Mirror’s Edge was a complete surprise to me when I first saw the trailer for it back in 2008 or so (I was rather late on that). My imagination on the concept pictured the game as a highly non-linear curious tale, where you follow the bag as it changes sides between different Runners, so you would play levels as different characters, crossing paths with characters you followed before and seeing just glimpses of some interesting character lives. No one made game stories like that, to my knowledge (hell, even not a lot of movies attempted this). While I was wrong about that, in addition, I actually had a different idea for a game back then, but one aspect of which was incredibly close to that of Runners and the movement in Mirror’s Edge, so I was excited to see someone attempt to implement that in a real game. And while it certainly wasn’t great due to numerous frustrating flaws to many aspects of the design, I loved it and love it to this day, occasionally replaying it. And then a reboot was announced…
Now, let me preface the opinion with the fact, that to actually play the game I had to go through a lot of frustrating shit, because EA still doesn’t realise that it’s 2018, it’s the digital distribution era and it’s worldwide. You see, Ukraine, in Origin, is shoehorned into the Russian region. Region, which is, along with other East European countries (like Poland), may have prices exactly the same as for the rest of the world, but gets Russian language only, or Polish language only and crap like that, if you try to buy anything via Origin. Or even if you get it “On the house” (for free worldwide), you’re still locked into that “ghetto people language version”. Something that you cannot get around even via VPN, so you cannot pay money for the product you want. And even if I was interested in playing English-language games in the Russian localisation, the issue is actually not as much with the language, as much with the fact that EA is incredibly cheap with these localisations having translations like “EA is proudly presentation game:” (If I were to translate it back to English), and rarely ever bothering to adapt the fonts of the game to Cyrillic, instead just switching it to Arial or some other basic font with incorrect size. Okay, special “fuck you, EA” paragraph can end now. (also fuck you, Ubisoft, for doing the same shit both on Uplay and on Steam)
On the surface level, it feels like Mirror’s Edge Catalyst wants to take what was great about the game and keep it as is or improve, but also fix some of the broken ideas and expand on some of the things that were implied, but never shown. You can almost see the team compiling the list of complaints, suggestions and “what people liked” things for the first game and then going through it, and “solving” everything to make the reboot a “better game”. Oh, combat was frustrating people? We’ll make it better! People loved the city and wanted to explore it more? Let’s make an open world! People didn’t like how story was short and cutscenes crappy looking, let’s make a longer and more complex sounding story! And all of the above sounds good, on paper. But on practice, what we got is a game that barely fixed anything, sidestepped some other things and introduced a hell of a lot more issues.
So, let’s talk about combat first. Original game had a fantastic idea, where when you are forced to fight, you’re meant to do it on the go and using everything means available. So you’d run around some people, disarm other people, to shoot a few other people quickly with a gun, only to then discard it and run some more. It’s essentially what Superhot or Hotline Miami were doing later, but with more parkour. What didn’t work about the first game was that at times you were forced to fight, and it didn’t go well with the core ideas of the game and just didn’t work with these “last resort” controls-mechanics that you had. So, of course, Catalyst would just remove the forced fights, right? Right? No, instead we now have a rather good first person fighting system which works for the forced fights… which are still terrible, because it’s a game about running. Moreover, this time around you cannot use guns either, because of some reasons (enemies can use guns on you). Oh, and there are also “unlocks” now, so Faith cannot just quickturn or roll after landing now, she has to “unlock” it, with skills points. Because of course she does, it’s an EA game.
Okay then, so what about making the city of glass more alive and free to explore? The original game was all mission based, but all missions had quite open-ended routes and you could run the same course in slightly different ways. But those ways usually felt just right, natural, and also meant that every single mission had some really memorable set pieces, something that stays with you long after the game is done and makes you go “wow, that totally happened”. Could Catalyst keep all of that and also make the world open? Well, maybe, but it didn’t. Instead (EA, remember), there are “optional missions”, “collectibles” (always good to make a person go to a full stop to pick up a chip in a game about running) and a bunch of other crap that just doesn’t work with the game at all. Some of it could work, like all the races, in which you can compete against other people’s leaderboard times if you’re playing online, if not for the fact that a lot of the sections of the open world map can only be traversed in 2 or even 1 only way no matter which route you take. So you will be running through the exact same places in the exact same way as the time goes on and that gets boring so fast, the developers themselves realized it and introduced quick travel as a “fix”. But given that pretty much none of the main missions, which all take place in unique locations, are as memorable and breath taking as any of the missions in the original game, I can only assume that way too much time was spent on designing the open world, so not a lot of creativity was left for places where you expected to see something truly amazing.
And the story… Ugh. It’s full of the same problems the original game story was. It’s just that it has more characters, longer cutscenes, but it’s the same bland and boring thing that is just simply harder to ignore this time around. Also, while the original was bland, at least it wasn’t unfunnily frustrating. Catalyst, on the other hand, has some truly terribly written obnoxious characters that just won’t shut up. And at the same time has some curious characters that simply get discarded almost immediately after being introduced and are never brought up again. It’s funny how my simple concept revolving around the bag with something important I’ve mentioned at the start of the post, still sounds like the best and most fitting story concept for the game about running and parkour in a dystopian city and how completely wrong the developers do it second time around.
But it’s not all doom and gloom. Soundtrack by Solar Fields is amazing, though a bit less memorable than the first one, probably just due to the whole open world nature. Game does look amazing, though I actually found it quite a bit more of a muddy sensory overload, whereas the original had a much cleaner, easy to read look. The basics of running are probably better then the original, since Faith now has less chance of just ignoring something she can hold on to if it’s 1 centimeter to the left of the “intended” path (she still does that, though, just rarely). And some new moves and interactions do improve the flow, while some (a lot of grappling hook stuff) just slows it down or makes things go in a much less fluid way.
The game, at it’s basic set, is still the same fun Mirror’s Edge, where you run around the visually stunning places, surprising yourself with quick reactions and cool parkour moves and enjoying the speed and the freedom that feeling gives you. But all the layers on top of that base, simply make Mirror’s Edge Catalyst considerably less enjoyable experience than the original game. Instead of being improved, the original amazing concept got buried with unnecessary and pointless. And in the end, all that the game did was make me want to replay the original Mirror’s Edge yet again.