June 09, 2016

Mirror's Edge Catalyst - Review

I count myself among a very, very small selection of gamers that really enjoyed the original Mirror’s Edge and like everyone else, I resigned myself to not getting a sequel, but with Mirror’s Edge Catalyst, we did not get one, we got a prequel.

The story kicks off with Faith having this disjointed dream of events in her past, small fragments of a large picture that plays out over the course of the game, but before we can learn of anything, she awakes with a start and we see she is locked away in a juvenile detention facility. Once she is released, she is pulled aside by Icarus, a new runner and sent to Noah, her surrogate father and leader of the runners she is a part of.  As Faith gets back into the swing of things, she is tasked with heading to a Kruger family building and there she discovers someone else breaking in and when she follows them, all hell breaks loose. The story itself is noteworthy for one simple fact, they reveal very little of it in the game, if you want to know how Faith wound up in Juvenile Detention, you need to read the comic, characters are introduced or talked about and then forgotten and even by the end of the story, very few questions are answered and it does not tie into the existing game, there is clearly more to be told here.

What the game does exceptionally well though, is imbue the player with a sense that they are running across roof tops and leaping to ledges high up above the ground. Picking up speed to make that big jump is a very rewarding experience when you make it, but when you fall short, the frustrations you will feel are also well deserved. The game is all about moving, Faith has no walking speed, she is either standing still or running, no in between and that speed is important as it gives her an advantage over Kruger Security, but it also allows for a lot of traversal options. Runner vision allows for Faith to see a path ahead, giving players one way of moving about the world, but not the only way, in fact the mechanics of moving are much more refined than they were in the first game and that is a great thing.

Sadly, though, it does not last, there are way too many collectables to locate, which range from chips in sensor boxes, to data packets floating around the world, the problem with them is they bring you to a stop. The game is always telling you to keep moving, push forward, avoid fights, but then it throws a list of collectables to get that do the exact opposite. The hidden runner bags are still there, this time, they beep though, giving you more of a chance to locate them, but the addition of audio logs, messages and such add to much to collect. The world itself is described as open world, but it’s more of a Metroid style world, as you are unable to run away to any far corner of the map right away, you will need to earn upgrades that allow Faith to get past some barriers. The Mag launcher allows for large gaps to be crossed by swinging across them, but then down the line, you can also use it to pull yourself up to higher ledges, removing a lot of climbing time. Once you get this accessory, you can then head back to earlier areas and find new places to see and things to do and you can do this with other upgrades. There are things to do, like destroy beacons, hack nodes and more as well, but apart from the introduction to each of them, you are never forced to do them and I honestly forgot about the beacons until I happened to stumble on one while running.

All across the map, you will find things like races, which are populated by character in the world, but if you are online, you can also create your own races or time trials and share them with friends. Doing the races does not give you anything, but it does give you something to do outside of missions. If you want, you can also customise your online persona, by way of tags and when you get to the safe houses, or billboards around town, if you are the first among your friends to get there, you can hack the screens to show your tag and it will show in all your friends games. The game also has a day night cycle, though you never really get to run at night time, but it is still nice to see the world lit up differently, with perhaps the best location saved to the end at the shard.

The world itself though suffers from two problems, one is that it is divided into districts and to get from one to another, you generally have to go all the way to the middle of the map and then head towards the other and while you can fast travel, if you have unlocked safe houses, but for the most part you will run back and forth. The other issue with the world, is that it feels dead and I don’t mean the city itself, as it was designed to look that way, but the people of the world, the cars and such, nothing shows signs of life. There were times when I would be running away from KrugerSec offices, who were shooting at my and people would just stand in their office, ignoring everything around them. Running though homes in the fancy district, you see servants just standing around, but they don’t say anything about the fact you are running through the house and again, they don’t even acknowledge you, they just stand there. Every person who is not a main character or a soldier appears to be stuck on just cycling their animations and doing nothing more.

The strange thing is that with how little there is actually happening in the world, the game might look amazing and for the most part it has a very striking look, but sadly there are a few visual oddities that stand out. The first being reflections, the city is called Glass and there is a lot of it there, but there are times when it does not act like glass, in fact I am not sure what it can be called. There are times when you are standing against a build, which is covered in glass, you can see the reflection of the buildings behind you, blurred on the tint, but there is no reflection of Faith, none at all. This might sound like a design choice, but when you get into an elevator, which the reflective glass, Faith is visible there, but not all of her, she is missing her eyes. There are just these massive patches of black, like her eyeliner went crazy and painted over everything, it is such a strange thing to see, the first time I saw it, it stood out like crazy.

But it is not just things like that, there are times of blurry textures all over the place, signs and smaller elements don’t load in until after you look at them for a bit, even worse, character models, in cutscenes can look blurry. The cars and flying vehicles are also peppered with shonky draw distances, if you spend time look at the streets, you will see them pop in and out all the time. Speaking of the street, you can actually hit street level during some missions this time, but you are not able to actually get out and walk around, which is a bummer, but going to street level, brings a little bit of life to the world. For the most part, the sounds of the city never reach up to the heights of the buildings you run across, the sound you will hear the most is the wind and the occasional TV broadcast. The characters themselves sound alright, Dogen is perhaps the character with the biggest range of emotions, which is funny given the type of person he is. The rest seem to fit roles, snarky but good hearted, angry but tough and so on. Musically, the only time I really noticed the music was when the game was paused or I was sprinting away from a trap, not to say it was bad, I just never noticed it in game that often, which after the greatness of the first games soundtrack, was a bit of a letdown.

Mirror’s Edge Catalyst is a game that attempted to do something different than it had before, adding an open world, upgrade system and more, the problem with all of that, is you can mostly ignore all additional upgrades if you wanted to. Running is the fun part of the game, but with collectables everywhere, you will spend more time stop/starting than anything else. Fans of the first are going to enjoy the adventure, but those new to the series might find it all too much. 

Thanks to Electronic Arts Australia for supplying the game for review

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