In November of 2008, Mirror's Edge offered one of the most unique gaming experiences the industry has ever seen. Developer DICE and publisher Electronic Arts expertly crafted a beautiful, yet strangely eerie not-too-distant utopia, where life is comfortable and crime almost non-existent. This grand, rather unimaginable achievement comes at a cost. Citizens accept a life in this society where their personal choices and other liberties are limited under a domineering and totalitarian military regime. This regime regulates day-to-day communication through monitors placed on almost every corner of every street in the city. They run the streets, they run the media, and they have even enacted a law prohibiting smoking and alcohol consumption. Is life worth living just comfortably?
The strong, albeit stubborn, twenty-something-year-old female protagonist Faith Connors serves as a "runner," or a courier who carries physical communiqués around the city for one of many revolutionary groups. Her hatred towards the oppressive regime roots back to her childhood, when Faith's parents were active in protest campaigns against the rise of the government. She drives the rebellion forward, losing friends along the way and uncovering dark secrets revolving around her past and the government's plan for the future of society.
The story and lore behind Mirror's Edge is captivating and undoubtedly engaging, yet it isn't the game's strongest appeal. The main mechanics of the game are simple, but unique. Players jump into the shoes of Faith, running, diving, sliding and shimmying across the rooftops of the city's skyscrapers. Death comes and goes, but the game's intentions are for the player to garner more skill in order to navigate the city's perilous structures, like a true runner of the revolution.
It's mind-numbingly frustrating at points, and could have greatly benefited from cutting out the fidgety combat completely, but it's a journey I have personally taken more than ten times. The replayability is extremely high, even without the option of a multiplayer mode, and the combat scenarios could mostly be avoided. When EA announced that a sequel was on its way, fans went nuts. That is until we were given what is arguably a heaping pile of sh*t.
An Unforgivable Mistake
During E3 2015, the rumor of a possible sequel or even a prequel was debunked by EA. Instead, a reboot was on its way with a release date of June 2016. The idea of rebooting an already developed story sounded worrisome, and the now futuristic utopia taking place in the year 2050 ironically seemed so been-there-done-that, what with all the new Call of Duty entries. I hate to say it, I was optimistic. If you are unfamiliar with the game, check out the E3 gameplay trailer below before continuing.
One hell of a trailer, right? After streaming the press conference, all of my previous doubts and speculations were swept away by the hype train. Choo Choo, all aboard the deception express! The final product, I hate to tell you, is almost nothing like the content displayed in this trailer. Here are four reasons Mirror's Edge: Catalyst failed on epic proportions.
1. New And Improved Combat System? Yeah, Okay
One of the biggest flaws with the previous game was the combat system. It was guided by a wonky control scheme that didn't always sync up to the action, and it drastically halted the rather fast and upbeat pacing of the free running moments, unless the player was skilled enough to successfully bounce off of enemies or kick them off ledges to keep up the momentum. It was passable in the original because the game, until the last two levels or so, gave the player the option to ignore enemies and continue running. EA bluntly disobeyed the critiques of their fan base by creating an even more broken combat system for Catalyst.
The video above quickly highlights the combat system, but in reality, the average player would never be able to recreate these awesome moments. Jim Sterling, a reviewer over at The Jimquisition, rips the game's combat system to pieces:
"Combat is basically terrible, appearing at preordained moments in the game. Faith’s KrugerSec enemies come with minimal variety and are mostly defeated by spamming a few buttons. The game wants you to constantly flip off the walls or jump from high places to attack opponents at all angles, but the environment isn’t well suited to such stunts and it’s an inconvenience to try. In order to make the game’s combat more impressive, you have to go out of your way and do impractical things for very little tactical gain. Instead, smart combat mostly revolves around using the “Switch Places” maneuver which has Faith pull an enemy around to expose his back, and then spamming the strong attack button."
It's not nearly as fun and free-flowing as the ads and trailers had initially promised us. Shame EA, shame!
2. Repetition At Its Worst
Catalyst was intended to be a vast open world with, well, things to do. Unfortunately, the mission structure and constant backtracking hindered the game from ever becoming a true "open world, action/adventure." There just isn't enough flexibility within the missions, aside from getting from point A to point B slightly differently when more useless skills and items to traverse the environment are unlocked. With a story that emphasizes freedom, Faith really doesn't have much of it at all.
There was one moment during my first playthrough where I wanted to mix and match my newly unlocked skills and items in a weird conglomerate of badassery, but I ended up dropping Faith to the ground one time after another. This trial and error mechanic worked in the first one because of the intended linearity of the mission structure, but when an open world was promised for the following installment, it's unacceptable to be punished for risking new traversal methods.
Backtracking is insanely annoying. Once I finished a mission, I was forced to run on back to home base on the exact same path as all the other missions (you could turn off the navigation system, but it was easy to get lost). After jumping over the same obstacle and swinging across the same drop for the 100th time, it was clear nothing would change.
3. An Empty, Open World
Subtlety worked nicely in the first game because I felt like I was on my own in the face of a massive enemy. Instead of focusing on the people, or lack thereof, I was awestruck by the loud, over-saturated color scheme inside the buildings and the fact that I had just made Faith jump across a skyscraper onto a red pipe hanging hundreds of feet above concrete.
Catalyst introduced a new, much less experienced Faith Connors who had the help of the rebellion at her fingertips. Well, at least it was set up that way. All of the side characters were written to be nothing more than one-dimensional objects that fed quest after quest to the player. It's also disappointing to see this emptiness plague the entire utopia. Never once did I feel like I was running through a jam-packed city, which ultimately detracted from the immersiveness of the world.
GameInformer gave the game a 6.5 out of 10 for similar reasons:
"Unfortunately, a sterile open world and excessive backtracking drain Catalyst of the fun found in the original."
The jump to a new and more open world should have been nothing short of refreshing.
4. Graphical Downgrade
Ubisoft is known for their undeniably awesome E3 game presentations that are usually too ambitious for their own good. Rainbow Six: Siege is a perfect example. Back when the game premiered at E3, fans were blown away by the graphics and unusual level of depth in this mostly-multiplayer game. When it finally released, it looked like a completely different game then the one showcased in the E3 trailer. Here we are with Catalyst. Ambitious is one word I would use to describe this game, and not in a good way. Constant texture pop-ins, frame-rate drops and awkward animations made it seem like another couple of months of development was necessary.
Above is one scene towards the climax of the game, where this building explodes right in front of Faith. Doesn't look too bad, right? I wish I could show you how terrible this scene performed on my Xbox One when it first happened. The explosion, covered in pixels, resembled something out of Minecraft, and when the building was collapsing it just fell through the map instead of, uh, resembling what a falling building would look like! Everything was half-assed in this game, and after a long development process, DICE and EA should be ashamed that this is the final product.
Will Faith Live To Jump Another Day?
After selling nearly two million copies by the first week of August, Catalyst didn't sell terribly. I want another game, but I'm not sure if I trust this IP to be in the hands of a company that is known for their countless mistakes and mistreatment of consumers.