Super Evil Megacorp's latest mobile release is a multiplayer top-down shooter known as Catalyst Black. You may know this developer from their previous work on the now languishing MOBA Vainglory, which was a game designed to clear the hurdles that otherwise make this genre inconvenient to play on mobile devices. A lot of the same design ethos has been poured into Catalyst Black, resulting in some fast and fun shooting action despite its bothersome free-to-play design and the fact that it has essentially zero personality.
Catalyst Black is a team-focused shooter where every player has full control of their loadout and abilities. On top of choosing a primary and heavy weapon of choice, heroes can equip a wide variety of special actions (i.e. teleportation, shields, healing, etc.), passive talents (i.e. faster reload, auto-shielding teammates, etc.), and even their character's overall appearance to make the exact kind of hero character they might want from other hero shooters like Overwatch.
One of the main selling points for Catalyst Black is also that every character has the same ultimate ability: to transform into magical monsters known as primals that allow you to shift the tide of battles considerably. As with hero characters, primals are fully customizable in that the handful of available monsters have unique sets of abilities that can also be swapped out for the ideal loadout.
Across the four primary game modes in Catalyst Black, players can find themselves teaming up for a standard death match, skirmishing to complete objectives using limited lives, taking part in large-scale territory control contests, or all working together to cut down monsters in a completely cooperative coliseum mode. Outside of these options, Catalyst Black also has a rotating 5th game mode that can be things like capture the flag or a unique mode that places bounties on unique AI enemies for teams to try and rack up points faster by taking them down ahead of their opponent.
No matter which way you decide to play, Catalyst Black mostly revolves around outwitting your opponents and working together as a team (though it helps to have good and quick aiming, too). Luckily, the action in the game is super easy to control and maps are full of interesting features like brush to hide in, obstacles to take cover behind, and even random monsters that will attack and kill you if you aren't careful.
Cobbled together customization
Catalyst Black is about as easy and convenient a shooter can be on mobile. It has high quality social features for managing friends and lets you drop in on matches at a moment's notice. Queue times for matches are also lightning quick and each mode serves up a different average match length, ensuring players wanting long sessions with the game or quick bursts of action can have a good time.
With all of this customization and comfort comes a trade-off, though. By keeping things so modular, Catalyst Black doesn't really feel like it has a firm sense of self. The AI mobs, primals, and other unique features of the game feel like they are there purely to make the game stand out, and otherwise don't feel like they gel or give additional dimension to the experience.
On a final note, perhaps the most irksome thing about Catalyst Black is its free-to-play structure. Progression in the game involves collecting currencies to make weapons and abilities more powerful than those of other players, which ultimately tips the balance scale in favor of those willing to put money into the game. In my time with Catalyst Black I haven't felt like I've played a match with someone who paid to be powerful, but the fact that this is possible is annoying and could eventually become a big problem for the game.
The bottom line
Catalyst Black is a fun shooter, but it's hard to get too excited about any of the other stuff in it that makes it unique. I definitely plan to keep returning to it because of the way it feels and the variety it offers, but I find little else endearing about it, which is a weird way to feel about a game.