There are moments when all of Mirror's Edge Catalyst's components fall into place, moments when intricate level design allows the fluid freerunning to shine, the mission at hand delivers a memorable set piece, or the open world surprises with a cleverly hidden area. Between those moments, there's a disappointing amount of filler and several mechanics--most notably the combat--that trip up the experience, but these stumbling blocks aren't enough to erase the magic of those instances where everything goes right.
Much of that magic stems from the game's signature mechanic: parkour. Unlike most first-person action games, Catalyst emphasizes precision platforming over guns and grit. Protagonist Faith Connor's moveset consists of vaults, rolls, wall-runs, and more, all of which demand some degree of skill from players. Split-second timing can determine the fluidity of an animation, and successfully chaining successive moves over great distances requires serious dexterity.
Skill-based traversal is not only cool conceptually, it's satisfying in practice thanks to responsive controls, naturalistic animations, and the variety of movement options at your disposal. Even little touches like your controller vibrating right before impact after a long drop help make movement even more exhilarating than it was in the original game. Mastering your environment with flawless speed proves just as thrilling and liberating as executing a complex combo in a fighting game or nailing a demanding solo in a rhythm game.
The flipside of this coin, however, is the clunky, cumbersome combat. Faith relies entirely on her feet and fists when taking down enemies, so the game encourages you to pair your attacks with her movement for maximum impact. When it works, it's awesome: wall-running into a flying kick or sliding into an enemy's knees and watching his helmet slam into the ground is super gratifying. Problem is, many environments are too open to foster this form of kinetic combat, and without boxes to vault over or raised platforms to dive from, you're left clumsily dodging around enemies on flat ground and slowly chipping away at their health instead.
Worse still, some enemies are programmed to automatically counter certain attacks regardless of context, which feels awkwardly unrealistic. Because the enemy AI is bizarrely predictable, I generally just spammed whatever cheap move I found most effective against that specific enemy type. Thankfully, I could often avoid combat altogether; Catalyst even encourages this by making Faith essentially bulletproof if you fully fill her Focus meter by keeping her momentum high. In other words, you're much more likely to survive if you keep on moving instead of stopping to fight. More than once, however, I was locked in a relatively sparse arena and forced to defeat a preset number of enemies. Given the game's focus on movement over fighting, these moments, though rare, were totally unnecessary.
The upgrade system is another low point for Catalyst. Some essential maneuvers that should simply be available from the start--like the quickturn and tactical roll--must be unlocked, and other abilities can't be upgraded until you've progressed far enough into the campaign. This practice of artificially gating upgrades feels forced and pointless, though thankfully, the progression system ultimately has little impact on the moment-to-moment gameplay since you'll already have all the essentials unlocked after the first hour or two. All later upgrades--such as increased health and damage--are helpful but by no means crucial.
Other important aspects of Catalyst end up feeling a bit more mixed, though most ultimately add more than they detract. The open-world structure, for example, results in quite a bit of empty commuting as you run from mission to mission (at least until you unlock more safe houses for fast travel). The Runner Vision tool automatically guides you down the most expedient path to your next objective, which means you end up seeing certain routes over and over again.
Outside of the campaign, however, the world becomes an enticing playground full of collectibles to uncover and races to run. The inherent joy of the core mechanics makes unstructured exploration feel worthwhile, in part because you can ignore Catalyst's weak combat system and focus entirely on what the game does best: running. If you turn off Runner Vision entirely and simply rely on subtle environmental cues like the telltale blackfoot prints you'll occasionally find running up walls, you'll suddenly start to notice vents, ledges, and even entire concealed areas you previously ran right past.
Several of the side missions end up feeling just as substantial as the story missions, but even just figuring out how to scale a building for no reason can be rewarding in its own right. And unlike many of the story quests, most side missions genuinely challenge your abilities. I failed certain timed events repeatedly, but I steadily improved until I finally beat the clock. And when I did, I really felt like I'd earned the elation I experienced. You can also craft and share your own public, playable online time trial events by dropping markers in the environment, which further deepens the open-world experience. It's a simple yet ingenious system, and a serious boon to the game's longevity.
This is not to say Catalyst's world is impeccable, though. Its early rooftops look a bit empty and sterile and fail to provide much gameplay variety. While the stark white rooftops are an understandable aesthetic choice given the game's dystopian premise, these environments still grow repetitive over time. Thankfully the world is large and diverse enough to compensate for these shortcomings eventually. Late in the game, you'll find an elaborate construction site packed with stellar level design and squalid tunnels that offer visual relief from the city's samey rooftops.
As for the campaign, some missions feel routine and unimaginative, sending you on simple errands to areas you've already seen. But others deliver truly pulse-pounding tension or thoughtful environmental puzzle solving. You'll zipline from the tops of buildings, dive over security lasers, and escape from more than one collapsing construction site. While it's damn disappointing that later levels up the difficulty by adding more enemies rather than crafting more elaborate environments to test your parkour skills, the campaign still provides several welcome challenges and unforgettable moments.
The story stringing all these missions together is unremarkable but also unobtrusive. It disappointingly squanders the intriguing near-future dystopian premise by focusing on a half-baked corporate conspiracy filled with predictable twists and paper-thin characters, but the dialogue cringe factor is low and the narrative lends a discernible arc to the action. As much as I hated some of the character design and felt let down by the lackluster world building, the story does exactly enough to move the game along without leaving a lasting impression, positive or negative.
Finally, it's worth noting this final version of the game runs smoother than the somewhat sloppy beta. The frame rate dipped once or twice and I experienced a small handful of glitches like multiple audio cues playing simultaneously, but load times were completely reasonable and none of the technical hiccups I experienced actually impacted the gameplay. Catalyst may not be the best looking game out there, but it runs well enough to keep you invested in the action.
And really, being able to focus on and enjoy the gameplay is what matters. Yes, certain portions of the game are deeply unimpressive, but I rarely (if ever) found them frustrating, painful, or unavoidable, which allowed me to overlook those elements and enjoy the unique pleasures Catalyst provides. I was consistently wowed by the movement and everything that comes with it, so while it's a disappointing action game, it works wonderfully as a platformer, puzzler, and racing game. And for that reason, I can't wait to keep playing.