Running Down A Dream
When I finished the first Mirror's Edge, I hoped for a sequel that would polish the game's rough edges into a spectacular game. After finishing Mirror's Edge Catalyst, I'm hoping the developers get a shot at Mirror's Edge 3 to finally get it right.
Catalyst improves on many of the issues with Mirror's Edge 1, but adds enough new problems to nearly cancel out the improvements. On the positive side, the free-running feels much better than the first game. Falling to your death is rarely a fluke on the game's part, it is all on you. It feels great to wall-run, roll and hit 25 mph on foot in this game, even better than it did in the first. There's even new free-running techniques to mess around with, which adds more paths to the game if you are leveling up diligently.
Combat is smartly designed this time, rewarding you for keeping up your speed and using hit-and-run tactics. It's much more natural than the first game, and I loved watching guards awkwardly grab each other as you use them as human projectiles.
The game's open world is questionable, however. It's nice to have a playground to practice free-running skills and pick up missions in, but that only lasts while you're in the first large area of the game.
This "open world" isn't so open, feeling more like it's sectioned into about 4 large areas. The first area is easy to traverse and small enough that picking up sidequests won't send you too far off the path. But the following areas are not so well designed. Sidequests send you far from your next mission, to the point where I would avoid them if I wasn't in the right Mission Zone.
I got so bored of the "transition" areas that I would either pick up another quest that would hopefully send me closer to the next mission, or just fast travel back.
There is typically only 1 way to commute to another large open-world area, and this way so barren and monotonous it might as well have been a loading screen.
So there's actually 4 open worlds in Mirror's Edge Catalyst that are barely attached. Act 1 is in World 1, Act 2 is in World 2 and so on. The world needs to be linked together better.
I never felt an urge to do the sidequests aside from leveling up. There's little variety between them, as all of them are basically timed races with some minor variations (don't get seen, don't take too much damage). They're fine but not really compelling content.
My favorite were Plastic's "metagrid" missions that were small platforming challenges, making you grab some floating globes before a timer runs out. They actually require a fair amount of strategy, as the timer only starts when you grab the first globe. It forces you to plan your own route before starting, and these quests always feel rewarding to finish.
If you want to unlock more fast travel spots to shorten the monotonous running between mission markers, you'll have to do gridNode missions. These are platforming challenges where you must reach the top of an indoor tower. They're visually confusing and I never found them enjoyable.
The upgrade tree can be mostly ignored, which makes me wonder why it was included in the first place. You start the game with a chunk of the upgrade trees already unlocked, and the only upgrades I found necessary were the ones that granted new free-running options. "Bonus combat damage" and "extra health" are made irrelevant by the Switch Place option, which allows you to instantly stun most enemies and make combat easy.
The best content in Mirror's Edge Catalyst are the main story missions. There are two particular ones that have you climbing up enormous structures, complete with some heart-stopping moments where Faith walks across tightropes or nearly falls before pulling herself up. The shock wears off on replays, but replaying these tightly-crafted story missions to get better times is definitely the best part of the game. The final mission is superb, and better than anything in both Mirror's Edge titles. Unfortunately, I only felt the game truly reached its potential in 2 of these 15 missions.
After completing Mirror's Edge Catalyst, I had no desire to touch 95% of the sidequest content. I don't want to beat my friend's times in races, and I only feel a slight desire to replay the game's missions for better times and picking up pointless collectibles.
I'm sure this game will gather a hardcore fanbase of speedrunners and people competing to beat their friend's times. Personally, I think Catalyst is a solid rental game where you can see some of the awesome moments in the story mode and take it back. I still hope DICE/EA get a shot at Mirror's Edge 3 to make a game with better sidequests and an open-world that feels actually connected and open.