Mir­ror’s Edge Cat­a­lyst

EDGE - - GAMES - De­vel­oper DICE Pub­lisher EA For­mat PC, PS4 (tested), Xbox One Re­lease Out now

Each time you die in Mir­ror’s Edge Cat­a­lyst, pro­tag­o­nist Faith lets out a fi­nal breath while the game reloads. It’s an ex­ha­la­tion that echoes your own ex­as­per­ated sigh as you come to terms with yet an­other frus­trat­ing death re­sult­ing from ei­ther hec­tor­ing en­e­mies, poorly sign­posted path­ways or the game’s oc­ca­sion­ally ar­gu­men­ta­tive con­trols. In a world that of­fered so much po­ten­tial, it’s crush­ing to find so much of it in dis­ar­ray.

Cat­a­lyst is at its most con­fused when it comes to com­bat. DICE’s well-mean­ing at­tempt to avoid the turgid gun­play of the orig­i­nal game has re­sulted in a melee sys­tem that, while work­able against one or two en­e­mies, col­lapses in on it­self when larger groups of ag­gres­sors come into play. A sim­ple setup al­lows you to com­bine light and heavy at­tacks with di­rec­tional in­puts and lo­co­mo­tion to pro­vide a range of moves with which to wrong-foot or down your op­po­nents. Push­ing left or right while swing­ing for an en­emy will send them lurch­ing off in that di­rec­tion, al­low­ing you to top­ple them into walls, each other or over bal­cony rail­ings, while a sim­ple multi-di­rec­tional dash ma­noeu­vre keeps you out of range of any re­tal­ia­tory swings.

Bul­lets, mean­while, can be dodged for as long as you keep moving, build­ing a shield from your mo­men­tum that makes you in­vul­ner­a­ble to pro­jec­tiles if you don’t come to a halt or run into the busi­ness end of a ba­ton. It’s usu­ally ad­vis­able to avoid com­bat al­to­gether if fea­si­ble, and light tra­ver­sal at­tacks sup­port this by al­low­ing you to stag­ger en­e­mies on the way past with­out break­ing your flow. Re­served as a last resort in this way, hand-to-hand en­coun­ters can feel mean­ing­ful and, on the oc­ca­sions when you kick a sol­dier’s head into the wall and shat­ter his hel­met visor, gen­uinely en­joy­able.

But for rea­sons we can’t fathom, DICE in­sists on sprin­kling the cam­paign with in­escapable fights in which you must kill every en­emy be­fore you’re al­lowed to move on. It’s in these mo­ments that the piece­meal, at­tri­tional na­ture of the game’s com­bat sys­tem re­veals it­self. Fights break down into slap­stick chases as you run around in cir­cles try­ing to set up a con­ve­nient wall run from which to launch into a fly­ing kick, all the while chip­ping away at some meaty health bars as en­e­mies stum­ble into and over each other in re­sponse to your at­tacks – of­ten clip­ping through the en­vi­ron­ment in the process. Once the Sen­tinels – ag­gres­sive en­e­mies whose right hooks and round­houses can catch you mid­dodge, and who fol­low up their stag­ger­ing thumps with a flurry of ad­di­tional at­tacks be­fore you can re­cover – ar­rive, you’ll be sigh­ing long be­fore you’re dead.

In a game so fo­cused on mo­men­tum and free­dom, it’s baf­fling to en­counter such de­lib­er­ate re­stric­tions on your move­ment. Some scuf­fles later on in the game stay more in step with the spirit of free-run­ning, al­low­ing you to ig­nore the fight and at­tempt elab­o­rate park­our es­capes while un­der fire (one par­tic­u­larly en­joy­able mis­sion sees you out­run­ning mounted tur­rets as the build­ing site around you splin­ters in the hail of bul­lets), but they can’t pa­per over the me­chan­i­cal weak­nesses ex­posed by more pre­scribed fights. It feels as if DICE, ner­vous about let­ting Cat­a­lyst’s idio­syn­cra­sies speak for them­selves, has de­ferred to tra­di­tional progress gat­ing de­spite it be­ing an in­ap­pro­pri­ate fit. The same is true of Faith’s up­grade tree, from which you can gain new and faster moves, com­bat ad­van­tages and ad­di­tional gad­get func­tion­al­ity. It’s a half-hearted in­clu­sion in a game where a re­mark­able amount is un­locked from the start, mak­ing you feel like you’ve joined a game in progress and need to catch up on missed tu­to­ri­als. You’ll ac­quire Faith’s new gad­gets in short or­der, too, both of which al­low you to ac­cess more of the city. The first, a Dis­rup­tor, shuts down fans so that you can pass through their blades un­harmed, while a later up­grade al­lows you to over­whelm en­e­mies with au­dio and vis­ual noise, as well as de­stroy cam­eras which might alert re­in­force­ments of your po­si­tion. While its later uses are in­trigu­ing, if throw­away, the for­mer op­tion be­comes an an­noy­ance as you’re forced to dis­rupt cer­tain fans every time you need to travel through them. The MAG rope fares slightly bet­ter, promis­ing an ex­hil­a­rat­ing method of cross­ing larger gaps or zip­ping up a few storeys in sec­onds. Later, you can also use it to yank pieces of wood from blocked door­ways. The MAG rope will only at­tach to a hand­ful of pre­de­fined points in the city, how­ever, and while us­ing it to swing across mul­ti­lane mo­tor­ways is a rush, it ul­ti­mately feels like a cheap way to make ar­eas in­ac­ces­si­ble rather than an­other string to Faith’s bow.

