This week, Zero Punctuation reviews Mirror's Edge Catalyst.
Continuity is a bit like getting the pornography channel on a hotel room television: we can all agree it's nice to have, but if it's not there, it's difficult to explain why it's so important to you. You might reasonably wonder what relation Mirror's Edge Catalyst has to the original Mirror's Edge; is it a sequel, or a prequel, or a reboot, or a soft reboot, or a hard reboot, or a traumatically invasive reboot behind the bike shed? And the answer is: good old plain reboot classic. So it's the same main character in the same city with the same red and white color scheme reminiscent of a wedding party massacre, and, broadly speaking, the same plot, just with a new cast of secondary characters with all their relationships swapped around a bit.
I wonder if they brought the same writer back from the first one, the one who did the new Tomb Raiders, cause the usual hallmarks are there: Protagonist is annoying, has daddy issues and spends the whole game panting down our ear like a malfunctioning hair dryer. But by the end, I realized that couldn't be them writing it, cause I started to like one or two of the characters.
To take note, 2008 is officially far back enough to justify a reboot, but not so far back that they could get away with using the same title without an utterly meaningless word bolted on the end. Seems a bit fussy to reboot continuity after one fucking game. God forbid we stop indecisively slapping the buttocks of an intellectual property and actually start making headway torwards getting a whole fist up there to rummage around. Maybe they felt the new story was just too good to not use, but I doubt that, cause I felt I could mouth along with the hackney plot points. Oh look, a cocky new partner whom we initially dislike! Circle correct answer, we will: A) Gradually gain mutual respect as we learn to work together, or B) turn into pirate flamingos and mount a voyage to the Caspian Sea.
Anyway, if you need to get up to speed, Mirror's Edge is set in an oppressive worker-exploiting corporate future world, and it's published by EA, relatedly. An underground network of couriers undermine the corporate stranglehold by an off-the-grid delivery service, and we play one such courier named "Faith", whose sexual partners probably have a good laugh when they get together, "Do you have 'Faith'?" "Yes, I'm having 'Faith' as we speak." "I used to have 'Faith', but I got disillusioned after I got my results back from the clinic."
The evil corporations are running an evil corporate scheme and we can only hope it is a scheme that can be foiled by doing parkour at it. Yes, Mirror's Edge is a first person parkour-em-up, and the plot runs into a recurring issue that there are only so many situations that running somewhere very fast can assist with. The game's missions have many varied story missions behind them, but in practical terms, most of them are completed by running up to the right computer and mashing our hand on the screen. There's a memorable mission when Faith is working for the resistance and they set out to kidnap some evil corporate type, a fairly significant development that drives most of what remains of the plot, but since at no point in the process of kidnapping someone does parkour become necesary, the whole thing takes place off-screen, with Faith asked to instead, open quotes, "clear the path" by, you guessed it, following the parkour path to a series of computers and mashing your hand on each screen. You get to listen to the kidnapping through your earpiece, as you gaze heavenwards and dream about what would it be like to be the main character of the story.
Still, I suppose I shouldn't encourage the game to parkour outside its comfort zone, since it attempts to do that with the combat, and in doing that parkours straight into a brick wall. The combat was the metaphorical anchovy in the trifle last time around as well, and why on earth wouldn't it be? You're a tiny unarmed personal trainer in climbing shoes whose superpower is possessing the speed of one person on rollerskates. Why the hell should we be expected to take on four fully equipped riot cops in a straight fight? The game even suggests at times that the smartest thing to do is to just keep running, maybe give the thug squad a cheeky smack on the bum as you glide past, and I'm fine with that, but I suppose someone thought it would be hard to justify putting all this work into armor designs and the prerequisite pre-animated takedowns, if it's all going to be streaking past like the end of 2001. So, every now and again, they lock you in a room for a few hours with the goon squad, and what do you know? It turns out that a skinny urnarmed girl with the reduced perception of her surroundings that inevitably comes with a first person perspective will probably get passed around like a plate of canapés! What an informative science experiment this has been. And you can't use guns anymore, so if an enemy has one, your only option is to sprint into melee range and hope you did enough press-ups that morning to dissuade six or seven unavoidable bullets to the face.
Gosh, so much to be unimpressed by, and I haven't even mentioned it's a sandbox game yet. Which I thought it would be a good idea, since a free-running that's strictly linear with only one way forward makes about as much sense as buying a dog to guard your lawn against getting pissed on. But Mirror's Edge Catastrophic ends up being pretty linear regardless, since it's more of a spaghetti plate than a sandbox, the routes you're supposed to take around the map are fairly fixed and you're going to be using the same ones an awful lot. The environments are confusingly laid out and a little bit samey: turns out there aren't that many different shades of overexposed blinding whiteness. And I found myself being almost completely reliant on the GPS navigation, at which point all I'm doing is mindlessly following the magic red snake to my destination, and I had a lot of traumatic experiences come out of strangers telling me to find their magic red snake.
Unlike them though, sometimes in Mirror's Edge Catalepsy the magic red snake will mysteriously go away, and I have to stop dead and gormlessly look around for it, like a meerkat waiting for his Uber driver, which is particularly annoying when you're on a timed mission. For some reason, all the side-quest runs and deliveries have timers like your mum's beachwear in that they're rather upsettingly tight. I know there's supposed to be more challenge in the optional shit, but there's got to be some fucking middle ground, as the economist said to the american class system.
Still, at least we're not expected to liberate the fucking districts, like every other sandbox game and their dog these days. I wanna turn that into an euphemism: “He dropped his trousers and proceeded to liberate the districts all over the new carpet". But if we're not liberating the districts, then what the fuck are we doing in this city? Fannying about? Well, that's the idea of a sandbox, I suppose, but the story campaign is over quickly and the character upgrades are pretty minimal, so there's nothing I can feel like I'm working towards.
Let me throw out some bones here. (That's not a euphemism, pull your pants back up.) The story is better than the first game and the parkour is fine: I like it, even. It’s cathartic, but at the same time, calls for an appropriate amount of skill. But it's the only string to the game's bow. It can't carry a whole sandbox, which is ironic for a delivery service.
- A do run run run a do run run: Ben "Yahtzee" Croshaw
- I suppose you could say from my opinion of the combat in these games that I disapprove of the Faith militant
- Better do E3 next week then