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Video game review: ‘Mirror’s Edge Catalyst’ improves on original, but not enough

The DICE team (for Digital Illusions Creative Entertainment) at Electronic Arts has earned a reputation as one of the best developers of first-person shooters. With its “Battlefield” series, the team helped usher in the age of online gaming that allows players to wage warfare — with tanks, planes, ships and other vehicles — across vast expanses. But “Battlefield” doesn’t fully define the Swedish developer.

“Mirror’s Edge Catalyst,” its new reboot of the 2008 original, demonstrates another facet of the team. The new version is built on a narrative-driven single-player experience. The gameplay abandons guns to focus on the fluid parkour skills of an Asian protagonist named Faith Connors — one of the industry’s few female stars.

Faith — a tough, reed-thin woman — looks more like a street jogger than the usual female video-game characters, who all seem to be modeled on buxom women from the swimsuit issue of Sports Illustrated.

The reboot successfully does away with the original’s confined, linear spaces and gives players access to the entire city of Glass — a clean, ultramodern metropolis where family-run businesses operate under the umbrella of the Conglomerate.

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Here, Faith plies her trade as a Runner — a skilled, off-the-grid courier who transports messages and merchandise by running, vaulting and tumbling across rooftops. Runners also get involved in corporate espionage, and that’s where Faith runs into trouble.

She breaks into Kruger Arms and stumbles upon a project called Reflection. When she decides to steal the Reflection data, she stirs up a hornet’s nest of trouble. CEO Gabriel Kruger orders his enforcers to recover the filched technology, even if they have to tear apart the city to do it.

“Mirror’s Edge Catalyst” has improved on the original by shifting the core gameplay into a wide-open world. With freedom to jump and careen her way through the cityscape, players can exploit Faith’s moves and expand them. These moves give the game a “Tony Hawk Pro Skater” vibe, as players combine sprints, jumps, slides and more to get from one place to another.

Faith also acquires a Mag rope to lasso objects and swing from them a la Indiana Jones. Another new element is the Focus Shield, which enables her to dodge bullets and absorb energy from strikes without losing her momentum.

Unfortunately, the combat mode in “Mirror’s Edge Catalyst” is decidedly clunky when compared to the graceful parkour moves. Players are encouraged to leap into a jump kick or punch a foe at full sprint, instead of engaging troops head on. But the depiction of combat has a wooden look that borders on the comical.

Other flaws involve side quests that are all variations on racing from point A to point B within a time limit. They require a lot of trial and error, as well as memorization of routes. Finding alternate routes quickly becomes monotonous. Worse still, the game’s Diversion missions are full of bugs.

The core-story missions and grid quests, when Faith isn’t on the clock, work well, however. And some scenarios — such as clambering up construction sites or exploring Omni tunnels — test players’ minds as well as dexterity.

“Mirror’s Edge Catalyst” definitely improves on the original, but doesn’t eliminate all the old shortcomings. If DICE can upgrade its combat mode and add some stealth missions, that would go a long way toward bringing more of the player experience up to the level of the satisfying parkour action.

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‘MIRROR’S EDGE CATALYST’

2.5 stars out of four

Platform: Xbox One, PlayStation 4, PC

Rating: Teen

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©2016 East Bay Times (Walnut Creek, Calif.)

Visit the East Bay Times (Walnut Creek, Calif.) at www.eastbaytimes.com

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PHOTO (for help with images, contact 312-222-4194): MIRRORSEDGE


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