Although my heart is generally in the old and peculiar stuff, I’m not entirely detached from modern gaming. Consequently, when i saw that Mirror’s Edge: Catalyst was in the Origin new year sale I pounced on it like, well, a great big pouncy thing.
I’m not going to do a full review of this mind you (if you really want one running is good, punching isn’t so good, faith is a more rounded character, the setting is much more generic,) as the terrible pun in the title suggests, i just wanted post up some general thoughts about it. Chiefly, the dangers of giving your audience what they want.
You see, the original Mirrors Edge was damaged by overly-raised expectations. Announced via marketing material that spoke of “no more restrictions,” Mirrors Edge seemed like it would be some sort of ambitious open world running game. Many were initially excited by this concept, but their enthusiasm soon waned when it transpired that the game would be much more restricted than the initial publicity material suggested.
This was a shame, as it was actually an incredible game. Sure the voice acting was a bit poor and the game suffered from minor inconsistencies, but the positives more than balanced these. Not only did it manage to capture the sheer pleasure of movement in a way that few videogames have before or since, but it managed to do so with a unique audio visual style that seemed to ensure it would be burned into your memory. Mirror’s Edge was a game that made running just as challenging and entertaining as fighting, which felt like an interesting and original accomplishment.
On the surface, the 8 years between titles appears to have been well utilised, as much of the annoyances found in the original are gone. No longer will you be stuck because you didn’t realise that you could shimmy between two pipes. No more will Faith wall-run past a climbable post and fall to certain doom. Hurrah!
But weirdly, despite fixing everything that was broken, series reboot Catalyst contains major design changes that leave it feeling the more broken experience.
For me, the biggest problem with the new title is the amount of freedom on offer. True, freedom might be a strange issue to have with a game all about movement, but I personally believed the original Mirror’s Edge revelled in its limitations.
While level design in the original Mirror’s Edge could be a tad irritating and arbitrary, in the areas the designers perfected the effect was truly breath taking. From cleverly choreographed rooftop chases through to hair-raising sprints through subway tunnels, each level in the original Mirror’s Edge played out as its own self-contained and cleverly choreographed assault course.
For the reboot, DICE decided to make the city a huge open playground. This sounds great in theory, but the city feels like a much flatter, more lifeless place because of it. Worse still, the amazing assault course element is all but gone. Though the game still has linear story missions, these feel much more like the “Point A to Point B” filler you find in almost any other open world title.
That’s not to say there isn’t fun to be had – Some of the optional “grid node” puzzle maps are genius, and the user-creatable “beat” courses help a lot – but the problem is you have to go a little bit out of your way to find fun that would have been delivered to you before. If the original was an assault course, the reboot is an empty gym with some interesting looking gymnastics equipment stashed in a side cupboard.
Overall then, Mirror’s Edge Catalyst is a frustrating lesson in how you shouldn’t give your audience what they want. It’s not a bad game and it’s definitely worth your time if you can find it in a sale, but its a shame that little changes that would have perfected the formula are overshadowed by more sweeping alterations that deliver more harm than good.