Review: Mirror’s Edge Catalyst

As I post this, most gamers are probably either playing Mass Effect: Andromeda or counting the minutes until they can (myself included). I’m sure I’ll have plenty to say on it soon enough, but in the meanwhile, there’s another game I’d like to discuss.

Faith Connors in Mirror's Edge CatalystI had planned to spend the month leading up to Andromeda focused on World of Warcraft, but some happenstance had me splitting my attention with another game, Mirror’s Edge Catalyst.

While looking for info on Andromeda, I discovered that Origin was offering a free trial of its subscription service, which allows you to play a number of games for no additional cost. I’d long had my eye on Catalyst but wasn’t willing to drop the dough without trying it first, so this was a great opportunity. After a couple hours of play, I knew I wanted to see more, and it also happened to be on sale for a generous discount, so I bought the full version of the game so I could playing even after the free trial ran out.

It’s an interesting game, though I do have some conflicted feelings on it.

High, just like the Runners:

Catalyst is a reboot of the Mirror’s Edge franchise. It has roughly the same general concept as the first game, but there’s no continuity between them that I’m aware of. They’re starting fresh.

Catalyst takes place in the futuristic city of Glass, a glittering metropolis whose pristine beauty conceals dark secrets. In Glass, nearly all information is digitized, and therefore vulnerable to hacking. The only way to prevent this with total certainty is to go old school and deliver letters by hand.

Leaping over the city in Mirror's Edge CatalystTo this end, a strange subculture of “Runners” has developed, elite agents operating in a legal gray area, darting across the roofs of Glass to ferry packages and information.

As in the original Mirror’s Edge, the star of the game is a young Runner named Faith Connors. At the beginning of the game, Faith is released after several years spent in prison and resumes her life as a Runner. But Faith’s reckless curiosity soon finds her drawn into a dangerous conspiracy that threatens to end what little freedom exists in the shining prison that is Glass.

The gameplay is focused on high octane first person platforming as the player uses Faith’s speed and parkour skills to navigate the city, solve puzzles, and defeat her adversaries.

Long-time blog readers may know I have some history with Mirror’s Edge. I remember seeing a preview of the first game on Electric Playground many, many years ago and instantly falling in love with the concept, but when I finally got around to playing it, I simply couldn’t. I never was very good at jumping puzzles, and I became hopelessly roadblocked shortly after finishing the tutorial.

So the question with Catalyst was not so much, “Will I like it?” as it was, “Can I play it?”

The good news is that the answer is yes. I won’t profess to be particularly good at it, and there were still more than a few occasions where I screwed up and left a small crater, but that wasn’t the sum total of my experience this time, and I managed to finish the story, at least.

A VTOL helicopter in Mirror's Edge CatalystThe funny thing is I’m hard-pressed to determine what the difference is. Catalyst offers more or less the same gameplay using more or less the same controls, and yet the difference is night and day. The first game was unplayable for me, but Catalyst just… works. I don’t know how else to describe it.

It’s a hard game to rate because it can be thrilling and frustrating in equal measure. Leaping, climbing, soaring, zip-lining, and wall-running across Glass is incredibly enjoyable — poetry in motion — when everything is going well. When things aren’t going well, it can get ugly.

The combat is the same way. Faith has access to a few basic martial arts moves, but on their own they’re woefully inadequate to deal with the heavily armed goons she finds herself up against.

To level the playing field, you need to take advantage of the same acrobatic movement that gets you around the city. Faith can literally run circles around her enemies, and the more momentum she can maintain, the stronger her offensive and defensive capabilities are.

When you get it right, this makes combat spectacularly satisfying. There is no way for me to adequately communicate in text how much fun it can be to flow like water around your enemies, to wall-run into a flying kick or leap off a zip-line and crash into a guard like a freight train.

But it’s a very finicky system. When it works, it’s brilliant, but it doesn’t always work, and then combat just turns into a flailing awkward mess.

Battling K-Sec in Mirror's Edge CatalystCombat is a relatively small part of the game, though, and interestingly it is often possible or even advisable to avoid fighting altogether. You can simply outrun your enemies. Unlike a lot of video games, Mirror’s Edge is fundamentally about wits, not brute force. Enemy soldiers are more of an extension of the game’s puzzle nature than anything. The goal is not to kill them, but simply to stop them from killing you.

On a similar note, I do find it interesting that Faith as a character has no particular super-powers or exceptional abilities. She’s very fast, agile, and smart, but not inhumanly so. She’s not enhanced in any way, nor does she have elite military training or any of the other inherent advantages most video game heroes have.

I like playing super-powered characters, but Faith’s relatively ordinary nature is a refreshing change of pace.

