Its been 8 years since the first release of Mirrors Edge on the Xbox 360 and PS3 and 7 since it was released on PC. Despite receiving mostly positive reviews and creating a loyal fan base, it wasn’t enough to entice Electronic Arts to look into letting Dice release a sequel, much to mine and many other fans disappointment. However, it seems someone at EA decided it was high time to revisit the series. In 2013 at E3, EA announced that Dice were working on Mirrors Edge: Catalyst. Today, the game was released into the public’s hands, being a fan of the series I decided to pick up a copy of the collectors edition, this is where things started to disappoint. For some as yet unknown reason Game, the only UK outlet to carry the CE release of the game, were only carrying Xbox One and PS4 version of the Title. Since I’m a sucker for collectors stuff, I picked up a copy despite not owning either of these platforms. Granted, no one forced me to buy this, but it was a tad disappointing that the PC release of the collectors edition was available globally, while the UK were left without. (Game have yet to respond to my initial request to confirm why this is the case.)
Whats in the box.
The Collectors edition in my opinion was worth every penny spent. The box feels premium, in part thanks to its fairly minimal design – a simple slip on card cover featuring the name of the title up front and the usual regulatory stuff around the back. Once this outer layer is off, you are left with a sheer black obelisk, broken only by a cut out of the eye tattoo motif, something that is fairly emblematic of the title at this point, its only when you slide the top of the box off that you are greeted by the main contents, hidden inside a red coloured interior is the steel tin, a small pack containing some temporary tattoos; styled around those that Faith, the main character sports as well as some post cards featuring in game artwork. Finally, secured safely in a polystyrene container is the statuette, featuring Faith as she is in game, as well as as a child sat on a black and white block, separated by a pane of broken glass. As a decorative piece, this is actually pretty nice.. Though I can imagine the material its made from being something of a dust magnet.
Sadly, it being an Xbox copy, I needed to obtain a PC version of the game to play. A few minutes on Origin later and I was installing..
Mirrors Edge: Catalyst.
In many ways the game feels a lot like its predecessor, at its core, its a free running game featuring a main character who you only see when in third person animations used to progress the story arc or in reflections. As with the previous title their is a need to maintain a flow of actions, to keep your movements smooth and supple shifting from a run to a jump to a slide without thought.. The basic controls on PC allow for this to occur fairly naturally, since all the keys are kept close together to aid rapid shifting from key to key as would be needed. The animations are smooth and fluid, though there are some occasional graphical glitches, such as Faiths hair jumping in height when looking at reflections, or some clipping issues when landing on broken scenery, but for the most part the game feels incredibly polished and certainly shows a lot of benefit from its Beta a few months ago, since it seems some of the bugs I encountered have been rectified. Overall, much like the last game Dice have managed to pull the audio, visual and controls together to make you feel like you are inhabiting Faiths body in the game, allowing things to be kept fairly visceral and thrilling to play. Each move is seen entirely from Faiths viewpoint each jump, slip, dive, tumble and movement reflected beautifully in how the camera and engine throw visual and audio feedback at you to reinforce that sense of presence that is so often lacking in more simplified first person interfaces.
Loss of flow
Unfortunately this need for a constant flow can also be the to the games detriment. One of the more common complaints leveled at the previous release was the constant need to use lifts as a way of getting around limited memory space and to help the player transition from level to level in a ‘seamless’ manner, sadly it seems Dice hasn’t fully learned from this. Their are still occasional lifts that some missions require the use of, additionally combat while improved over the last game also forces the flow to stop. In most cases you can run around enemies, simply pushing them out of your way or sometimes using your speed in an attack that sends them staggering away in some cases completely incapacitating them. Other times however there are set brawls against groups of K-Sec the main stay of the enemy forces encountered which require you to engage combat to deal with them. Some of these fights still allow you to use the surrounding scenery to try to build a nice flow to things, others sadly don’t. This combined with the animation and art style being focused on the player inhabiting Faiths body and combat can often turn out to be clumsy as you flail about while guards you manage to kick stagger almost comedically from your blows. This said, while I am disappointed by these pauses in the game they don’t critically break things or make me not want to play. Dice have done a lot to try to progress the basic running mechanic, adding in additional tools and abilities at the players disposal, like the ability to use conveniently placed pipes to allow Faith to quickly change direction on corners, the MagLine, a tool that you can use to fire a magnetised rope at objects to allow Faith to traverse larger gaps between surfaces or a handy tool that can blow out the motors of large fans, presenting new pathways for the player to traverse. Though this also present another slight niggle that causes the flow to stop or slow down, since the prompt to fire the jamming tool to stop fans seems to only appear briefly and the tool to illogically stop working when too close to a fan, meaning you either run into the moving blades and die, forcing a reload or you stop dead and wind back a little to try to locate the sweet spot where the prompt is visible on the HUD and the tool will work, this is something I also noticed for other prompts too, such as talking to other characters.
