- Format: Xbox One (version reviewed), PS4, PC
- Unleashed: Out now
- Publisher: EA
- Developer: DICE
- Players: 1
- Site: http://www.mirrorsedge.com/
- Game disc provided by the publisher
When news of a Mirror’s Edge sequel first broke, we were filled with both hope and fear. Kind of like how we might feel if it was announced that J.J.Abrams was coming back for the next Star Wars movie, but Michael Bay was doing catering and could therefore theoretically become involved with the actual film-making. Much of what made Mirror’s Edge so great was that it was so unlike anything else. Would EA decide that the next game would have to toe the line in order to succeed?
The answer to that, thankfully, is no. In case you don’t know, Mirror’s Edge was a brightly-coloured first person game where your character, Faith, had very few opportunities to handle a gun. There’s a heavy emphasis on parkour, and your best defence is often running away very fast. Catalyst not only keeps the bright and sunny aesthetic, but in terms of combat takes things one step further by removing the opportunities to arm yourself entirely. Your enemies carry batons, arm-mounted stun guns, and rifles. You carry absolutely nothing.
The story, while much more cohesive and fleshed out than that in the first game, is weak (a shame, as there are a few good performances in there). There are some good ideas but it’s a huge missed opportunity, with an evil corporation called – we kid you not – The Conglomerate (not to mention place and plot device names such as “Glass”, “Reflection”, and “The Shard”). It’s not terrible though, and – the most important thing about any game at all – it’s a joy to play.
No matter what you’re doing – story mission, side mission, time trial, or simply getting from one place to the next – the fundamental idea driving the experience is that you use your parkour abilities to keep moving. This is expertly masked though, so that you rarely if ever notice this while playing. Despite the talk of alternate routes your path is often linear; but each jump, wallrun, quick turn, clamber, and death-defying use of your sci-fi grappling hook feels like an achievement of your own.
The grappling hook (here called a MAG) could so easily have ruined the game completely, rudely barging in on the parkour experience. This problem is sidestepped by ensuring that it can only be used at a handful of very specific points, with upgrades carefully doled out through the story to unlock new areas. Movement is therefore (mostly) smooth and enjoyable. While it’s possible for the game on rare occasions to get your intentions for a jump and a wallrun mixed up, on the whole this first-person parkour works even better than it did in the first game.
As we’ve said already, stripped of pretext it’s all about getting from point A to point B as quickly as possible, looking – or at least feeling – as cool as possible in the process. It works great, thanks to some excellent level design and a very carefully constructed control system. There are plenty of side missions (essentially just new routes, of course) and a great many collectables spread throughout the city. Collectables you actually won’t mind looking for. The social aspect theoretically provides endless replay value in the form of user-created time trials. Creating a trial is dead easy and is the only aspect of the game that delivers on the sandbox promise. It can be as long or as short as you like, and you can drop a checkpoint anywhere at all. Leaderboards too, naturally, so this alone will justify a purchase for a certain type of gamer.
Two things jumped out at us about the fighting. Firstly, it’s absolutely hilarious how you can punch and kick all day at an NPC, and they won’t even flinch (you can’t do any damage, sadly). The second, significantly less amusing thing is that enemies are the element most likely to interrupt the flow of the game.
Almost no fights are compulsory. Major brownie points for that, as well as for the fact that there are no boss fights and no QTEs. Generally, combat works pretty well (especially after you’ve bought a few upgrades); you’re actively discouraged from button bashing, and it does pay to apply a little tactical thinking. The problem is that in some scripted runs, groups of guards are thrown in your path, more for atmosphere than anything else. The idea is that you can choose to stop and fight or, preferably, pull off a cool move or two to fly through them, losing none of your momentum.
Sadly, that doesn’t always work.
As the game goes to irritating lengths to show you at the beginning, parkour-fuelled combat moves are more powerful, and under certain circumstances can instantly knock an enemy out. The problem is that only very specific parkour-supported moves work in this way. If you try to throw a punch or kick with a lot of momentum behind it that doesn’t match what you were shown in the drawn-out tutorial, it simply won’t work. Not properly, at least. You’ll run and/or jump and/or slide into a group of guards, quickly make an attack on your way… and grind to an irritating halt rather than glide straight through. It’s hardly game-breaking, but it’s annoying to hit a wall on a run in this way. The only other example of the game being too strict with its rules is the distance you can safely fall, which now and again can seem somewhat inconsistent.
The majority of the game takes place in the rooftops, yet this never seems restrictive (though it’s a real shame you never get to explore the streets). Mirror’s Edge Catalyst almost never feels restrictive, and is brilliant while it lasts. Once the 8-10 hour story is over, you just might find that you’ll want to stick around for a while longer. Catalyst is even better than the original. And yet… and yet this is a game practically screaming for online multiplayer! Maybe next time?