Tripping On Its Own Feet

Reviewed on Xbox One

Mirror’s Edge Catalyst is an utter disappointment. I don’t remember much of the original installment, having played through it only once when it came out, but I remember having a blast with the first-person parkour gameplay even despite its clunky shortcomings. Mirror’s Edge Catalyst, on the other hand, delivers a smooth and exciting parkour experience that’s held back by almost every other facet of the game.

The presentation of Mirror’s Edge Catalyst is fantastic. The animations are smooth, and the parkour moves flow nicely without becoming nauseating. Free running up walls, sliding under pipes, and jumping between rooftops without losing momentum can be exhilarating. Unfortunately, the gameplay becomes unnecessarily frustrating when you factor in the environmental set pieces.

A number of maneuvers are activated by engaging with specific objects in the open world city of Glass. Grabbing pipes or ledges, sliding down ziplines, wall running; they all require the player to hit the requisite object precisely. The biggest issue I had with this game is that even though my approach would feel spot-on, I’d still somehow manage to jump right over objects, fail to activate the appropriate maneuver, or engage in a different, unintended maneuver altogether. 90% of my deaths felt 100% unjustified.

On top of that, the navigation system (Runner Vision) is just awful. The game’s usage of color is admirable, and it’s pretty easy to see what objects you can interact with since they’re painted vibrant red. The issue is that the only objects that are painted red are the ones that the game decides you should use to get to your waypoint destination. This makes finding alternate, faster paths more difficult than it needs to be. Also, the highlighted path is a constantly moving, spastic red line that often leaves you in the dust. It’s incredibly annoying trying to follow it as it whips left-then-right-then-left-again while you’re hauling ass from a bunch of Tron dudes with machine guns.

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Even the city of Glass itself is a let down. I’m a huge fan of sci-fi noir, and the idea of masquerading in a dystopian future behind a high-gloss world of pomp and pleasure is awesome. Sadly, the city only looks good when you’re sprinting through it. The bright and vibrant colors are well-complemented by a great lighting system. However, the world has almost no real detail to it. Stopping to admire the city for just a few seconds will reveal that the city itself has no personality, no soul. There are almost no people to be seen, cars and hovercrafts hum along like robots, and the architecture is bland and monochromatic. In an open-world game, the world needs to have a personality of its own. The city of Glass just feels boring.

The story in Mirror’s Edge Catalyst doesn’t do the game any favors, either. It’s a very predictable and uninteresting narrative that sets up how protagonist Faith came to become the revolutionary she is in the original Mirror’s Edge. The missions move along at a decent pace, and there are some genuinely fun moments throughout, but ultimately the story itself is forgettable. You can pretty much guess each character’s fate from the moment you meet them, and there’s only two or three that are ever worth giving a damn about.

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The voicework is totally hit or miss. Faith can come off either charismatic or melodramatic. Most of the supporting cast is either mediocre or just plain bad. Faith’s techy friend Plastic does deilver a standout performance, however. He brings some unique charm and humor to an otherwise overly serious story. Dogen is also particularly interesting, if only for his intimidating and mysterious crime lord character.

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To its merit, Mirror’s Edge Catalyst offers no short amount of content to keep your hands full. Side missions, collectibles, and time trials provide plenty of opportunities to challenge yourself, and social leaderboards will have the most hardcore parkour fans vying to best one another for the top time. There’s also a cool feature that allows you to create your own time trials, challenging other players to race your best time in user-generated races.

The combat is pretty solid, too, as Mirror’s Edge Catalyst wisely removes the awkward gunplay from the original. The hand-to-hand combat is pretty fun and works decently enough, although it can get a little jarring when you’re trying to combat multiple enemies at once. Side-stepping enemies and throwing a mixture of light and heavy attacks can be entertaining, but it’s far more satisfying to chain together parkour maneuvers with attacks. Running off of a wall to lay your foot into a guard’s face is plenty of fun.

Mirror’s Edge Catalyst has some great concepts going for it that are ultimately being held back by technical issues. I can’t help but feel these could have been worked out. With no real multiplayer component, the single player experience needs to be wholly satisfying. Unfortunately, this game is way more frustrating than fun. Actual parkour may require precision, but it also requires improvisation, and Mirror’s Edge Catalyst’s gameplay is too structured for its own good. I had high hopes that the shortcomings of the original game would have been ironed out for this prequel, but developer EA DICE just couldn’t stick the landing.

Mirror's Edge Catalyst Review
Slick first-person presentationPlenty of contentParkour gameplay is fun and exciting, but...
Held back by overly-frustrating level designBland environmentsLackluster story
65%Xbox One
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