The long-awaited return to DICE’s compelling world of Mirror’s Edge has so far been an exercise in disappointment.
Introducing us to a relatable and likeable Faith in 2008’s introductory tale, the Swedish developer proved it could do more than just the mindless multiplayer shooter that had defined it for years (and still does). It wasn’t perfect: Mirror’s Edge’s jarring animated cutscenes provided little in the form of coherent storytelling, but it was the city itself, smothered by a totalitarian government, that pushed us towards the sequel-hinting conclusion. We never got that sequel, instead making do with a “don’t call it a prequel” prequel in Catalyst, a game that fails to improve on its predecessor’s shortcomings. Worst still, it somehow manages to make a likeable and empowering female protagonist utterly unlikeable.
I expect that this character regression was unintentional, but something tells me that Catalyst’s wooden characters are DICE’s own doing. A year ago I had a chat with DICE senior producer Sara Jansson about Mirror’s Edge Catalyst’s main character, Faith. Jansson told me that Catalyst was about Faith’s “rebirth”, and that the entire experience was about building her up to be a “strong” character, which I found strange because Faith was already strong in the original game. Another problem here is that it’s difficult to make much of a connection between the two different representations of the character, and the story sometimes actually seems to actively avoid trying to connect the two, which seems nonsensical to me.
Jansson told me as much during our chat, that Catalyst shouldn’t be considered a “prequel”. But I think that’s a cop-out. It took almost a decade to get a new Mirror’s Edge while publisher EA to-and-froed about whether or not gamers actually wanted a sequel, and the end result is a “reboot” that makes Catalyst far less marketable and interesting than the one that preceded it. That’s a massive shame, because the gameplay fundamentals that define both Catalyst and the original make the Mirror’s Edge brand one of the more uniquely captivating experiences of the past decade.
In 2008 we had a powerful backdrop, fuelled by subtle social commentary on smothering state control. That backdrop is present here in Catalyst, but it isn’t anywhere near as robust in making us actually care about Faith’s or her constituents’ dilemmas. Somehow, the “reboot” of a game that already lacked much in the way meaningful storytelling has managed to regress further into a pit of clumsy character development. What allowed the original Mirror’s Edge to make up for what it lacked in storytelling prowess was Faith’s uncanny ability to empower the natural progression of the plot, even when it clung onto the railing for dear life. Catalyst can’t do that, because this “reborn” Faith is a robotic reinterpretation of a character who is supposed to represent rebellion. From a technical standpoint, Faith is an absolute joy to play as, and her design perfectly compliments the free-flowing, inviting nature of Catalyst’s free-running gameplay. It feels like a slightly more refined and flexible platforming system from the original, and the sterile world, while disappointingly empty, offers a fantastic outlet with multiple time-trials, side missions and collectibles scattered around.
Yet Catalyst’s shift to an open-world setting is complicit in the game’s inability to make for an inviting sense of progression and exploration. The story does less with more — certainly more than what the first Mirror’s Edge had from a lore perspective — and the cliche-riddled flashback sequences are embarrassingly ineffective at pushing me further into Faith’s everlasting struggle.
Fans of the original Mirror’s Edge probably would have been satisfied with just a themed parkour multiplayer game, but the reality is that Faith and the world around her is far too powerful and intriguing to forget. Faith held the story up in the first game even when it was stumbling. She doesn’t do that in Catalyst.
Unfortunately, this “reboot” does little that will make more people care about Mirror’s Edge, with a plot that has far too much in common with the sterile, oppressive world that surrounds it.
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