Stunning visuals and new features
Much like the previous title, Mirrors Edge: Catalyst has the same stunning, clean art style; allowing for the red line ‘Runner Vision’ to shine through, helping you pick routes through the vast open world sandbox we have been given to play in, though their does appear to be a much broader colour spectrum in use for the city, which can be a tad distracting at times. Their is also now some explanation given for the Runner Vision system now, it being presented as an AR like tool, that is part of a larger communication platform in use by the games inhabitants, presenting a bit more background into the game world and also allowing for things to be added as the story progresses. Runner Vision can also be disabled, if you prefer, allowing the player to choose their own route, rather than following the more commonly used path, at times it will also automatically disabled when moving around a level that has a certain puzzle aspect to it, such as trying to climb the interior of a large tower. The directional system is far from perfect however and sometimes doesn’t always show, needing you to stop and try to find the path that the runner vision presents again.
A new addition to the franchise, is the ability for the player to upgrade Faiths abilities, while I can see why Dice/EA have taken this route, I’m not a huge fan of contrived upgrade/progression path in games like this, particularly where personal abilities are concerned, like being able to roll after a long fall or tuck your legs when taking a jump… Equipment upgrades make more sense in this area, but again its a stretch forcing this to be how players ‘upgrade’ themselves to cope with things to come as the story progresses. Despite my personal misgivings for this kind of progression system, your abilities initially start fairly strong and only get stronger as the game progresses. Other additions include a GTA style mini map to help evade K-Sec when they get too upset with you, or are on high alert due to in game events and asynchronous multiplayer time trials. These allow for players to custom set their own routes and challenge anyone with a copy of the game to try to complete the route faster, this is in addition to the predefined time trials littered throughout the maps. The open world map also allows for Dice to include a staple of other open world games, extra, none main story missions to pick up from people stood around the various locales that Faith traverses while free-running around the city. Sadly while these are often a great way to pass time between story missions, the game does have a habit of reminding you their is still a story mission to play, via looped dialogue from the characters involved. Small bits of small talk, rather than Fables much maligned ‘Their is a quest waiting for you’ reminders, but still irritating after hearing the same bit of background dialogue loop over your commlink a few times, another minor irritation with these side missions is the game has a habit of forcing you to restart from the moment you accepted the mission, rather than the moment before.. This may not seem a huge deal until you realise that you are effectively trapped in a loop replaying the same side quest over and over until you either successfully complete it, or rage quit.
All in all, Mirrors Edge: Catalyst is a nice follow on from the original, showing that Dice have been paying attention to how the industry have moved in the last 8 years, so many of the changes outlined above make perfect sense in terms of giving the game more mass market appeal that should help propel sales, things like the open world map and asynchronous multiplayer being the first that spring to mind. Sadly as mentioned their are areas where they appear to have not learn lessons from complaints leveled at the first game, such as lifts and clunky feeling combat breaking up the flow of the game and slowing down the player in a way that feels unnatural in a game like this.
Not a bad game overall, just let down by a few minor mistakes in how the game has been crafted which could have been remedied if Dice learned the lesson from the previous title.
As for the collectors edition content, at a price of £149.99 for a nice box, a statue, some temporary tattoos, bonus game content and art prints.. Its a hard sell for many, even harder for those of us who game on PC’s where you either need to import from overseas or pay extra for a copy of the title to run on your system. While I’m happy with the purchase, the lack of a dedicated PC version in the UK has left me with a bit of a sour aftertaste.