Faith's iconic red shoes run across the shiny rooftops of Glass. She's ducking under pipes, jumping over fences and dodging KrugSec guards while maintaining full speed. The red smokey line in front of her suggests that we continue through the red door, but we know a shortcut. With a few acrobatic moves we're on the side of the building, jumping from pole to pole. Five... four... will we make it? Three... two... one. We cross the finish line in record time, but only by a few milliseconds. The old ticker is beating like crazy, and we're panting as if we were the ones doing the running. Now, on to new adventures! What next? Oh, doing the same exact thing in another time trial or mission...
Mirror's Edge Catalyst is, like the original, completely focused on moving around the city of Glass, albeit it in acrobatic ways. The story and combat isn't really prioritised. During their marketing campaign DICE said that they wanted to make a deeper and more engaging story this time around. They've certainly tried, but it falls flat in our opinion. Much of this comes from the fact that every character is like a futuristic cliché, even Faith. Faith is the quiet, insecure girl that only wants to help her father figure. The technician, Plastic, is a teenager that doesn't know how to talk to people, and walks with her shoulders hunched forward. The lack of personality and/or interesting background info means that, ultimately, we just don't care about them. Top this off with a very predictable story, and it's clear that this isn't a game you buy for its interesting narrative. Fortunately, that's not what we're looking for in a title like this.
Mirror's Edge was best known for its intuitive controls, the sense of speed you get from the frantic parkour traversal, and the movement system that facilitates it. These aspects are all present in Catalyst as well. The controls remain pretty much unchanged, which makes it very easy to find your feet and start running around, even for newcomers. It might even be easier for beginners, as some of the original's mechanics are locked in the skill tree. A nice addition for those who aren't familiar with Mirror's Edge, but it might be annoying for more seasoned players. Not being able to do a roll after falling at the start feels very weird and unnecessary, but as it's one of the first unlocks it's not a big problem.
To gain new abilities you'll have earn experience points by gathering collectibles and finishing missions. You'll then get to choose which skills you want to unlock from three different categories: Movement, Combat, and Gear. Many of these are very restricted by story progress, so it's obvious that DICE wants us to learn the basics first. The thing is, locked abilities doesn't actually implement anything really fresh to the formula. You'll eventually get access to a grapple hook, but this can only be used in context sensitive situations, and because it's so restricted it doesn't add much new in terms of gameplay. For all intents and purposes it's mainly used to speed up traversal in certain points. The same goes for most of the other upgrades. The only really new ability is the Disruptor, which lets you immobilise enemies for a few seconds. After unlocking the roll and the ability to turn 90/180 degrees and jump, we didn't take much note of the other upgrades we got. Considering both of these abilities were unlocked from the start in the original, and the new abilities don't affect gameplay too much, we can't help but feel that the experience system was just implemented to make the game longer.
One of the few complaints some had in terms of the movement system in the original was that it sometimes felt like trial and error due to the level design. To fix this DICE decided to make a bigger, more open city this time around. There's no doubt that this helped to some degree, but not as much as we'd hoped it would. Because, even with a bigger world, the world still feels very linear. We'd almost say it feels like a MOBA. There are usually paths to the left, middle and right. Combining these usually slows you down, and depending on what skills you've unlocked one of them is clearly much faster than the others. This means that we usually choose the exact same patch every time, which makes the sterile and lifeless city feel repetitive very quickly. The extreme number of collectibles doesn't help either, as they don't challenge us in new ways nor gives us interesting information.
Story missions usually take us to more distinguishable and memorable environments. It's here we get to see a handful of vistas and impressive architecture, but rarely something new in regards to gameplay. Side missions try to vary up the experience by having time trials where we'll have to avoid hurting ourselves or getting spotted by the enemy. Unfortunately the core concept is the same; run as fast as you can. You won't be crawling around in the "stealth" sections, just running as fast as you can past them before a meter fills up. Take a wrong turn, and it's mission failed. Trial and error is still very much a part of the game. Love it or hate it.
Catalyst's minimalist use of colours and interactive characters makes Glass feel like a level in a video game, not a living, breathing city. The focus on white and red made the original feel distinct, but in a large, open city it ends up being monotonous after a while. Every area looks the same, with the same boxes and the same architecture spread across the every inch of the world. This might not have been so noticeable if the other characters you see on the rooftops actually moved or responded to your presence, but unless they have a mission for you they're just standing there like statues.
The only interactive characters you'll see when running around are the KingSec guards. When moving around in the city these are easily avoided, but are sometimes forced on you during story missions. Unfortunate, as the combat is still very much a weak point. Fair enough, it's much easier this time around, but it's not much better in terms of entertainment. Even with her environmental attacks, Faith has few moves in her repertoire, and enemies are easily beaten by spamming the dodge and attack buttons. DICE obviously wants us to avoid these scenarios, so we suggest to just remove the combat altogether if they decide to make another one.
No, the best part of Catalyst is it's core mechanics, which is the sole focus of the Social Play mode. This is kind of an expanded version of time trials, where players can create, share and play other players' time trials. After running from A to B in an area of your choosing you can create a time trial other players can challenge themselves against. By playing some of these you get to explore new areas and experience fresh ways of using different mechanics. One of the trials we've created challenges the player to know the limitations of the grapple hook by having the finish line in mid-air, just inches from the deadly asphalt below. The mode is certainly limited as you can't create your own levels, but it's still fun to test your skills against other players.
All in all, we'd say that Mirror's Edge Catalyst is a prettier version of the original. Despite a few new abilities, everything else remains pretty much the same. The controls and core mechanics are still entertaining to play around with, and finding faster ways to get from A to B is fun for hours. Getting to create, share and play your own creations with other players is a nice inclusion, and improves the overall package. Unfortunately DICE hasn't made many more noteworthy improvements during these past eight years. The story is still lacklustre, and the gameplay gets repetitive quite quickly. Running around in the sterile and monotonous environments will give you a feeling of déjà vu within hours, no matter how many acrobatic moves you perform. To keep it short; if you loved the original and just want more of the same, this will definitely keep you entertained. If you're looking to explore new areas and fresh mechanics, we advise caution before taking a leap of faith.