Mirror's Edge Catalyst - Take me down to vertigo city where the glass, it gleams, and the textures are gritty
After playing the first Mirror's Edge from developer DICE, I was looking forward to the sequel. I was very much pulled in by the story of the original game as well as the movement-as-a-puzzle gameplay it offered. With the different take on the city of Glass presented in Mirror's Edge Catalyst, I found both positives and negatives that ultimately resulted in a reasonably enjoyable experience.
Mirror's Edge Catalyst picks up where the first game left off. The protagonist, Faith, is getting out of jail after her incarceration for defying the nation's corporatocracy, discovering secrets of her past while parkouring her way through the city. Faith's agile ways are back, but this time she has an entire city to explore. Gone are the bespoke mission levels, replaced by an open world that can be freely explored and used as mission settings. The open world offers the opportunity for the player to become familiar with the full setting, finding their own best paths to various points of interest. During my time with the game, I did become familiar with a few locations, but overall did not feel I had the lay of the land as I would in a Grand Theft Auto game. Still, running through the open world felt really good. I cannot remember another time playing a game that my hands and feet sweat so much. Height is used very effectively in the layout, and missing a jump led to an unnerving fall to the ground below.
The city of Glass is more realized in Catalyst than in the first game. Districts are well represented with their own styling, from the water features and colors of the wealthier areas to the equipment and broken fences of the construction areas. The game generally represents the world well with the white, hard edges known in the first game mixed with some new styling to break up what would otherwise be a monotonous cityscape. The visuals are not without fault, though. Some textures found throughout the game were surprisingly low resolution, almost to the point of jarring. It was as if the developers decided to make a clean city and decorate it with sprites from old Duke Nukem games. These textures are not omnipresent and are easy to move past, but they are an odd art choice.
Much like the city, enemies in Catalyst also received an upgrade. More types of enemies are presented while roaming through the city, each with their own strengths and weaknesses. A mix of enemies are often found in each encounter, leading to a frenzy of combining movements to exploit the weakness of each. In some cases, the shear number of them means it just makes more sense to run, grabbing a zip line or sliding down the angled side of a building to escape. The open city provides the player with many ways to handle the adversaries and many ways to approach objectives where enemies abound.
Even with sweaty hands and a few 16-bit textures, the story of Catalyst was the primary motivator on my journey through the game. Like the first, I very much enjoyed the characters and the story telling. The main missions and side missions really felt as though they lent something to the world, telling an extension of the story in the first game and revealing more of Faith's history. Put another way, the story in Catalyst was at least on par if not better than most of the Netflix created movies these days. By contrast, the map missions (map icons that reveal races, billboard hacks, deliveries, etc) offered almost nothing to the world. These map missions did little more than offer more experience points in the game. If playing at the same time as several friends, your efforts toward the billboard hacks would also show up in their game, but as someone playing years later this gave me little. In the end, I skipped the map missions almost in their entirety, only doing one of each just to get the idea.
Where do we stand with Mirror's Edge Catalyst? In a time when open world games seem to be coming out on a weekly basis, Catalyst from 2016 will likely get lost in the noise. However, if you are a fan of open world games, consider Catalyst as a good alternative to the same-old-same-old where movement and style is lauded over bullets and outposts.