Despite its structured and somewhat linear approach, 2008's Mirror's Edge offered players a great degree of freedom, allowing them to live out their parkour fantasies without fear of injury or the need for endurance training. But it didn't sell well, so it was a welcome surprise when Catalyst was announced, in spite of rumours that it was in development.
Eight years later, the gaming landscape has changed somewhat and DICE has rejigged the Mirror's Edge formula in response. You still play as Faith, but a younger, fresh out of juvie Faith. Despite her run-in with the law, once she's back on the streets she's ready to run again and links up with some old friends and develops an instant friendly rivalry of sorts with a young up-and-comer. Of course, a job goes awry, and Faith finds herself embroiled in a fight against the city's powerful conglomerate and sees her past come back to haunt her.
The most notable change in Catalyst is the addition of an open world. Rather than being dropped at a starting point and tasked with getting to point B, players have more freedom in how they approach the game. There's a large city to explore, but this approach comes with its own pitfalls.
The open world certainly offers more choice, but more so in how you spend your time rather than your route. You're still navigating rooftops, and buildings are often too far apart for you to make the leap, resulting in familiar routes to story mode events and unlocked safe houses. The presence of safe houses is ominous in its own right; this should be a game about enjoying the traversal of the city, yet like some other open world titles, it's more of a chore after a while. So instead, you can fast travel once you've unlocked a safe house and pretend that the open world doesn't exist.
Aside from simply taking more time to move between story mode missions, the open world offers side quests, player generated and pre-made races, an endless array of collectibles, and a geocaching mode of sorts as players lay down Beat L.E. markers in obscure - or usually all-too obvious - places.
It's in the races where Mirror's Edge Catalyst is actually at its best; it's vintage Mirror's Edge, as you have to get from point A to point B as quickly as possible with a ghost snapping at your heels or leaving you in its wake. You can bookmark races you enjoyed and come back to defend your place on the leaderboard, but the seemingly endless choice of races is a blessing and a curse. While there's plenty of choice and variety, the quality varies drastically and it's less compelling to retry a race to improve your time than it would be with a more limited selection.
Otherwise the world doesn't offer that much of significance. And don't get us started on the NPCs that yell at you to take a delivery and, despite standing around for an eternity, become incredibly time conscious as soon as you take the package.
In saying that, you may find yourself wishing that the world was a little bit emptier as soon as you run into security. Combat was the weakest part of the original title, and despite some new tricks, things haven't improved much. One such trick is the focus shield, which you build by moving fluidly and taking down enemies. While you can run your way out of many situations, there are some combat encounters that are forced upon you. Combine enclosed spaces and the need to keep your focus shield up by moving and some of these encounters turn into a Benny Hill sketch.
Rather than looking at what made Mirror's Edge great and building upon it, Mirror's Edge Catalyst almost tries to emulate what's out there already. You've got an open world; endless collectibles and meaningless side quests - the story outlines that Faith is in debt, but too much to make up by doing these random tasks - combat; and even a skill tree, which is simply baffling. While the tree is quite shallow and limited, crucial skills such as a roll are locked off initially. It doesn't take long to unlock it, which makes it seem like the tree is there because it simply has to be rather than to serve a purpose.
When you hit your stride and you're running free, Mirror's Edge Catalyst is Mirror's Edge at its finest. But a big, vapid open world, poor combat mechanics, and other detractions means that moments like these are few and far between.
6/10 - Mark O'Beirne