When the first Mirror's Edge released in 2008, it performed so poorly on the sales front that it's really quite remarkable that Mirror's Edge Catalyst exists at all. While the original certainly had its fair share of issues, some gamers look back on it quite fondly – especially since there wasn't anything quite like it at the time, either in terms of gameplay or setting.
Once again the action in the sequel takes place in a dystopian future city, but this isn't the kind of rundown, dark, dingy metropolis that you usually see in games – instead, it's a vibrant cityscape where glass towers rise into a bright and cloudless sky. All is not well for its inhabitants, though, as it's run by a conglomerate of companies who control its residents mercilessly, and if you don't fall in line with their rule of law, you'll end up on the wrong side of their brutal security forces.
Faith – the heroine of the series – lives off the grid as part of a group of free runners who've made the city's skyline their home. These outlaws are part delivery service, part burglars for hire, and are always trying to stay one step ahead of the security forces. Mirror's Edge Catalyst opens with Faith being released from prison having spent a couple of years locked up, and after quickly returning to her free running ways, it's not long before she's put on a collision course with the authorities.
While the story and characters in this reboot are both disappointingly average, it does provide plenty of excuses to send you to outrageous heights for copious amounts of first-person, parkour action. In fact, the story missions offer up some really exhilarating scenarios that are only let down by the occasional poorly placed checkpoint. Despite this, though, they're really fun to experience, and will no doubt succeed in raising the heart-rate of anyone with even the slightest fear of heights.
The clean and crisp lines of the city are rendered beautifully once again, with a bright vibrancy to its colour palette that presents an attractive vision of the future – even with the Orwellian murkiness lurking just under the surface. The framerate also stands up quite well, and while it isn't locked at 60 frames-per-second, the fluctuations aren't significant enough to detract from your free running escapades.
Most missions revolve around you finding a route to your destination by using every ledge, wall, walkway, or handhold that you can, and with runner vision returning – which highlights parts of the environment red to provide a guide – you're able to keep up quite a pace. If you want to increase the challenge, you can turn runner vision off, but since the way forward isn't always very clear, doing this only serves to make your progress a less satisfying stop, start affair.
With the inclusion of an obligatory upgrade system, Faith also has a few more tools at her disposal than before. In terms of traversal, the biggest addition is the Mag Rope, a high tech grappling hook that can be used at certain points around the environment to swing over large gaps – or to pull Faith up vertically towards previously unreachable areas.
When you're moving at full speed, chaining moves together, it feels really great, however, when the momentum falters, cracks do begin to show – especially when it comes to the combat. As with the first Mirror's Edge, it's by far the weakest element of the game, and while you no longer have to use guns at any point, the few times that you're forced to stop and fight don't feel particularly great. While there have been some additions to the combat – dodge moves, environmental kills, and a stun weapon being the most notable – outside of Faith's finishing moves, none of it feels particular impactful. In fact, it's quite comical to watch a guard stumble slowly into a wall only to fall down unconscious.
There are times when the combat does work well, but this only tends to be when you're not being forced to clear an area of hostiles. During these more enjoyable encounters, you'll speed through like a force of nature, knocking down anyone who happens to be in your way, and you'll feel suitably unstoppable when you blast through a security patrol without losing your flow.
Thankfully, in the grand scheme of things the combat represents a small portion of the game, and since the game also sports an open world for you to explore, there's plenty to do that doesn't involve any combat at all.
Criss-crossing the sandbox on your way between activities, you'll become familiar with some of the more well-travelled paths, and you'll have fun tweaking your route to shave seconds off your travel time. This really is a case of the journey being just as interesting as the destination, and even though you can unlock fast travel points at safe houses across the city, you'll only find yourself using them occasionally.
As you travel across the rooftops, you'll also come across a variety of other diversions to tempt you away from the critical story path. As well as a number of side missions, there are collectibles to hunt, races to run, billboards to hack, deliveries to handle, and so on and so on. With a fully stocked open world on offer, there's plenty to keep you occupied, but it's the races that ultimately turn out to be the most fun.
Tasking you with reaching a finish point in as short a time as possible, Faith's runner vision will show you a route, but it won't be the optimal one. If you want to post a decent time on the online leaderboards, you'll have to find your own path, using Faith's repertoire of moves to get through your run as quickly as possible. This provides a nice challenge, and as your skill level increases the longer that you play, you'll find yourself returning to certain races to try out new ideas, and improve your time once again.
On top of all of the usual side content, there are also some asynchronous community events to provide even more opportunity to show off your skills. In these, you can setup your own time trials or drop markers around the game world, challenging your friends – as well as the wider player base – to post better times or reach particular spots in the city.
With the addition of an open world, Mirror's Edge Catalyst successfully builds upon the fun, free running gameplay of the original to deliver exhilarating, high-altitude action. It's perplexing that, while demonstrating a clear understanding of what the first game did so well, this reboot still forces you – albeit relatively infrequently – into unsatisfying combat. Like Faith herself, this release is at its best when it's on the run, and while the combat, story, and characters do cause it to stumble occasionally, it never actually falls.