Looking back to the failed parkour of 2016’s Mirror’s Edge Catalyst

Xbox One

2008’s Mirror’s Edge became an unexpected cult-classic thanks to its one-of-a-kind, first-person parkour and unmistakable style. But despite a loud – and small – group of fans shouting about the game’s quality, Mirror’s Edge was a commercial flop. That’s why it was somewhat of a surprise to see EA take another chance on Faith and her leaping adventures over the city. EA’s reboot of the franchise came in the form of 2016’s Mirror’s Edge Catalyst – a game that would retain the original’s protagonist, aesthetic and parkour, but change the entire structure the first game was built around. 

Mirror's Edge Catalyst

Catalyst’s biggest shortcomings were actually emblematic of several industry trends that would hurt other games; namely, EA’s decision to turn Mirror’s Edge into an open-world game. The PS4 and Xbox One generation saw many series tackle open-worlds such as Gears, The Witcher, Metal Gear Solid, God of War, Dragon Age and Final Fantasy, just to name a few

It’s clear that big publishers were obsessed with selling their games based on their value proposition. From a publisher’s perspective, what better way to do that then fluff out these series with filler, open-world content? This worked out exceedingly well for several franchises, but it’s also made some of these games exhausting to even touch, like the recent Assassins Creed offerings of Origins, Odyssey and Valhalla, as they ballooned in size. 

Catalyst has the same shortcomings. Fetch quests, collectibles and other open-world filler clutter the open-world. It wouldn’t be a problem if they were just trying to give fans more content but the side content sometimes feels like it affected the quality of Catalyst’s main missions that become repetitive and unexciting.

Mirror's Edge Catalyst Xbox

Regardless of how you feel about this trend in general, it’s definitely a core design decision that wounded Mirror’s Edge Catalyst. As exciting as the series’ wall-running, sliding and jumping is, it can’t endure being stretched this thinly. While, in theory, an open-world would only benefit a game like Catalyst (free running across endless buildings in any direction sounds exhilarating), in practice Catalyst’s open-world feels static. I found myself retracing the same few routes repeatedly, to get back and forth between missions.

This would not have been an issue if the game simply gave players more options to navigate these spaces themselves. Wider level design and multiple routes through spaces would have made Catalyst a more engaging experience. In its current state, placing a marker and following the thin red strip across the city is the equivalent of having your horse auto-run to your destination in an Assassin’s Creed game; that’s how mentally stimulating it gets.

Mirror’s Edge Catalyst’s combat is also incredibly easy to cheese. Faith can swerve around enemies easily to dodge attacks, which always feels good. But Faith is also equipped with a kick that can change directions. For some reason Faith’s main attack is susceptible to parries and counters but her directional kick isn’t. This means players can endlessly kick enemies into one another or the enemy AI will throw themselves off of rooftops like a badly choreographed student play.

Mirror's Edge Catalyst Xbox One

Which is a shame, because at its core, Mirror’s Edge’s parkour is excellent. It’s hefty, it has momentum, it really challenges the player to know what they’re doing. While the Runners Vision trail will guide you through the simplest ways to get to the destination, Catalyst’s world is set up for speedrunners to shave seconds off their runs. A keen eye could probably spot dozens of alternate ways around, under and off of obstacles. Its movement is magnitudes above any other AAA game, and yet, everything else in Catalyst feels like it is chasing industry trends.

Its XP and skill trees are another example of this. Grinding for XP in a Mirror’s Edge game doesn’t seem like it fits, right? That’s because it doesn’t. It’s only in Catalyst because skill trees are in almost every other AAA game right now, and it’s why the homogenisation of blockbusters should be worrying.

I’m about to go on a rant but bear with me. Far Cry 3 included a skill tree but there was a reason for it. As the story went on the protagonist began to actually enjoy killing more and more. The skill tree is supposed to mimic that descent into insanity for the player. As the protagonist enjoys killing more, so will the player thanks to these cool new abilities they’re unlocking. But what’s the reason for its existence in Mirror’s Edge, or God of War, or Assassin’s Creed Valhalla?

Mirror's Edge

This might seem like a massive tangent but I’m really just trying to highlight what stopped Catalyst from even reaching a cult-classic status. It was a corporate mosaic, like many AAA games are, but it’s also not a broad appeal game. Publishers can stitch industry trends into mainstream open-world, action/adventure titles and people will still buy them. What EA couldn’t get away with is forcing these nonsense mechanics into a game people loved for a very specific reason. 

Mirror’s Edge will likely never get a third try. The second game does not look like a cheap effort. By all accounts it is beautiful, especially with its FPS Boost enhancements. The city glows at nights and shines in the day. Lights will reflect off of Catalyst’s many structures made of glass. It’s spectacular to run through. But such a lavish production often comes with risk aversion and sadly Catalyst crumbles under this pressure. It’s held back by the pressure to conform, rather than trying to be genuinely different.  

But let us know your thoughts in regards Mirror’s Edge Catalyst. Did you love it? Were you frustrated by what it provided? The comments are below. And if you haven’t played the game, you’ll find it available on Xbox, PlayStation and PC – with the Xbox Store holding the usual download for the former.

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