Platforming in first-person is not exactly revolutionary to the world of gaming. First-person shooters like Quake encouraged the use of skillful platforming to either avoid or get the drop on enemies and the Metroid Prime series had all sorts of secrets hidden away for those who were able to explore deepest corners of each map. But when Mirror’s Edge came out in 2008, it was somewhat of a game-changer. It’s influence can be seen in plenty of later titles (perhaps most notably in the zombie parkour game Dying Light). Unfortunately, that influence didn’t do much to stir up sales. It wasn’t until later that fan outcry began to appear, begging EA to bring fans back to the world of Glass. Better technology would make everything great, right? Well, the answer came in Mirror’s Edge Catalyst and while it delivers in the running aspect, it gives up a lot in almost every other area…and there’s a lot of area.

Welcome to Glass

Welcome to Glass

While the original game was often knocked for its dull story told in odd visuals that looked like an eSurance commercial, Catalyst takes the dullness to an all new level. In the futuristic city of Glass, corporations have basically taken over all aspects of life in a rough partnership known as the Conglomerate. Most citizens are known as “employs” because, chances are, they work for one of these corporations. The most powerful of these is Kruger Holdings, which also runs the entire city’s security force through his K-Sec division. Kruger is also plotting something to consolidate his power even further.  Faith Connors manages to steal the plans for this fiendish plot, at which point she gets wrapped up in the dealings of a mob boss and a resistance fighter working against the corporations.

Bored yet? Sure, the first game might have been dull, but at least it was still a crime/action drama. Here we have lots of people each trying to pull of political maneuvers and it just gets old. The most unfortunate part of it all is how running, which used to be a way for people to feel free and happy outside of the corporation/government control, is treated as just another job people do. No one seems to simply enjoy it – everyone wears a dark, dour expression through all of their cut scenes, including Faith herself. It feels like the spirit has simply been drained.

Smiling is, of course, illegal. As are sleeves.

Smiling is, of course, illegal. As are sleeves.

That runs counter to how the game actually plays out, though. It is fun to take to the rooftops in this newly expanded city. One of the primary complaints of the first title was that, despite being a game about freedom, levels were closed off and paths were limited. Here, Faith can run around from rooftop to rooftop, jumping and sliding and climbing and wall-running to get from one spot to the next. The street is an absolute taboo and, for almost the entire game, Faith will simply die if she gets to the ground, but movement is completely smooth and it’s easy to seamlessly transition into each of Faith’s special traversal techniques.

A single button is used for almost everything from vaulting to jumping to using a grappling hook to swing across chasms, while another button lets you slide and softens hard landings to avoid breaking your run. A special “runner’s vision” highlights objects that can be interacted with, allowing you to see moves ahead to keep up the momentum. Of course you’re also allowed to go off the beaten track or even turn off the vision to find your own way. While there is the occasional glitch where you might wall-run when you meant to simply jump, or miss a pipe that was clearly right in front of you, it works well for the most part.

The city is your playground.

The city is your playground.

Faith’s abilities are not all available right at the start, unfortunately, and this leads to the only thing that will stop you from freely flowing – the mostly pointless busywork the game gives you in finding hundreds of collectibles thrown around each section of the map. While the glowing shiny gridleak orbs are fine, there are also circuits to rip out of boards and hunting for these can be slow and tedious. You’ll need to do it in order to gain XP to unlock more upgrades and kick more ass. But if you’re fine with the base abilities, feel free to pass on this challenge.

If there was ever a time when the expression “too much of a good thing” fit, it’s here. While the free running aspect works great and can be a lot of fun, it’s really the one and only thing the game has going for it. In addition to the collectibles, there are dozens of time trials and delivery requests littered throughout the world. Each and every one is merely more of the same – run from point A to point B. The only side missions to break from this are the gridnodes – enclosed towers filled with laser traps to avoid as you work your way up. An interesting puzzle challenge, but there are far too few.

Oh, and completing them unlocks fast travel.

Oh, and completing them unlocks fast travel.

One of the most dreaded aspects of the first game was in its combat. Coming across even a single guard often stopped a run dead, and if Faith managed to pick up a gun, it somehow got even worse. There are some vast improvements here, starting with the inability to even use guns. Wider spaces give far more options to attack while also evading enemy gunfire. Build up a good run and a sort of shield protects from damage. Enemies can also be hit with directed kicks, knocking them into other enemies or environmental objects to stun them. All in all, it’s much easier to handle even a large team of K-Sec goons.

Catalyst is, in almost every way, an improvement on the original Mirror’s Edge, but with that being said, it’s still going to be a divisive game. Combat is better, but it’s still not exactly fun. The open world is bright, colorful, and fun to explore, but the side missions and collectibles are simply tedious. The story is certainly more involved and has better visuals, but it’s dull. It’s not likely that it will draw anyone who wasn’t already a fan of the first, but that’s alright. The stylish presentation and the, as-ever, wonderful soundtrack make it a joy just to toss on those running shoes and dash across the rooftops all over again.

2/4 Pops: Decent – There might be problems that mount up and prevent it from being a top tier game, or it might not do enough to quite make it stand out, but a 2 can still be an enjoyable experience that the curious should try.

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