Through the Looking glass

Seven years ago EA and DICE games locked Assassin’s Creed and a futuristic parkour setting in a room and released the resulting product out into the world. The year was 2010, and Mirror’s Edge received mixed reviews. The problem was, that the games media thought it was a first person shooter – FPS (and lets be generous to DICE – that’s kind of how EA marketed it).

Being polite to the developers, the combat in the game was crap. However, the running and jumping was twitchy and addictive. I have therefore decided that actually this game should be known as an FPS. In this case, Fast Puzzle Stuff.

The game gained a bit of a cult following and grew into a bit of a hit.

In 2016, EA and DICE finally gave in and released a sequel. Mirror’s Edge: Catalyst.

Again, they garnered mixed reviews. Again, the combat appeared to be divisive. Having been hooked by the first game (it was one of my favourite games of the previous generation) I watched the development of, and reviews for, this game with interest. I was intrigued, but not flush with cash enough to dive in at a full £50 game.

I checked this into my queue as soon as I signed up for Boomerang Rentals and it arrived at the start of the month. I had put off playing it while I finished FFXV and with that done I can now fire this up and share my thoughts.

Setting and world

The world of Mirrors Edge is a world I like. It’s shiny and clean and futuristic, which ticks all my boxes. The world is a collection of stark contrasts and extremes. You can have everything, if you abide by the rules. Break those rules, even slightly and you end up in trouble. This bit I like less so. The city looks amazing from the rooftops, where you spend most of your time. As a runner, the big shadowy corporations leave you and yours alone as long as you help with the odd delivery of something too risky to trust to the ‘grid’ – physical packages in a digital world. Push back too far though and they’ll come down on you. This is a clever way of meaning you can jump around rooftops and between building to building without having to be distracted too much by the enforcers.

Graphics

Graphically, this game is a bit of a mixed bag. The world of rooftops looks bright and interesting, with highlights (usually things you can interact with, jump over/under/off/climb) in a bright vibrant red.

The world looks pretty. It has an interesting art style and everything looks like it belongs.

Characters are a bit of a mixed bag, however. The main characters look good, DICE obviously spent a lot of time on them, but, outside the main characters the Frostbite engine struggles, it’s almost as if the developers either got bored or ran out of time.

The detail of the world is much less impressive. It’s almost as of the developers don’t expect you to stop and admire the game. Just keep running, just keep running.  Which brings us neatly onto gameplay (anyone would think I planned this eh?)

Gameplay

As I mentioned earlier, this is much more of a puzzle game than a glance would suggest. Most of the gameplay involves forcing you to run from point A to point B in as short a time as possible. It gives you a floaty red thing to follow, that will show you the way, but here’s the thing. This will only be one of many, many ways to get where you are going. If you follow the red floater then you will need to do a perfect run to beat any time constraints (and there are a lot of them). Look for your own alternative route however, and then it becomes more about finding the optimum path.

After a few attempts it becomes a puzzle, trying to work out which route is faster by margins of a second or so. Find the best route, defeat the puzzle, beat the maze and you can progress to the next one. Easy.

Except it’s not. It’s rock hard in some places. Some of the missions are so hard that you have to repeat them so many times it gets ridiculous. The other evening I spent a whole hour (yes, that’s 60 minutes) on *one* run. I was not going to let it beat me.

You are going to see the loading screen a lot.

Mirror’s Edge™ Loading screen

A. Lot.

Oh, and you’ll hear the dialogue when you repeat these runs. A. Lot. Seriously, sure they could have put a counter in and when you’ve done it 10 times in a row stop playing the damn dialogue. Please. For the sake of all that is good in the world.

When you get the run right, however, the game flows amazingly. One jump to the next, smoothly and quickly, with slides and climbs all neatly combined into the perfect run and the game feels sublime. I can’t fault that feeling of pulling off what looks to be an amazing sequence.

Often I find myself running simply for the sake of it. Unsure of where I was going or why, just exploring the world as past as possible. Discovering new sites and missions, even helping out runners who have been detained by the authorities.

And this is where there is a problem. Once again, the combat is awful. Melee your enemies with either a kick or a punch (but don’t just use the same thing or they’ll counter), you can do more damage by hitting them from a wall run or from height, but good luck getting to a position where this is possible in the middle of a fight.

“If you get into a fight, it’s often best to run away”

This is the advice from the loading screen. Which is great, except for the missions where it forces you to engage with the enemy. Defeat enough of them and you can progress. Which basically boils down to button mashing and running away. Which actually doesn’t always help because some guards will shoot you. See DICE, this is why you get rap reviews. There’s no need to include the combat at all. Embrace the positives of the game and have the courage of your convictions. The rest of the game works well. Racing games don’t add fights, why did you?

Story

I will admit here, that I’m not really paying a huge amount of attention to the story. Something, something found a thing. Shadowy organisation boss wants it back. Kills your boss / friend and you join up to avenge his death sell the stolen stuff and I dunno, save the world.

Maybe.

It’s all a bit cliched and naff, but we aren’t really here for a story. Again, the mixed analogy with a puzzle or racing game is best here, there’s not really a need for a story apart from to drive the player to new zones (which it does) and that’s about it.

Simple story, simply told, with the obligatory audio clues to help flesh out the world, but I’ve not been bothered about collecting everything. While this scratches my itch for an Assassin’s Creed style game, it scratches the puzzle reward art of my brain more so the story is not really something I’m paying a huge amount of attention to. It’s probably really deep and well told and I’m just ignoring it.

Sound

I don’t normally mention the sound design of a game but in this game it’s a bit strange. In cut scenes, when control is usually taken away from the player (you can move the character’s ‘head’ but nothing else) you often have to adjust the scene to be able to hear what information is being told to you. It goes echoey and muffled for no reason I can fathom. For instance, the main character is in front of you but the sound is muffled, move so they are off to one side on the TV and the sound miraculously clears. I know it’s not my old TV because the rest of the game is okay and everything else is fine…No idea why this happens.

Overall

I’m enjoying this game, the challenge provided by the parkour really got under my skin and the multiple routes thing pleases the racing game section of my brain. It’s just a shame that there are so many things that detract from the nuggets of brilliance in this game.

I seem to have a regular complaint recently about games I’ve played recently and it’s either

  • game devs not having the courage to stick with what the core of the game is (what I call the kitchen sink issue)
  • there is way too much interference from the publishers wanting extra things because they are the flavour of the month

Not sure which this is, but the issue is definitely there. Remove the crappy forced combat sections (or remove the combat completely) and embrace the puzzle aspect and they’ve got a real winner.

Here’s hoping they get it right in Mirror’s Edge 3….

Get in touch...