One difference between Catalyst and its predecessor is that it is now an open world game, which is another thing that has its pros and cons.

On the one hand, I love the actual open world part. Movement is such a joy in this game that I love the option to just run around and explore the city at leisure, and there are lots of little collectibles that are just rewarding enough to make exploration feel useful, but not mandatory.

Conversely, though, Catalyst has also inherited many of the sins of the open world genre, like a preference for quantity of content over quality. The game is overflowing with side-missions, time trials, and other random activities that are for the most part just dull.

The city of Glass in Mirror's Edge CatalystThe good news is you can skip pretty much all the optional content and not miss out on anything important, so that’s what I ended up doing.

The one side activity that is a little interesting is billboard hacks. These allow you to hack into electronic billboards so that they display your Runner’s mark, a customizable sigil. Oddly, you can’t customize it in-game; you have to go to the game’s website, which is less than convenient. Still, it’s a neat idea, and it can be gratifying to see your personal sigil shining over the city for the rest of the game.

Supposedly any friends who play the game will also see your mark on billboards you’ve hacked, but since I don’t have any friends who play, that’s a non-issue for me. (Insert Forever Alone meme.)

One other thing that needs to be said about the gameplay is that Mirror’s Edge Catalyst is not at all a relaxing game. In fact its constant “go-go-go” mentality can make it quite physically and psychologically exhausting at times.

It’s a very interesting game. It will challenge your intellect and your reflexes, and it can be both fascinating and satisfying, but it’s not something I’d recommend if you’ve had a long day and need to unwind.

The story, meanwhile, is mostly enjoyable, though a bit on the basic side. I played so little of the original that it’s hard to compare the two accurately, but based on what little I saw, the original seemed to have a bit more personality.

A billboard hack in Mirror's Edge Catalyst

I made my Mark purple, of course.

For the most part there’s very little to set Catalyst apart from any number of other sci-fi dystopias where corrupt corporations rule the world (a genre which seems increasingly prophetic by the day). It works, and it does get pretty exciting near the end, but it’s not especially surprising. What twists there are can easily be seen coming.

The ending is also fairly inconclusive and clearly intended to set-up a sequel, which may or may not actually happen.

I did really like the cast of characters, though. Faith is a great protagonist; she’s tough, but not to an unrealistic degree, and she still feels very human and relatable. Her recklessness and curiosity remind me of Leha a bit.

The rest of the cast isn’t quite as impressive, but they’re still pretty solid characters. For a game that isn’t particularly long or story-driven, they have a lot of depth and development, even the ones that seem one-dimensional at first. The one exception is Plastic, who is as artificial as her name would indicate.

It’s one of the more diverse casts I’ve seen in a game, too, which is always nice to see.

Graphically, I imagine this is a very good-looking game on a powerful machine, but as previously discussed, my rig was showing its age when I played it. Catalyst ran well enough, but the textures just never seemed to display quite right, and it did get a bit sluggish or laggy at times. The funny thing is that no amount of tinkering with the graphics settings seemed to affect any of these issues. At least the cinematics looked good.

Faith Connors in Mirror's Edge CatalystOne other thing that I did really like is that you actually have a body in this game. If you look down, you’ll see Faith’s feet and legs. If you grab onto a ledge, you’ll see her hands. It seems like such a small thing, but I found it made the game vastly more immersive than the standard first person game where you’re just a disembodied head.

Mirror’s Edge Catalyst is a very hard game to rate. I’m coming away with more positive feelings than negative ones, but there’s no shortage of either.

Overall rating: 7/10

One other amusing thing to note: Early in the game, you’ll encounter a jukebox you can activate to play music in-game. This is hardly a radical idea at this point, but imagine my joy when the very first song to be played was by none other than Chvrches, one of my most beloved bands of all time (though ironically not the one referenced in the sub-header).

Now, I knew they’d done a song for the game, so it didn’t come as a total shock, but it was a great way to be welcomed into the game. Needless to say my progress ground to a halt as I listened to the song.

Review: Logan

I went into Logan with very high expectations. I’ve enjoyed every X-Men movie to date, Wolverine is one of my favourite characters from the franchise, and the buzz around this film has been very good.

Hugh Jackman as Wolverine in LoganSo perhaps my sky-high expectations are causing me to judge Logan with an unfairly critical eye, but for the first time, I’m leaving an X-Men movie feeling more disappointment than anything.

Logan depicts a grim future where mutants are dying off. An aging, sickly Logan is working as a limo driver while caring for the decrepit Professor Xavier. Well, “caring for” is probably the wrong term. Xavier is more of a prisoner. His mind is failing, and he needs to be kept under lock and key for the safety of all, lest his telepathic powers run out of control with deadly consequences.

