January 6, 2019 at 6:04 PM #693
Donald Love 87Member
Mirror’s Edge Catalyst
Rating: 3.5 – Good
Baby we were born to run
When the first Mirror’s Edge was released back in 2008, it didn’t garner much attention. It didn’t really get marketed much, especially not for an EA/Dice product, and it was also a pretty hard game to explain and get people interested in. With its first person view but focus on freerunning instead of shooting, it was a pretty hard sell but many of those who took a chance and bought it found it to be a breath of fresh air, and it definitely became a bit of a cult classic. Now, for a company known for the Battlefield series the revenue from this was puny, so whether or not a sequel would be made was an uncertainty for quite some time. However, in 2013 it was revealed that this sequel was in the works, and it eventually was released in 2016. So, was the 8 year wait worth the time?
One of the most distinguishing traits with both of the games is the very clean graphics style. While the game is rendered in crisp high definition, the city it takes place in has a very clean style with very few details and junk objects being around, and this isn’t due to laziness of the developers but rather a choice that ties well in with the totalitarian story. The whiteness of everything also works very well with how usable objects in your path you can use for jumping or climbing are colored red, standing out well from the background. However the bright and sharp look makes it so that it’s almost hard to play the game for a prolonged amount of time. It’s also pretty interesting to make a comparison between the first game and this; this has an open world where you explore the rooftops of the city, while in the first one you had a set of levels to complete. For some reason, the first game had more variation in the style and locations than this, with its green sewers and blue-orange subway; considering how open-world games usually pride themselves on having different environments to explore, this game managing to make the different types of areas more alike is not something that is positive.
Since the gameplay takes place in first person, the only time when you’ll see Faith is during cutscenes. Unlike in the first game with its cool lo-fi aesthetics here they’re either prerendered or done with the ingame engine; neither of those looks too impressive or like they’re utilizing the power of the PS4 very much. Sometimes when exploring you’ll run into other characters up on the roofs, most being sidequest givers, and they doesn’t feel like they’re that varied, it’s just like they took the same base model and then just changed some things around. While that’s understandable for games with larger crowds, here there are only a handful of characters like that so they could’ve made them feel more unique. At least the major characters look pretty good in the gameplay scenes where you see them, though nothing out of the ordinary.
Sound effects and music
The music in the game is pretty spot-on for the feeling; using strings and synths to convey an almost ethereal feeling it fits the style of the visuals perfectly, and the songs rarely get the upper hand when just exploring, instead just being there in the background; many of them are around 15 minutes long too so they’re really meant to just be there rather than being stuff to stand still and listen to, or listen to outside of the game. During the more intense scenes with enemies present the music takes a turn to a little bit heavier electronic stuff, but it doesn’t really expand too much here either. Overall, while it’s not something many people would find enjoyment in listening to outside of the game context, within it the music just works wonders. It might be missing the nice credits theme from the first game, but at least that’s nothing that affects the game in any significant way.
Other sounds work good too; the main voice actress for Faith has been changed, but considering this is a prequel and a reboot it’s not something that’s too annoying, and they don’t sound too far off from each other anyways. The expressions and noises when jumping, landing and climbing are there too, but one thing that’s strangely missing from here are the sounds when you run and hear Faith breathing. This is a bit odd, since that really added to the immersion; a slight jog made the breathing a bit quicker, and when running for her life she used to pant heavily. It didn’t get repetitive either but just added to the immersion, so why it was removed is anyones guess. Voice acting of other characters and other sound effect are also good enough; it’s not the absolute best or most detailed (some lip syncs seem a bit off), but it’s certainly not so bad it distracts from the other parts of the game.
Here’s where it starts getting really strange. The game states on the back of the box that this game will explain the origin story of Faith. However, as the developers has stated and becomes clear after playing for a while, this game isn’t really a sequel or prequel but rather a reboot. So how can it be an origin story when there’s nothing else to tie the game to? It’s just a fishy way of them to reel in the old players again without having to commit to them. But then another question arises; why did they make this a reboot? In most cases when series reboots it’s because the game devs don’t want to take a large lore into consideration when making a new game, or the story has painted the series into a corner. Or in the case of Rockstar it’s because they just want to use three different cities and doesn’t want to have to explain why they’re so different between installments. But in this case really none of those explanations makes much sense; the story of the first game was pretty shallow but still left enough threads open to make it possible to make a sequel out of it. A prequel would’ve also worked, but pretty much every character from the first game isn’t present in this one, and if they are it’s with a totally different personality or style.
