When Mirror's Edge, developed by Swedish DICE, came out eight years ago it stirred a small revolution among players who craved for an alternative action game amidst all the repetitive shooters. Here we had an exhilarating free running presented in 1st perspective as the means of overpowering your obstacles, slickly presented in a dystopia painted in white instead of murky oppression. Indeed, a game like no other.
And there wasn't a game like it in eight long years it took to get players back in Faith's running shoes. Part prequel, part reboot, Mirror's Edge Catalyst may not cause a revolution anymore but one thing is for sure; there aren't any other games quite like it.
The original adrenaline-pumping action is there pretty much intact but the dystopian city of glass is now an open world experience, a kind of which is pretty much familiarized and standardized by Ubisoft. You can freely roam about the rooftops, running between story and side missions and other activities like different deliveries, dashes, collectibles and player-created time trials and caches.
The heart of the game is still Faith in motion, the freedom of expressing yourself through movement, getting that inimitable adrenaline rush when you run and chain different moves together, never (ideally) losing your focus as you zip atop clinical vistas of the plausible future not too far from our time. The playability becomes a second nature and you don't really need to think ahead controls.
When DICE introduced a grappling hook for Faith I feared it might be a wonder gadget making every other form of movement useless, like it did in Assassin's Creed Syndicate. Luckily it's not as you use it only in a few select spots and it never obscures Faith's nimble footwork.
The intuitive nature of motion extends to the combat which is melee only this time as you can't even pick up a gun. It's the most satisfying when you tackle foes from wall runs, jumps and other acrobatic moves but hand-to-hand without momentum also performs well, thanks to simple and slick controls. However you fight, it always feels and looks good. And you don't even need to challenge K-sec guards you come across as evading and running away is an option save for a couple of story moments.
The story won't win any awards but it keeps you motivated enough to progress through it instead of doing everything else first (I'm speaking of you again, Assassin's Creed Syndicate). I even encourage leaving most of the other stuff post-game as you can run freely without thinking of missions ahead. Even though cutscenes are extremely stylish and polished they are commendably sparse and don't interrupt the gameplay or drag on endlessly. Mirror's Edge Catalyst acknowledges it's a game first and not a movie wannabe.
The soul of Mirror's Edge is of course Faith and Catalyst treats her with love and respect. Last time she was a bit like a comic book character with only a little help from narrative. Don't get me wrong as I loved the cartoon cutscenes of the original game but in Catalyst, aided with an emotional performance capture and lifelike modeling, Faith emerges as a real person with strengths and vulnerabilities.
I played the game on Xbox One and thankfully a lot has changed since the closed beta. The image, even though "only" in 720p, is much cleaner, shadows are better defined, the draw distance is deeper and the frame rate is mostly perfect and steady 60fps. It doesn't come at the expense of the graphic quality though as the game is infallibly gorgeous. The sleek art design and architecture of the city of glass with reflecting and shiny surfaces can only be described as Nordic cool. Same goes for the music with throbbing bass and drums setting the pace.
For Mirror's Edge veteran Catalyst can be a bit easy as there are hardly any as devious movesets needed to be pulled off as before. Having said that, there are occasions requiring an acute and precise knowledge of what you're doing, especially towards the end of the game and some side missions have some clever environmental puzzle-platforming to perform. The runner vision with red pointers and shadowy reflection showing the potential way can be disabled and it's fun to try to play without it.
15 story missions are fine but I wouldn't have minded more side missions to delve into. As it is, aside the people needing deliveries or diversions to be made, the rooftops are sparse of population. Then again, they are rooftops which are mostly occupied by runners in the game's world. Mirror's Edge Catalyst may not be as groundbreaking as its iconic predecessor and it doesn't need to be. It's a fun, exhilarating and stylish action game nonetheless and indeed, a game quite like no other.
Verdict: Freedom of movement and cool looks. Run for it! 8.5/10