You could be forgiven for questioning the existence of Mirror’s Edge Catalyst. A sequel to 2008’s futuristic parkour/combat mash-up, it successor certainly looks and feels the part on current gen. Catalyst is filled with content, features smooth and impressive visuals and is well designed but one-too many elements feel somewhat half-hearted, with an inescapable notion that what you’re doing is enjoyable enough, but hardly thrilling, meaning your time in the evocatively named city of Glass is fun, but not much more than that.
The narrative isn’t difficult to grasp for those who haven’t run through the original; Faith, the game’s grumpy (but the sort of grumpy where she has reasons for it), bobbed revolutionary and protagonist is released from prison by Gabriel Kruger and his totalitarian K-Sec division, but is about to be chucked onto a transport for a trip with a presumably less than edifying end before Icarus, a young, brash fellow with a silly hood intervenes and helps her escape their clutches. You’re led to Noah, your dispatcher and mentor who is more than happy for you to resume your career as a Runner the rooftops of the urban jungle in an effort to topple the state. That predictably requires a veritable buttload of running, jumping and grappling with guards in first person.
Without wanting to divulge too much, some elements of Faith’s story attempt to be dramatic and emotive, but with nothing really feeling at stake due to Faith’s stoicism and Glass’ lack of personality, it’s hard to care that much about proceedings. The supporting cast run the gamut from interesting, in the shape of fast-talking but socially restricted Plastic to Icarus’ restrictive arrogance, but most don’t offer any further depth to the plot besides a steady stream of side missions, even if the cut-scenes they feature in look great. Speaking of which, Catalyst’s visuals are strong throughout, with glittery water effects and responsive views when Faith is reflected in mirrors also particularly pleasing.
Away from the narrative, the core gameplay is the real highlight. Running around Glass’ rooftops feels smooth and intuitive, meaning Faith will mostly only experience an intense fall to her death from a great height if you’ve made a small miscalculation in your traversing, or if you’ve failed to spot a gap between roofs. Once you’ve mastered the art of rolling onto the ground as you land, dashing around the cityscape feels welcomingly fluid and simple to grasp. Combat sections, which are just about the right level of frequent so as not to interrupt your exploring, aren’t particularly stellar but feel solid enough, with a heavy emphasis on kicks, quick punches and casually clattering your foes into one another. It takes some time to feel truly comfortable with the system before your fights will resemble something more structured than a frenzied mash of buttons, with Faith’s limited health meaning you can’t combo your way out of a scrap with heavily armored goons, but there’s no denying the enjoyable rush of jumping onto an unknowing enemy from a great height and knocking him out in the process.
This is in sharp contrast to Catalyst’s negatives, principal of which is that it feels like one of the least impressive examples of the modern open world genre. Glass is a bare, blank and overly smooth environment, punctuated by slats of colour but lacking in any real personality. Of course, that’s likely the point, from a narrative perspective; making your buildings look simplistic and inoffensive is Oppressive Regime 101, but given that there isn’t much in the way of visual variation from area to area, it’s easy to grow weary of the world you’re in as you jump from task to task. That impacts Catalyst’s side quests on some level, even if the content on offer away from the main story is plentiful. Speed runs, collectibles in the form of circular golden wisps that need jumping into and evasion sections where you’ll unlock a tower and attempt to escape the amorous attention of an armoured helicopter are all present, with the latter offering a welcome sense of thrill and danger in a game that lacks big stakes, but there’s no sense of placement. You could be doing these interchangeable missions anywhere on Catalyst’s map and have no firm idea of where you are.
Worse still are the NPCs dotted about the place, who offer a welcome break from the masses of blank space, but little else. Government employees look like swanky, cocky executives, whilst your fellow outcasts and revolutionaries appear to have stepped out of a sci-fi convention thrown by Visage. Should they have a side mission to offer you, which often involves ferrying a small item from A to B against the clock, then they’ll offer a short monologue describing the importance of the item or the person you’re delivering it to, which is a nice personal touch in an environment that lacks personality, but running past them on the rooftops after you’ve completed your task is hilariously awkward as each one has no response other than to glare at you intensely. Even main characters do it; having taught Faith how to use her grappling hook relatively early on in the game, Icarus stays in that same section of the building just watching you run back and forth with nothing to say for hours, which doesn’t help this world feel any more lived in, interesting or responsive.
Mirror’s Edge Catalyst, then; a solid yet ultimately unremarkable experience. It’s an open world game that arguably doesn’t justify having an open world, leaving its enjoyable parkour to solely pick up the slack. But as fun as jumping about causing mischief is, for a game about fighting authority and challenging the status quo, Catalyst is surprisingly empty.
Midlife Gamer Rating: 6/10 Format: PlayStation 4 / Xbox One / PC Release Date: Out Now
Disclosure: Midlife Gamer were provided a copy of Mirror’s Edge Catalyst by the publisher for review purposes. The title was reviewed over the course of five days. For more information on what our scores mean, plus details of our reviews policy, click here.