Mirror’s Edge: Catalyst Review [8/10]

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Mirror’s Edge: Catalyst is a complete reimagining of the 2008 fan favorite that takes it’s concept of movement as weaponry by allowing players to apply extreme sports to an urban setting accented with dystopian touches. DICE’s love of style style is given substance in a way that provides a unique playground that just might take a player’s breath away.

Story:

After serving two years in prison, Faith Connors is conditionally released and reunites with her foster father, Noah. Faith, Noah, and all the runners belong to a cabal that works as thieves and couriers.  They move information and items on the sneakernet and facilitate corporate espionage. On her first job, Faith is tasked with infiltrating Elysium, one of several corporations beneath the conglomerate that run the City of Glass. When her target item is snatched by a competing runner and security responds to the infiltration, Faith snatches his mobile and escapes.
After learning that they’re in possession of Gabriel Kruger’s secret project “Reflection,” Faith and Noah agree to use it as payment to Dogen, Glass’ most prolific crime boss and the reason she was arrested. But before an exchange can be made, KreugerSec raids the cabal, killing many of the runners. Wanting revenge for Noah, Faith forms a tepid relationship with Rebecca Thane, leader of Black November, a terrorist/dissident movement that wants to eliminate the corporate class, starting with Gabriel Kruger.

It’s pretty common as far as video games stories go, using a mix of expected twists and tropes to move the plot along. The presentation of this story, however, is better than the material these actors have to work with.

Fans of the original will notice that the framing of the story is merely that of the original but exaggerated to compliment how much more progressed Mirror’s Edge: Catalyst’s future is and how much more of a focal point Faith has become. Glass is now part of a corporate-run city-state that decides a person’s citizenship by the corporation they work for, which allows them to enjoy the high-tech high-life. Meanwhile, Leeches, who are outside the system, steal Beatlinks so they can remain connected to the city’s grid and engage in illegal activities in order to survive, with employees being their most loyal clientele.

The premise is an interesting one, and with touches like Faith’s parents being activists who were gunned down during the November riots, there’s room for some interesting exchanges and touching moments where the acting shines. There’s some sequel-bait in the ending as well, which promises to deliver more on this world’s story and setting, but most coming to this didn’t arrive for the story; they came to run through Glass.

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Visuals:

Frostbite remains one of the hardest-working engine this console generation. The PS4 boasts an almost-steady 60 frames-per-second. This makes Glass a pristine chain of skyscrapers with dizzying interiors that inform Faith’s direction with bold primary colors against clinical, white-coated steel. Faith’s hometown has received a considerable style upgrade from its 2008 rendition in a way that marries logical connections between massive corporate structures and sci-fi spires, managing to steal player’s attention at day or night. And despite its rather large map size, Faith can run from one end to another without triggering load times or experience real frame-rate drops. To get a true understanding of how impressive Glass has become, players will have to wait near the end of the game when they can take it all in in one shot–the city, the ocean and the mountains in the distance. It’s one of the more picturesque landscapes I’ve come across in a game to date.

However, when examining some elements up close, players may notice pop-ins. Video billboards are a repeat offender, but another patch is coming soon that might hopefully address these issues. In the meantime, players can play around with the game’s field of view, which is a first on consoles. With it, players can take in more of Glass at once, which can change up their play style but also influence their appreciation of the city’s impressive design.

Sound:

Though impressive architecture and impressive heights work great in transporting the player to the rooftops of Glass, but it’s a combination of Faith’s footsteps on different surfaces, whispering advertisements and whipping wind that wraps around her  as she zooms from point to point that communicates the effort she makes to traverse locations and the danger that comes with leaping over negative space.

The best of these sounds comes from Solar Fields. He was behind the charming score in the original, and in Mirror’s Edge: Catalyst he’s delivered a more robust collection of music. Unlike the original, there’s a story here that’s given consideration, where Faith has sit-down moments with Noah and a welcoming theme slowly seeps in. And that relaxation is cast aside when beats thump to encourage Faith to flee KrugerSec.

The soundtrack has yet to be released, but it’s one fans are going to want to have in their collection.

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Gameplay:

Mirror’s Edge: Catalyst brings back the system DICE practically invented, and the parkour system here is the most refined to date. Maps are set up to compliment Faith’s ability as a runner, and that introduces a level of dynamic movement that hasn’t been around since the original. The fluid transition between running, sliding, climbing, jumping and all manner of movements is a big leap from the original. But the control scheme is so intuitive that fans and newcomers will pick up the basics of movement with little trouble.

The major difference this time around is Faith has to learn more complex moves by upgrading skills in movement and combat rather than having all these skills available from the start. There’s also gear she has, like her Mag glove, which allows her to swing over busy highways like Spider-Man and disrupt drones set out to hunt you.

The biggest mechanical change is in the combat. Faith no longer has the ability to wield guns, rather most of her combat revolves around punching and kicking enemies into submission. Many reviewers have complained about the fighting mechanics as stiff or not intuitive. And that is true if you choose to use Faith as a boxer and go toe to toe with four or more enemies at a time, and that seemed to be the case with many of those reviewers. But it doesn’t seem that’s the way DICE intended combat to work.

There are two main ways to approach combat. The most accessible way is for Faith to “shift,” which allows her to strafe in any direction around an enemy, letting her hit them from the side or from behind. The second, and more creative way to fight is to utilize “traversal attacks” That’s when Faith uses the terrain and her running to her own advantage. This could be wall-running and jumping into a punch, sliding towards an enemy to trip them, jump down from a higher point and onto an enemy–there are a great number of ways Faith can gain speed or elevation in the direction of the enemy and use that momentum to deliver a hit. You’re even rewarded with more experience points for choosing these more creative fighting methods. So keep in mind that Faith is a runner; standing still is dangerous.

In addition to the 15 story missions, there are challenges, races, deliveries to complete and collectibles to get in order to flesh out the November riots, Kruger’s plans for Glass, and the Connors family. If you intend to stand a chance against tougher enemies later in the game or traverse more complicated maps, these side missions are going to be essential to upgrade and meet some of the challenges that come up as the story progresses.

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Verdict:

For fans of the original, Mirror’s Edge: Catalyst has everything that made the original work, and on top of that are layers of improvements that make this version superior in just about every other way. For those coming to the series for the first time, they can prepare themselves for a run unlike any other across a beautiful yet broken city bathed in bold color.

Mirror’s Edge: Catalyst 8/10

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