In most first-person video games, the act of running and jumping is something a player does while shooting enemies in the face. The creators of “Mirror’s Edge” slickly subverted that overused convention in 2008 with a focus on acrobatic toes instead of trigger fingers. After a nearly decade-long break, the developers at DICE have finally retraced their steps.
“Mirror’s Edge Catalyst” (Electronic Arts, for the Xbox One, PlayStation 4 and PC, $59.99) isn’t so much a prequel to the original “Mirror’s Edge” as it is a modern-day reimagining of the parkour tale starring free-running vigilante Faith Connors. The tattooed heroine is back to lunge between buildings, scurry up scaffolding and zip across walls.
“Catalyst” kicks off as Faith is sprung from a juvenile detention facility in the city of Glass, a gorgeously detailed urban dystopia that could serve as sister city to the Capitol from “The Hunger Games.” She’s immediately thrown into a pedestrian plot involving the conglomerate ruler who controls the metropolis and the resistance groups that fight him.
While the story line is leaps and bounds above the underwhelming narrative of the original “Mirror’s Edge,” it still seems stuck in the past when compared with other recent story-driven game releases such as “Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End” and “Quantum Break.” The stiff performances from the game’s cast don’t help matters.
As with its predecessor, “Catalyst” rises above other first-person titles with its brisk gameplay that involves guiding Faith across skyscraper chasms, through doors and underneath obstacles utilizing “runner’s vision,” which paints walls, cliffs and other landmarks in the direction of safety a pleasing shade of Candy Apple Red.
Faith isn’t traipsing around undaunted. A security force armed with stun guns and other weaponry can stop her in her tracks. She can build up momentum to fend them off with her fists and feet — — or just keep moving along. “Catalyst” isn’t focused on fighting, so it’s always best to flee the scene.
DICE, which worked on both “Mirror’s Edge” games, wisely swapped the original’s linear levels for an open-world approach that makes Glass feel more like a living urban playground. With its color-coded minimalism, the cityscape is easily the game’s most engrossing character. Super Mario should be jealous his Mushroom Kingdom isn’t this fabulous.
Besides about 10 hours of story-centric missions, there are dozens of other diversions scattered across Glass’ neighborhoods, including delivering fragile packages, hacking electronic billboards, inciting combat diversions and completing time trials. If that’s not enough, users can craft their own courses in “Catalyst” and share them online with friends.
Despite an eight-year gap between entries, the ethereal “Mirror’s Edge” remains a wholly unique experience that marries fluid interactivity with a stunning visual design. It’s neither first-person shooter, nor racing simulator nor platformer. It’s something else entirely. That distinctiveness alone makes “Catalyst” worth a plunge. Three stars out of four.