Into this wretched purgatory of a life comes Laura, a mutant child with powers eerily reminiscent of Logan’s own. Laura is the product of horrific corporate experiments to create mutant super-soldiers, and the nurse who raised her is desperate to see her to safety. She believes Logan is the only one who can save young Laura.

Unsurprisingly, Logan isn’t eager to take responsibility for the girl, but in the end he doesn’t have much choice, and he, Laura, and Xavier find themselves in a desperate flight from the ruthless forces pursuing her.

I knew going in this was going to be a very dark movie. That much was clear from the trailers. If you’ve ever read any of my fiction, you know I’m down with grim stories.

But in the case of Logan, it just doesn’t quite work.

Laura and Wolverine in LoganYou see, there is a difference between trying to be something and actually being something. You’ve probably heard it said that the harder you try to be cool, the less cool you actually are, and the same is true of most of anything.

Logan is trying very, very hard to be a powerful movie, but that’s exactly why it isn’t. It’s such an unrelentingly bleak and brutal story that it just ends up feeling bland and tasteless. You need some light to contrast the darkness, or else you’re just fumbling blind.

It works so hard to be tragic that it misses opportunities to be genuinely impactful. Xavier has degenerated so much that I no longer see anything of Professor X in him. If there had been more flashes of his old self, if I could have seen something of the character I know in him, his issues would have been heart-wrenching, but instead he’s just this incoherent, foul-mouthed old man who isn’t a shell of his old self so much as he’s a different character entirely.

I very much like the idea of superhero movies being a little more serious, a little more about character and less about spectacle. Part of the reason I’m such a fan of the X-Men movies is that they’re already doing a pretty good job of that.

But Logan has gone to the opposite extreme. It wants so desperately to prove its emotional weight and artistic prowess that loses sight of the forest for the trees and fails to actually tell an interesting story.

Hugh Jackman as Wolverine in LoganThat’s not to say that there aren’t positives to the movie. Indeed, there are a lot of individual parts of Logan that I enjoyed quite a lot, even if they don’t fit together very well as a whole.

By far and away the best part of the film is Dafne Keen’s performance as Laura.

This kid is going places.

Despite the fact that she doesn’t speak any coherent words for roughly the first three quarters of the movie, she manages to communicate an incredible amount of personality and emotion. You can see a clear resemblance between her and Wolverine, yet she’s also clearly her own person.

And the sheer intensity of her performance is staggering. When danger comes, she morphs into this shrieking avatar of bestial fury, and yet her quieter moments are no less powerful. She’s as convincing as a vulnerable, innocent child as she is as a cold-blooded killer.

The villains of the story also put on excellent performances. They’re skin-crawling, blood-boilingly, disgustingly and utterly vile, and I mean that in the best way possible. Villains should make you hate them with every fiber of your being, and these guys accomplished that with flying colours.

But still, Logan is a movie that ends up feeling like less than the sum of its parts.

Dafne Keen as Laura in LoganThere’s one other thing that bothers me, but it’s a spoiler, so if you haven’t seen the movie yet and want to go in fresh, I’d advise leaving now. For the record, I’m giving this 6.9. You can leave now and not miss anything non-spoilery.

Everyone ready for the spoiler? Good.

I don’t like that Logan died. Now, I want to be clear that I’m not being sentimental here (see my Dark Knight Rises review for proof I’m willing to kill my darlings). This was always going to be Hugh Jackman’s last movie as Wolverine anyway, and Logan has got to be pushing his second century at this point. We all have to go sometime. I’m not upset by the death of the character.

What bothers me is it sabotages the whole theme of the movie. The core thread running through the movie is Logan’s struggle to cope with the pain and horror of his long and violent life. He’s outlived everyone he ever cared about, and he just doesn’t have the strength to go on anymore.

What a powerful moment it would have been if Logan could overcome that in the end. How meaningful it would have been for him to find the strength to continue on, to escape with Laura and finally have the peace he long ago gave up hope of ever finding.

But instead he’s just killed off. It’s not even his choice; it’s just something bad that happened. Again, they were so desperate to make this movie a tearjerker that they ignored their best chance to tell a truly powerful story and just went for the most blunt, contrived, obvious solution possible.

Dafne Keen as Laura in LoganIt’s a death with no thematic meaning. It doesn’t make any point about the character. It doesn’t have any real emotional payoff. It’s lazy.

Again, if Logan hadn’t been so hyped by both myself and the media as a whole, I might view it less harshly. It’s not that it’s a bad movie, but it could have been so much more than it is. Honestly I liked the previous Wolverine movie much, much better.

To make it official:

Overall rating: 6.9/10