If you do take into account that the game is a reboot though and don’t think of the previous one, the story works fine. It begins with Faith getting out of juvie (how she got there can be read in a separate comic – so the origin story isn’t really complete anyways) and returning to the runners, an association who gets messages and items across town without involvment from the government and companies. Overall the game – just like the first one – shows a world that from the outside looks bright and stylish, but when looked at closer it’s a totalitaristic place where you’re always monitored and no data is personal. Police and private security patrols and can take you down just for thought crime. The runners are outside of this society, not having the data implants to allow them be tracked, and can therefore provide an analogue message service. As the game goes on, the story goes a little deeper than that with secret projects and similar, but overall it’s a shallow story just like the first game. Considering the length of the main story being way shorter than most other open-world games, it works fine for what it is.
There are a few different controller layouts to pick from so you’ll probably be able to find something that suits you, but the default one should be natural to most players. That one uses the left stick to run and the right one to look around, and all of the parkour stuff is done with the shoulder buttons. It’s pretty context sensitive, but L1 is to do "up actions" like jump, vault off of objects or to swing from a bar. L2 is used for "down" actions like sliding under low objects when running or dropping down when hanging on a ledge. With R1 you can do a quick turn and R2 can be pressed to faster regain top velocity after doing something that’s slowed you down. When it comes to the face buttons, X is your main interaction button; this can be used to start a mission, to pick up a collectible, and other similar stuff. Triangle and square are used in combat for heavy and light attacks respectively, and with Circle you can use a distruptor – it starts out only working to disable fan engines to get past them but can be upgraded to be used on enemies too.
Most of the time, the controls work fine. They can be a bit hard to get into after a longer break from the game, but that’s more due to there not being that many first person parkour’em up games on the market rather than the controls themselves being flawed. So overall it’s just to keep running!
Without a doubt, the biggest change from the first Mirror’s Edge is how this one is open world. In that game, you had 9 chapters which you ran through, which often took plenty of time on your first try but in most cases could be done in less than 10 minutes per chapter afterwards when you unlocked the speedrun mode. In addition to that, you also had time trials in that game which were smaller courses taking their style from the bigger levels but presenting shorter bursts where you needed to perform perfectly to get those oh-so-wanted time trial stars. It surely was a game for the speedrun fanatics, and that’s been pretty toned down for this game.
Instead of chapters there are 15 main missions in the game – pretty short for an open-world game – and you won’t have to run them on time afterwards unless you want to beat your own record. There are also 15 side missions you can partake in which are a bit shorter than the main ones. The missions do vary a bit; some of them just require running and jumping to an objective, others require you to explore for a bit to find a correct path, many involve you having to beat up some enemies and that’s pretty much the gist of it. If you don’t like the freerunning gameplay, then there’s not really much incentive for you to play the game, but thankfully that part of it still works really well so the running itself is a joy! In place of the time trials from the first game are dashes now; there are 22 of these and you’re ranked from zero to three stars depending on how quickly you get from the starting point to the end. There are several other small side activities that work like this – the delivery missions which is also a point A to B endeavour, and then there are antenna shutdowns where you have to beat up some security, turn off an antenna, then outrun the helicopter chasing you by either getting out of range or getting into a safehouse.
The first game got some flak for its uninspired gunplay, but there were only a few times in the game you had to pick a gun up and start shooting. However, compared to the combat in this game it was actually pretty decent. In most situations, the easy solution is to just keep running; you’ve got a thing called "focus shield" which you gets as you run at top speed, and as long as you’ve got it bullets can’t damage you. Stopping or taking too many hits will deplete it though. But while that’s the best solution, there are many times in missions or side missions like the antenna where you are forced to take on security, and that’s more of a chore than actually difficult. Often it’s just about circling around them trying to get in an attack every now and then, running away and circling again. The combat doesn’t really lift off, and since you often face 4 enemies at once and they’ve got quite a bit of health the fights tend to drag on a bit longer than they’re enjoyable.