But shorn of these fum­bled com­po­nents, Cat­a­lyst’s first­per­son park­our can be joy­ful. Faith’s phys­i­cal pres­ence in the world is ex­pertly com­mu­ni­cated through DICE’s ex­em­plary au­dio work and the rush of colour which sat­u­rates the screen when­ever you’re in full flow. Wall runs, death-defying leaps and breath­less slides down the an­gled fa­cades of glim­mer­ing glass build­ings feel as won­der­ful – and un­usual – as they did the first time around, and the way you segue be­tween con­sid­ered route-plan­ning and in­stinc­tual re­ac­tiv­ity re­mains an in­tox­i­cat­ing draw.

This in­ter­play is fully show­cased in the Gridnode runs which must be un­der­taken to un­lock fast travel and ad­di­tional safe houses in each area. Each one-off chal­lenge tasks you with as­cend­ing a con­vo­luted, dizzy­ingly tall server room in or­der to reach a con­sole at the top, ne­go­ti­at­ing se­cu­rity lasers, pre­car­i­ously thin walk­ways and re­tract­ing server banks in or­der to reach your goal. They even make rea­son­able use of the MAG rope, by al­low­ing you to pull out plat­forms (some of

DICE, ner­vous about Cat­a­lyst’s idio­syn­cra­sies, has de­ferred to tra­di­tional progress gat­ing de­spite it be­ing in­ap­pro­pri­ate

which will re­tract af­ter a time limit has ex­pired) in or­der to con­tinue your as­cent. Es­sen­tially puz­zle­plat­form­ing sec­tions, Gridnode runs pro­vide respite from the prob­lems else­where and demon­strate that – fo­cused level de­sign per­mit­ting – Cat­a­lyst’s ex­ploratory park­our would be more than ca­pa­ble of car­ry­ing a game on its own.

There are flashes of the same bril­liance in the lay­out of DICE’s open-world reimag­in­ing of the City Of Glass, too. Cer­tainly, when you’re first let loose in it, the me­trop­o­lis is a won­der-filled play­ground as you scout out po­ten­tial se­quences of moves and thun­der across its rooftops. But be­fore long, over-fa­mil­iar­ity takes its toll as you’re forced to tra­verse the bot­tle­necks which link the city’s hub ar­eas over and over again, slowly climb­ing up long lad­ders and tall stair­cases that quickly be­come a chore. Since the ap­pear­ance of Gridnode chal­lenges is tied to your progress through the cam­paign, you’ll have a long old wait un­til all fast-travel op­tions are avail­able, but of more con­cern is the fact that a game all about the plea­sure of lo­co­mo­tion should make us want to use them in the first place.

Your ini­tial for­ays around the city are best at­tempted with Run­ner Vi­sion switched on, which re­turns in up­graded form and pro­vides an in-world GPS that high­lights in red the jumps, pipes and ob­sta­cles along your route. But while this sys­tem is de­signed to help you main­tain an un­bro­ken flow, it’s some­what un­picked by the game’s in­fu­ri­at­ing re­fusal to for­give even mildly in­ac­cu­rate leaps: get your launch an­gle wrong by a few de­grees and you’ll miss or over­shoot which­ever plat­form or hand­hold you were aim­ing for and in­stead plum­met to your death. This prob­lem also While this new take on the City Of Glass won’t in­spire quite as many in­takes of breath as the first game, it has its mo­ments. Some of the later dis­tricts are un­de­ni­ably beau­ti­ful, although ev­ery­thing feels ster­ile man­i­fests it­self when the game de­cides that you were at­tempt­ing to scram­ble up a wall, rather than run along it, usu­ally re­sult­ing in yet an­other em­bar­rass­ing demise.

Such wob­bles re­sult in lit­tle more than a mi­nor, if frus­trat­ing, set­back dur­ing cam­paign mis­sions, but they be­come ru­inous when it comes to the timed side mis­sions and dash runs. The City Of Glass’s rooftops are pop­u­lated by a va­ri­ety of cit­i­zens with too much time on their hands, all of whom have delivery mis­sions to of­fer. Miss your goal by a split-sec­ond, even if you’re feet away from the re­cip­i­ent, and you fail. In one par­tic­u­larly galling in­stance, a frag­ile pack­age we were de­liv­er­ing was dam­aged in the fi­nal sec­onds by bul­lets fired from a ran­domly gen­er­ated pa­trol as we clam­bered up a drain­pipe.

Even so, the game’s huge as­sort­ment of side mis­sions and time tri­als, along with Gridnode runs, rep­re­sent its most ap­peal­ing of­fer­ings as you hone your route and – for the most part – fo­cus on noth­ing but run­ning. And this as­pect is fur­ther sup­ported by Cat­a­lyst’s dis­tin­guished asym­met­ri­cal on­line op­tions which al­low you to cre­ate time trial runs at the tap of a but­ton and then up­load them for friends or strangers to at­tempt. Ex­plor­ers can also place Beat Lo­ca­tion Emit­ters (LEs) in hard-to-reach places, set­ting them down like flags on top of a moun­tain, taunt­ing play­ers who haven’t yet fig­ured out how to get to them.

It is in this more ab­stract form that Mir­ror’s Edge re­ally comes alive, of­fer­ing up a daz­zling, ver­tigoin­duc­ing sand­box that de­mands agility, poise and skill. If only the rest of the game was as grace­ful.

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