Step 1: EA Access
EA Access once again throws a wrench into coverage plans. Whereas select past games have offered free reign, the Access program for Mirror’s Edge Catalyst only offers six hours of play time across 10 missions.
It’s hardly enough to provide a full review for, but it’s plenty to start figuring out how I feel about the game.
Mirror’s Edge Catalyst (PC, PS4, Xbox One [tested])
Developer: EA DICE
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Released: June 7, 2016
I’m not going to sugarcoat it — the story is horrible. Faith, Icarus, Noah (their boss), they’re all generic, and every time they’re on screen I audibly sigh. I thought that would be the case with Icarus for sure, but not everyone else, at least to this degree. It’s not quite Metroid: Other M bad (okay, it kind of is), but it’s not good either. To be frank, I don’t know why DICE even tried, because while the first game didn’t have a memorable narrative, it was also easily ignored, and not nearly as forced. Is it a big deal insomuch as it ruins the entire game? Not at all. You can skip cutscenes (which I don’t do for the purposes of this coverage, but still check out mentally during), though. Thank God!
Because, really, I can suffer through a minute or so of Icarus’ nonsense in pieces for amazing gameplay. It’s still just as exhilarating as the original, and although the open world gives off mixed vibes (more on that in a moment), I mostly enjoy the concept (an FOV slider even on consoles is a nice touch). I dig the skill tree, of all things, because while Faith is capable on her own without putting one point into anything, I do appreciate that you can fine-tune the way you personally approach the game. It’s also something to work towards over time.
Combat, much like the skippable story, also doesn’t ruin Catalyst. Enemy life bars feel hokey and bad, but you can toggle those. Throwing people off of a building with a dedicated push (heavy attack) button is a thrill, as is jumping onto fools from great heights. Plus there’s still plenty of opportunities to run from fights, especially with the open-ended level design. I was a bit scared by EA’s over-emphasis on action while marketing the game, but the focus is still on free-running.
So yeah, that sandbox mechanic is really the thing that polarizes me the most, since some of it is tedious Ubisoft-level padding. The formula feels so “back of the box” that EA could take the same busywork, copy and paste it into a “lava” or “ice” city, and sell it as Mirror’s Edge 3. But like many other titles with fluff, I found myself ignoring all that and just enjoying the journey. Because levels don’t adhere to specific limitations, I felt like I could really unlock Faith’s potential and just roam wherever I wanted.
That’s mostly been my Catalyst experience over six hours. I don’t feel like I’m being funneled through to the next story mission, or forced into doing filler. I’m taking my time at my own pace, looking off into the distance and going “how do I get there?,” then trying to find three or four ways to do it. There are very few games to this day that evoke that emotion and I love that it’s present here.
The Facts of Life taught us that you have to take the bad with the good, and the good is winning out here in spite of Catalyst‘s faults. Stay tuned for our full review sometime next week when I have more time to finish the story and give the multiplayer features a go.
[These impressions is based on a retail version of the game purchased by the reviewer through the EA Access program on Xbox One.]