Believe it or not, it’s been eight whole years since Mirror’s Edge was first released. Never heard of this dystopian parkour classic? Don’t worry, you aren’t the only one.
EA’s unique take on the platforming genre pretty much embodies the phrase ‘cult status’. So not all that many people bought it, but the people who did really loved the experience of bounding across the rooftops of an eerily pristine cityscape. Time for a reboot then? Well, Mirror’s Edge Catalyst is just that. This game reimagines the world, mechanics and characters of its predecessor and improves on most of them in a brilliantly thrilling manner.
If you’ve been pining for a new Mirror’s Edge for the best part of a decade, then Catalyst is well worth the wait. Even if it’s not perfect.
This is a story all about how Faith’s life got flip-turned upside down
Once again, you slip into the red trainers of Faith - a freerunner/freedom fighter from the totalitarian city of Glass. Her iconic black bob remains very much unchanged - just more respendent thanks to the PS4’s added graphical prowess. This time around, EA has made a greater effort to flesh out the motivations of what is still one of gaming’s few female protagonists. Think of this as something approching Uncharted 4-style character development, as opposed to the ‘have legs, will travel’ approach of the 2008 Mirror’s Edge.
There’s still only an 8 to 9 hours main storyline for Catalyst to cram spades of emotional upheaval into, but at least Faith is a more tangible character than ever before. Especially when the speech in her cutscenes isn’t (occassionally) lagging behind some stunning character animation. For the most part, there’s less of a disconnect when you transition from arsing around across a cityscape as her and then enter a seriously frowny interlude that’s full of existential torpor.
Bad politics, good taste
You see, the city of Glass might be run by totalitarian devils whose politics leave a lot to be desired but when it comes to architecture, they have taste. In the original Mirror’s Edge the world was stunning but stark, filled with white cube buildings and occasional slashes of bright colour. In Catalyst, the city still has that clean, white sterility but there’s more variety to it.
We imagine North Korea or Donald Trump’s America might share this same a sense of controlled bustle instead of the sterile lifelessness you got from Mirror’s Edge. Each of the Glass’ five districts, from the spectacular, cobalt Anchor to the subtle, golden shades of Downtown, has its own distinct easthetic that you’ll want to charge right into and explore.
It’s a sandbox not a beach
This is all the more encouraged by EA’s sandbox-esque design of Glass. While Catalyst has a linear story like the original, you’ll also find side missions across the map which include grabbing collectibles, timed dashes, billboard hacks that are like futuristic graffiti and a variety of package deliveries. Because, hey, there might be a supermassive conspiracy to unravel, but you still have a day job to get on with as well.
We see plenty of these formulaic side missions in titles like Assassin’s Creed but Catalyst manages to stop them feeling too much like pointless fluff. They give you insights into the lives of how ordinary people are surviving under the brutal regime that’s controlling Glass. The kind of folk that you don’t see much of when you’re climbing over their balconies and running across their expensive furniture in the game’s main storyline.
Despite its larger world, Mirror’s Edge Catalyst never feels overwhelming, and it certainly doesn’t feel impossible to see it all. In fact, the world might be more open but that doesn’t mean the paths are endless. If anything, they begin to become overly familiar after a few hours of freerunning.
It has the style, does it have the moves?
Leaping over perilous obstacles like some kind of new age Super Mario is very much the focus here, and it’s just as fun as ever. Thanks to an improved runner’s vision, movement actually feels smoother than ever before. Imagine if Google Maps had an augmented reality function and you’ve basically got the gist of this navogtion tool that reveals a red trail for you to follow to your destination, highlighting interactive obstacles in red too.
When you want to get from A to B this is a great feature, making the free running experience smoother by reducing that ‘return to the checkpoint until you get it right’ element of the original game’s freerunning. If you want to move quickly or see more of the game’s world you should definitely try to break away from that enticing red line. Besides, it’s not as though Faith is particularly keen on taking guidance from the omnipotent.
Annoyingly, Mirror’s Edge Catalyst introduces an upgrade system for combat and freerunning. Whereas before you had access to moves such as rolling from the get-go, you now have to earn upgrade points to unlock all of your snazziest manoeuvres.
EA Dice has stated that this new system is designed to prevent players from getting overwhelmed with all of the different skills, but we’d rather have an option to unlock the full arsenal of moves from the beginning, thank you very much.
I’ll traverse right into your face
Combat in Catalyst also plays to Faith’s strengths: her speed, agility, and the fact that she’s not armoured up to her eyeballs. Compared to Mirror’s Edge, Faith feels like more of a force to be reckoned. This means insanely cool traversal attacks, where you combine heavy and light hits with parkour moves to deal extra damage and attacks that enemies can’t counter. These are especially great for taking down an unavoidable enemy before you zip around the others and escape. Slaying the malevolent forces of Kruger Security feels like a natural extension of your movement, instead of something akin to running into a brick wall.
Despite this, there are moments in the main story where you’ll be locked into a combat situation with no way out and this doesn't quite work. In one particular mission, you find yourself trapped on a rooftop facing waves of enemies. It’s like a coliseum and the restricted amount of open space to hand forces you to keep jumping off from the same places to take down your K-Sec foes. Make no mistake, Mirror’s Edge is still about speed and momentum - so that’s why these no-escape sections are all the more frustrating.
Running in a pack
If you want to test your competive edge, then this is better done in Catalyst’s multiplayer. Instead featuring a live mode, the game hands you a Social Play system with two elements that can impact on other players’ game worlds: Beat L.E and Time Trials.
Beat L.E allows players to mark locations in the city for other players to reach, a great way to highlight interesting sights or secret locations you might not have found alone. Time Trials, like the name suggests, lets players create timed runs almost anywhere in the game and then push them to their friends and strangers with the challenge of beating their time. Each course has its own leaderboard bringing a competitive playground-like revelry to the game world and, more importantly, some new, creative ways to explore your environment.
Mirror's Edge Catalyst verdict
So while Mirror’s Edge Catalyst is a faithful reboot, it improves on its original formula with several welcome tweaks. From Faith’s slicker combat style to her more nuanced personality, there’s much more to admire about this game than its wonderous design.
Crucially, Catalyst’s freerunning is just as compelling as ever. The move to a relatively open world hasn’t harmed this series’ joyous ebb and flow, even though you’ll have to traverse the same paths a fair few times. This may not amount to the breakout hit EA was aiming for, but hardcore fans can rest easy. Faith’s status as a cult hero remains intact.