Playing Mirror’s Edge Catalyst is like spontaneously deciding to run into a forest for no reason whatsoever: the experience is certainly unique and the scenery is beautiful, but you can’t seem to figure out your purpose for running. Likewise, Mirror’s Edge Catalyst takes place in a beautiful city, but the storyline is so poor that it fails to give any sense of purpose to the high-intensity action.
Mirror’s Edge Catalyst takes place in Glass, a futuristic city where a conglomeration of corporations have control. The game takes place before the original Mirror’s Edge and follows Faith as she is released from jail and goes to work repaying Dogen, a man she’s indebted to. Along the way, Faith and the rest of the runners get caught up in a sickening plan concocted by Gabriel Kruger. It’s up to Faith and her friends to right the wrongs committed by Kruger and stop the plan for good.
Unfortunately, the story is very confusing and poorly written. The game doesn’t give the player much background. What you see is what you get, and you’re more or less left to figure out who the people in the game are and why they matter. Some short explanations are given, but it’s hard to connect many people to their proper places in the game until over halfway through the story. It’s not that Mirror’s Edge Catalyst leads to any “Eureka!” moments when the player connects the dots of an intriguing mystery…the mystery is simply figuring out what’s going on at any given moment. Not to mention, the story’s conclusion is one of the quickest, sloppiest, most confusing endings I’ve seen in a video game. My only reaction was “wait, that’s it? Seriously?”
Because the story doesn’t clearly outline who’s who in the adventure, everything muddles together. There are bad guys, good guys and people who might be in the middle, but how they all relate to the story is hard to discern at times. To make matters worse, most of the characters are even less compelling than the storyline. Most of the scripting for the characters is terrible, which leads to stilted dialogue as much as the choppy voice acting does.
As a result, conversations fall flat and the characters themselves are just as flat. The only one character who really stands out is Plastic, an eccentric teenage girl who’s a whiz with technology and helps Faith along her journey. As a supporting character, Plastic never gets her time to shine. I’d gladly play a game or DLC campaign as Plastic to learn more about her.
Mirror’s Edge Catalyst fails in part because Faith is a character who has so much potential, yet the game taps into none of it. Although I wanted desperately to finally know more about Faith and her past, the game fails to give her any sort of depth or personality to satiate the desire that’s been gnawing at me and at other fans for several years. As an origin story, Mirror’s Edge Catalyst is supposed to be the backstory that we wanted, but it ends up being so hollow that it fails at its main goal.
The game does contain bright spots, but almost none are without their own issues. First of all, Mirror’s Edge Catalyst takes place in an open world that allows the player to explore the rooftops of Glass. Although there’s nothing inherently wrong with the open world approach, it doesn’t add enough to the core experience to make it worth all the effort.
Scattered around Glass are hundreds of optional Runs and Time Trials, special package deliveries, collectibles and more. But as I’ve mentioned, the game lacks purpose: there is no real reason to complete any of the tasks. Technically, completing those optional events provides the player with points that can be used to upgrade Faith’s gear and abilities. But the game ensures that Faith has everything she needs, such as a new tool to swing to hard-to-reach places. Most of the other upgrades are minor, optional, unnecessary bonuses, the most valuable of which can be unlocked almost exclusively via the points obtained during actual missions. As a result, there are no compelling reasons to complete the optional tasks aside from unlocking small, mostly extraneous bits of storyline with some of the collectibles.
The only optional events I actively sought out were the four in which I could hack Gridnodes to help Plastic expand her reach in Glass’ networks. (Incidentally, it’s also how I could unlock Fast Travel locations.) The Gridnodes are the best additions to Mirror’s Edge Catalyst, by far. To access a Gridnode, Faith has reach a terminal at the top of a cylindrical tower containing moving platforms, bars to swing on and security laser beams.
Gridnodes provide the most difficult platforming segments in the game, and they provide some of the only instances in which I was forced to slow down and ask myself, “hmm, I wonder how I’ll get up there.” I can’t remember the last time I played through a platforming segment as satisfying as the ones found in the Gridnodes.
Note: To have a similar experience, you’ll need to turn off your Runner Vision, which by default will constantly show you the path you’re supposed to take to get from Point A to Point B. After a couple hours, I hated the way Runner Vision was basically holding my hand through Glass, so I shut it off. Doing so resulted in me exploring the city rather than being led through it. I strongly recommend you do this if you play Mirror’s Edge Catalyst.
Luckily, Mirror’s Edge Catalyst greatly tightens up the controls that were so loose and unresponsive in its predecessor. Running feels fantastic and is as exciting and invigorating as in Faith’s first adventure from years ago. Her wallrunning, climbing, jumping, rolling and swinging abilities all flow together to create instances in which the player can just be immersed and let reflexes take over. In a similar vein, the hand-to-hand combat is just as impressive: flawless, really.
Unfortunately, the game’s logic sometimes destroys what the solid controls created. Sometimes I will look at where I want to go, jump, and Faith instead plummets without grabbing the ledge I aimed for. It’s as though the game doesn’t understand what the player wants it to do, even when there’s only one option available, such as jumping forward to the only other platform nearby. Glitches sometimes cause Faith to freeze when she grabs a ledge, able to drop down but not to climb up.
Other times, the game is unclear with boundaries: I once spent about ten minutes trying to figure out why Faith wouldn’t jump from a billboard to a building of the exact same height about five feet away. I had no idea why I couldn’t make the short jump until I eventually leapt with enough height to realize that the building was blocked off by an invisible barrier that had no good reason to even exist. That isn’t the only instance in which an area is off limits without being marked as such. Other times, glass surfaces are so clean and without glare that I’ll jump, thinking I’m headed for an open door or window, only to slam into glass and plummet to death like a bird who knows no better.
In general, the city is beautiful, both in graphics and in design. Something about the bright white, sterile environments splashed with vivid colors provides a breathtaking contrast when compared to any other game available. Graphically, the game is stunning outside cutscenes as well. Glints and glares looks true to life, and textures are just as realistic. That is, until the player gets close enough to see that the textures (via my experience on PS4) are quite poor at close range. Sometimes, textures won’t load fast enough to keep up with the player, and faces and hair in cutscenes lack some detail.
At the conclusion of my time in Glass, I have managed to wrap up all the main story missions in almost five hours and the side missions in a little under two hours, bringing my story to 100% completion. Given the extra time spent traversing the city, the game is slightly longer than its predecessor, but not enough to really make all the effort put into the open world worthwhile. I would have much preferred a tighter story with better scripting and voice acting, aspects at which Mirror’s Edge Catalyst largely fails.
It’s all a shame, really. On one hand, Mirror’s Edge Catalyst is a gorgeous game with an incredible, unique art style that stays faithful to the original. The combat and traversal options are outstanding thanks to tight controls. There are high intensity moments (such as unexpected ledges, falls and drops) that still make my heart skip a beat, just as in the original. Let it be known: the action lives up to the expectations.
Yet, the rest of the game fails to make similar strides. The world is tainted with glitches and Faith sometimes doesn’t respond the way the player intends. The voice acting and scripting are poor, which leads to an experience lacking purpose and characters that are not compelling. Textures sometimes fail to load fast enough, and much of the open world content lacks purpose.
Writing that last paragraph broke my heart a little, because the Mirror’s Edge universe and Faith in particular have so much potential, yet Mirror’s Edge Catalyst fails to realize any of it. A game that could have been great is instead mediocre, confusing and unfulfilling. I had high hopes that DICE could build upon the starting foundation the original Mirror’s Edge provided, but instead of running forward, the new game takes a step back in several aspects.