Back when Mirror’s Edge released in 2007, I remember playing it and enjoying the act of running around, jumping from place to place. Sadly, the game didn’t lend itself much for continued play outside of speed-running and challenges, due to the highly linear levels and lack of open-world/sandbox gameplay. It was a rather short-lived, and – thanks to hindsight – not that good of a game. But it did leave me wanting for more.
Around the same time, Assassin’s Creed released, and the original one scratched much of the same itches. While the movement wasn’t as involved as Mirror’s Edge, and there were issues with the presentation of the out-of-animus story (one which wasn’t particularly exciting either), it had clear, well explained combat mechanics and an open world to go around in.
But nothing ever quite scratched the feeling of running in first person through the rooftops of a fictional city. I always kept hoping that we’d see the sequel. We didn’t get a sequel. Instead, we got a reboot.
Mirror’s Edge: Catalyst is good. Gameplay wise it feels better and the addition of an extensive tutorial at the beginning improve the overall experience. Running feels as good as ever, and chaining the moves to get where you want to go is still quite satisfying. And, unlike the previous iteration, this one is open world, so there is plenty where to go.
Except, not quite. Sadly, due to the clinical, almost Quake-picmip aesthetics, the city lacks variety and feel like they only have a different coat of paint on top. The way they are traversed doesn’t really change much except from, say, the construction site, or perhaps the areas that require a story-locked tool to traverse them. Turns out that running over endless rooftops doesn’t change much. It is all rooftops. Which is why I’m sad there aren’t more indoor or non-rooftop areas to traverse. The Construction site is quite interesting, personally, and so are the underground sections. The section in which you have to reach the weight and drop it is also quite interesting and I just oh wish they’d do more indoors. Or even running on the ground. Why can’t I run on the ground?
There is the progression system that makes… little sense, to be honest. I understand why it exists, but I found it unnecessary. There isn’t much in terms of movement to unlock, and those that are locked are only unlocked via the story. There are some electronic warfare (temporary stun of enemies, etc.) and then there are the combat upgrades which honestly do not justify having the entire system in place. Gladly, it doesn’t get in the way, and every now and then it’ll make the game easier.
There is a distinct lack of gunplay, which I find a shame. Others would praise it, and I can see why it benefits the game as a whole. I would love to still be able to at least use a handgun, though I guess I will have Titanfall 2 for wall-running while shooting shenanigans.
Story wise, while some of the dialogue is… terrible, the overall ark is interesting and paints the world as much more attractive and with much more depth. There is a story which leans into the world building this time around. Nothing spectacular, but much more than the excuse to run a level it was in the first one. Not only that, it should support a proper sequel. There are quite a few factions at play that could interact with each other in a sort of tug-of-war in an hypothetical sequel. Runners chasing each other, secrets being passed, K-Sec raiding or otherwise attempting to keep peace.
More than that, though, I’d love the presence of other people in the world. Mirror’s Edge is a solitary game, and not just because the multiplayer features amount to the old’s leaderboard. There are no runners running. All of them are stuck in a safe-house or forever waiting for you to do something for them. There is no people staring as you run past the windows. The places that should be inhabited by people seem almost desolate, further compounded by the clinical aesthetic the game features. I’m sure it could be a commentary about how nobody sees the places and only the runner, who survives by knowing and recognizing the physical space they inhabit. Or perhaps how, as we run from one place to another we forget to notice the people who are there.
But it does not convince me, because we do get to hear their voices through windows. It just feels as if the developers didn’t want to spend money on modeling people to just react to you as you run from one place to the other. Much like the aesthetic, it was probably a choice to remove any clutter or unnecessary obstacles to provide a much better running experience. But, we don’t even get to see other runners in the distance, or just going from one place to the other. We are not supposed to be the only runners out there, and while I understand that there wouldn’t be enough jobs for more than two or three to be out on a job at a time, seeing them every now and then would provide the world with much more needed life. What is more, I can only imagine what Mirror’s Edge would be if attempting to lose people in a crowd was a thing, where pacing, and not just speed, was the focus.
Regardless, I am quite pleased with Catalyst. A good game which takes several steps in the right direction, with a few minor odd choices along the way. I just wish it made me want to return for more than just running around.