Overall, the open-world aspect doesn’t add much to the game at all. As mentioned earlier the game takes place pretty much exclusively on the rooftops, so there’s not much variation to speak of, and that also adds other problems. Seeing as there actually needs to be space between the buildings so there can be streets down there somewhere, it feels like you often ends up in a dead end when running from security and having to do a full turn and go back again because you find yourself at a ledge you can’t jump to another building from. Since the areas in the game looks pretty similar it’s also hard to memorize paths for you to take; you might recognize single areas but keeping track of how they connect to each other is hard. This also leads to a lot of time spent on just getting around to get to various missions and mission objectives; further on you can unlock teleportation to the safehouses but overall the non-exciting running to get to various objectives get repetitive, even though the gameplay is fun it doesn’t have the same charm when you’re running through the same area again and again. Thankfully though you won’t have to keep track of where you’re going manually; as veterans will remember, in the first game you had something called runners vision which turned interesting objects red so you’d be able to spot them. In this game the runner vision actually shows a trail of "breadcrumbs" to show you where to go. It doesn’t show you the optimal route, and for some of the dashes and delivery missions you certainly has to find a quicker route than it shows, but it’s great to have since it can often be hard to see which way you’re supposed to go in some missions, and it at least ensures so you won’t end up in a dead end. If you’re confident with finding your way around town though, you’ll be able to turn it back to "classic" which just colors interesting items red or you could choose to turn it off altogether.
In true open-world fashion, the game also has a load of collectibles for you to pick up. The first game just had the runner bags spread out across the levels, but this one has those, then over 300 grid leaks (shiny yellow balls of data) and 250 electronic parts, plus nearly 100 recordings/documents which expands the lore of the game and the world. None of these are really that important, the electronic parts won’t even give you a trophy, but for the others it’s always neat with background story and everything you pick up will also give you exp. Now this is also something new for this game; instead of everything being unlocked from the start like in the previous game, here you’ll need to unlock stuff like rolling when hitting the ground from a high jump or doing a 180 turn when wallclimbing. It works story-wise since Faith is younger here, however it can be a bit frustrating for returning players to not be able to do stuff that’s still in the muscle-memory. Some parts of the skill tree feels fine, like the ones for dealing more damage to certain types of enemies or having more focus shield, but locking those old abilities also feels odd. Plus it can be a bit frustrating to do a dash or delivery run, not being able to finish it and then not knowing if you just haven’t found the correct route for it yet or if it’s just that you haven’t gotten an ability yet which is essential to that run.
So what is there to say to sum it up. It’s interesting how they tried to pander to suggestions they got after the first game; a LOT of people wanted it to be open-world and wanted to explore the city freely. However, in doing so, it feels like Dice lost the most passionate supporters; the speedrunners. While the older game had something unique in that it basically felt like a platforming game that had taken a step into first person, this one feels very similar to many other games today, but sadly not as good as the ones its similar to. Sure, the freerunning aspect of it is still there and pretty unique, but it doesn’t work well together with the open world.
Add to that how they rebooted the story, and it’s really hard to see who this game is for. The veterans will be driven away by the changes made and how the story isn’t a follow-up, and many newcomers won’t like the parkour element and won’t like the game anyways, so why they didn’t make it more similar to the first to keep the core audience is anyone’s guess. It’s also the fact that they seem to have made pretty odd, and dare to say, wrong choices – it wasn’t so much the gunplay that was bad in the first game but rather that it slowed down the running sections. However in this game the running is slowed down by combat sections which takes longer to get out of than when you had a gun in the first one. The open world is a great idea, but not when it makes the game world LESS varied. Still, it’s hard to say that the game is bad. As a returning player, the drastic change in direction and story comes as a shock, but even if it doesn’t live up to the original it’s still pretty fun to play. It gets repetitive from time to time, but the style of the city is crisp, the missions are pretty good and, at the core, the freerunning is still a blast so this gets an 7 out of 10. While the first game had a few problems, this fixes some and adds some. Hopefully they’ll get it just right the third time!
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