In 2008, DICE released an unconventional first-person experience. It was short, and while it received high praise from critics and fans alike, the series remained a cult classic for years. Mirror's Edge Catalyst is the long-awaited series return, and while it is a reboot of sorts, it is also a return to the inventive parkour gameplay that made the original so beloved. Being a fan of the first, I didn't think twice about hopping back into Faith Connors' shoes for a new adventure. What followed was a glorious romp through nostalgia, newfound love, and almost pure enjoyment.
A Few Bumps and Bruises
I say "almost" because Mirror’s Edge Catalyst isn’t without its flaws. The city might be made out of glass, but all in all, these windows sure could use a bit more elbow grease, if you know what I mean. While the game itself is really enjoyable, and outstandingly well-done in terms of sound design and feel, a few design decisions could have used more polish. Sadly, one of those features is the one feature that DICE has been pushing harder than anything else, and is the reason why the game received this latest two week delay.
Social play is a bright new feature in the world of Faith Connors, and while it is very well implemented–I toyed around with it some in both the beta and the final game–it didn't feel right for the Mirror’s Edge world. The social hooks make for a cluttered HUD and world map that feel incongruous with Mirror's Edge's iconic minimalism. They’re stable features, and they do the job above and beyond expectations, but they felt distracting.
Thankfully, that's really my only complaint in terms of gameplay. The combat feels fluid and cohesive, despite some shoehorned encounters. The forced combat areas only happened in main story missions, and all world encounters with KreguerSec were easily escapable using Faith's superior running skills. Plus, in stark contrast to the original game in which combat interrupted your flow, the use of the traversal system to fuel Faith's best attacks made it feel more immersive and kinetic.
Just Let it Roll Right Off
Mirror’s Edge has always excelled at immersing the player completely into the world of being a Runner. It’s a role that isn’t explored a lot, and while we have seen some games with great parkour, Mirror’s Edge is the crème de la crème when it comes to capturing the feeling of freerunning. Every vault, slide, and movement feels on-point, smoothly flowing like water as you make your way through the city. I often found myself running aimlessly across the rooftops, my Runner Vision turned off, just hopping from obstacle to obstacle. It’s a great experience that really exhilarates you and gets the blood pumping if you totally give in and ignore the distractions around you.
That’s why the Social Play features crossed over into the negative realm for me. Their prominent appearance on your HUD makes it difficult to lose yourself. You can turn them off in your map, however, there isn’t currently a feature to disable them from appearing in the game world, which is the worst part of it all. They completely break the immersion, appearing similar to Main missions when you walk over them. It’s especially confusing when you’re running towards a mission, or trying to complete a delivery, and all of a sudden an indicator appears on the ground in front of you, brightly spotlighting another player’s name.
The weakest part of the game, however, isn’t the Social Play features, or how they break the entire immersive experience. The absolute weakest point of the game is the story surrounding Faith Connors. Fresh out of juvie, Faith reunites with her old pals, and is soon romping around the city, completing Runner tasks, and causing trouble with KreugerSec and the family corporations that rule Cascadia. It's easy to see its potential, but it falls pretty short of what I had hoped and expected. Every emotional twist, and gut-wrenching punch is glossed over as if it doesn’t even matter, so the story lacks real weight. It’s a bad trait that many games have started suffering from in the past few years, and I’m sad to see Faith Connors story fall between the cracks, especially after how much criticism the original game received for this exact same thing.
The Bigger Picture
Of course, Mirror’s Edge isn’t about the story, it’s about the immersion: the thrill of running, free, across the glass paved rooftops of a massive city. And that’s okay, because that’s exactly what the original Mirror’s Edge was. DICE may have failed to address all of the problems of its predecessor, but it completely re-captured what Mirror’s Edge was all about. Mirror’s Edge Catalyst is a great way to bring new fans–and old fans alike–back into the world of Faith Connors. Now, I can only hope that we don’t have to wait another eight years to see Faith again.
This review is based on a review code provided by the developer. Mirror's Edge Catalyst will be available June 7 in the US, and June 9 in the UK on PC, Xbox One, and PlayStation 4 for $59.99. The game is rated T.