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In 2009, the original Mirror’s Edge was released. It was ground breaking on a lot of fronts. It was a fast-paced, first-person platformer, that emphasized movement and escape over combat and cool weaponry. It had a protagonist that was non-white and a woman. It was beautiful. Not everyone loved it, but it had a strong enough following for EA to make the decision to reboot it.
I remember playing the first Mirror’s Edge. I remember enjoying the first Mirror’s Edge. I don’t actually remember anything about the first Mirror’s Edge, plot-wise. I vaguely remember dystopia happening. And it was enjoyably dystopic. Faith did cool acrobatics. There were cartoon cut-scenes.
My vague recollections of the original don’t matter because Mirror’s Edge Catalyst is out and I’m here review it. Let’s do this!!!!!!
Mirror’s Edge Catalyst is a fun game, that keeps a lot of what was great about the first game and adds some new goodness. The story is different. The game has been expanded into an open world. It’s got even more gorgeous graphics.
Let us start with how the game plays.
I want to start off with an analogy that is probably going to lose almost everyone who reads this, but it’s the only thing I can think of: golf. I don’t play golf anymore. I used to when I was a young man thinking that golf was what men did. It is an unforgiving sport that takes everything you didn’t perfect and measure and consider, and uses that to punish you. You are punished with the trees, hours of slogging, sweat, pain and probably poison ivy. But if you did the work, practiced, and hit balls, and golfed every single day, in the moment of your swing, a mere fraction of a second, your body and hands and mind work in the perfect synchronicity of purpose, your club swings through the ball, makes a beautiful tink and sends it off high and far, spinning.
There is nothing quite like hitting a golf ball perfectly.
Similarly, Mirror’s Edge Catalyst is unforgiving. I fell off of the same roof, doing the same run, six times in a row. The screen would come back up, and I would move, and then down, down, down I would go. I suppose I’m used to platformers having a player character that automatically catches the ledges you fall off of. It built in bad habits of not worrying about edges. I also have bad habits of taking my time and moving slowly through a level to get the feel of a place, take in the scenery, and know how to take things on. I like to strategize and strike. M.E.C. does not like that. M.E.C. is a dance. You flow and float across rooftops, and mag-ropes. You can’t fight straight up, you have to move around and be active. When you mess up, as I did constantly and repeatedly and if I do say so myself artistically, you fall and die, watch the reload screen and fall and die. Again. And again. And again. And…
But if you don’t… it is so. Damn. Satisfying.
The story is fine. I’m not going to get into specifics here because nothing really excited me about it on the first playthrough. On closer examination I might come back to this, but right now I’m not super impressed by it. Nor am I disappointed. I just didn’t get anything from the story that was surprising. If you’ve done dystopias before, you’ll find yourself amid shifting alliances and shady dealings that are all quite familiar here.
I will say it seems that the world has been narratively expanded in the same way that the game has been expanded to an open world. There are so many missions just lying about that you can spend hours and hours just zipping around and being an underground messenger in a dystopian world trying to stamp out your existence. That’s pretty cool.
Another story thing that I liked was that in the original they had non-white female protagonist as the hero of the game and that was not changed. Seems like a weird thing to commend them for, but then again changes like that do happen. And they didn’t overly sexualize Faith’s costuming. And they passed the Bechdel test. That’s all good for me.
Finally, I want to talk about the world and design of this game. It’s bright white, and not cloying darkness. It plays really well with the futuristic dystopian tone of the game. Everything is pristine, in the open, but grimey out of the light. That’s how a dystopia is. At times it was strikingly beautiful. I felt the cut-scenes were gorgeous not just in the background but in the rendering of the characters in it. Especially Faith herself.
You denizens of the internet are familiar with the uncanny valley. I offer the character design of Faith Connors as the best we have yet come to climbing out of that valley. The realistic rendering of her features, the textures of her skin, the bright lighting all over this game, is there to highlight the fact that she looks human. I do not know if my internal human detector would be able to distinguish her as digital if confronted with a picture of her.
So I liked the game. I’m going to play it again. I’m not sure that I’ll ever be very good at it.