or piecing information together as best you can, Faith’s story is interesting enough to keep the game’s momentum going. The characters in her life are appealing if fairly archetypical – you’ve got Concerned Father Figure, Cocky Rival, Crime Lord You Owe, Precocious Teen Hacker, Best Friend Who Means Trouble, and Morgan Freeman (not actually voiced by Morgan Freeman), among others. These characters come from a variety of ethnic backgrounds without being overly stereotypical, something I commend the team for doing.
Faith herself is a rebellious teen eager to prove herself after having messed up and gotten caught. Her characterization is occasionally uneven, but overall she has her heart in the right place and is the kind of person you want to help succeed – even if she keeps making stupid decisions.
Faith’s story tend to take place on the move, in brief, hyper-kinetic segments, as Mirror’s Edge Catalyst is all about running. Even when she’s not on a timed delivery mission, Faith feels best when played on the move, be it leaping across buildings or knocking down bad guys who stand in her way. The controls can take a bit of getting used to, but as you get more proficient at them, it feels delightfully smooth to dash, slide, and swing around the gorgeous glass city.
Smooth, that is, until like the birds she emulates, Faith slams into one of the city’s multitudinous glass walls or is reminded that she’s only human when she careens around a blind corner and falls to her doom. Although Catalyst feels easier to control than the first Mirror’s Edge , EA and DICE have yet to fully convince me that first-person is a good viewpoint for a game that is essentially a precision platformer. I know fans will continue to argue this point to death, some calling it immersive and others calling it frustratingly inaccurate. I’m sure it depends on where you come from, gaming-wise. As somebody who usually plays third-person games, there were many times I would have killed to have been able to see exactly where Faith was in the environment, or at least known where her feet were planted without having to halt all momentum and swing the camera completely downwards. It feels like artificially-imposed difficulty that could have been avoided with multiple viewpoint options.
One area that has been unmistakably improved from the first Mirror’s Edge is combat, which is all about momentum. Faith has no access to weapons and strikes best while on the move, dodging, punching, and kicking her enemies into the environment and each other. It’s great fun when fighting small groups while on the run, and I was about to praise it unconditionally until a mandatory story mission forced me into an arena full of far too many foes and with no way to escape. I had thus far largely been building up Faith’s movement skills instead of her combat skills, confident in the fight-or-flee situations I’d been presented with previously. I felt the same sinking feeling I had in the notorious boss fights of Deus Ex: Human Revolution . Maybe I was supposed to feel like a suddenly-caged bird, but I mostly felt like a grouchy duped player.
Outside of this unfortunate roadblock, though, mistakes and sudden deaths aren’t penalized too heavily in Catalyst . Sometimes the game is even merciful, moving you a bit past a troublesome segment after you’ve fallen. Runner’s vision gives you a bright red path to follow, though it can be persnickety sometimes. You’re supposed to be able to explore off the path it gives you (and yes, you can turn it off entirely if you’re a purist), but as with the first person viewpoint, only people who are good at a specific kind of navigation will be good at leaving the established path when there’s no on-screen mini-map and most of the buildings look pretty much the same.
For those who do feel comfortable navigating the City of Glass, there are a ton of collectibles, side-quests, delivery missions, and other miscellaneous activities to engage in. You can even set up your own mini-missions and races to challenge your friends or the world at large. There’s plenty to do outside of the main story, and the open world format makes it all feel natural… except when you’re putting off a main story quest and start hearing the same canned dialog over and over again while you explore.
Other than the surprise enforced combat segment, Catalyst does what it sets out to do quite well. Mega-fans of the original game will be very pleased, especially with the combat improvements. Skeptics, though, will have many of the same problems they had with the first Mirror’s Edge . I wish I’d been more comfortable with Catalyst , as I loved the moments when it clicked for me, and I appreciated its story themes and diverse casting.
Is there space in the gaming world for a first-person platformer? Absolutely, but I feel like the design decisions behind Mirror’s Edge Catalyst limit the number of people it will ultimately appeal to. If it is “for you,” you’ll probably love it. If you’re not sure about the first-person viewpoint or limited navigational tools, though, I recommend giving it a rental or a try-out with a friend’s copy. It’s a good game, but I can’t guarantee it’s one you’ll enjoy playing.
RATING OUT OF 5 RATING DESCRIPTION 4.5 Graphics
The City of Glass is a shimmering monument to corporate ambition, beautiful but eventually monotonous. It’s stylish but hollow, which is thematically appropriate. 3.8 Control
Although the controls are fairly simple, not all gamers will be comfortable performing precision platforming tricks in the first-person viewpoint. I was not. 4.0 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
The atmospheric music is nothing to write home about, but the voice acting is good and the sound effects perfectly complement Faith’s parkour moves. 4.5 Play Value
There are Assassin’s Creed levels of side activities here, including some you can design yourself. If you love the game, you can spend a ton of time with it. 4.0 Overall Rating – Great
Not an average. See Rating legend below for a final score breakdown.
|Review Rating Legend
|0.1 – 1.9 = Avoid
|2.5 – 2.9 = Average
|3.5 – 3.9 = Good
|4.5 – 4.9 = Must Buy
|2.0 – 2.4 = Poor
|3.0 – 3.4 = Fair
|4.0 – 4.4 = Great
|5.0 = The Best