I first played Mirror’s Edge on my PS3 some seven years ago. It was a summertime obsession. Though the learning curve was steep, I was dedicated, and learned its tricky ways of running across rooftops, sliding down drain pipes, and timing those skill rolls just right. I beat the main storyline a half dozen times, but it was the Time Trials that really did it for me. Hours and hours, over and over running the length until I had them down pat. Even though I was far from perfect, I was addicted, and the game became something of an oddball favorite.
When EA and DICE chose to have another go at the title, which had become something of an underdog cult hit, I was thrilled. I followed the development for Catalyst, eagerly watched all the gameplay and trailers, excited at the possibility of getting more for the series. Even with the notion of it essentially rebooting itself for something bigger.
And it did reboot. Though I don’t necessarily think in a bad way. Gone are most of the characters from the original game, with only PC Faith and her sister Kate (now “Cat”) to be replaced by a new array. A bigger narrative took its place, one a bit more explicit in its dystopian world, and Faith’s ties to the resistance movements pushing back.
But a lot of the core remains the same. And that’s what I love most. More than that, for me it improved on the experience of the first. The block-color contrasts of a pristine city. A much larger playground to navigate, no longer broken down by linear chapters. And something of an overhaul to the gameplay, making for a crisper, cleaner experience.
I realize I am likely in the minority in this. Reviews for the game were not favorable and ranged more toward mediocre. It’s not hard to guess it underperformed in sales, to the point that EA has barely spoken of it in the three years since its release. Unfortunately, what they perhaps hoped to become the launch point for a new lucrative franchise sputtered a few steps from the gate.
Which is disappointing. Mirror’s Edge is one of a kind. There really isn’t anything else like it on the marketplace. Oh sure, there are platformers aplenty, but none of them have the same aesthetic as these games. A series like Assassin’s Creed adopts rooftop parkour into its games, but it doesn’t have the same level of demands. In Assassin’s Creed, you hold down a button and cool things happen. The game does cool things on your behalf. In Mirror’s Edge, you learn each of the steps to do the cool things yourself.
I know I’m also in the minority of gamers who prefers Catalyst to the original Mirror’s Edge. The latter is still something of a standout fave, if only for my sweet, sweet memories of learning to parkour through its Time Trials. But at the same time, it’s not without its flaws. Some of which, to my mind, were improved with the attempted reboot. The story is borderline incoherent. Its combat is atrocious. And I’m less a fan of the restricted linearity to its game levels. Rarely have I felt that setting a game in a more open-world environment improved upon an already-great formula.
All the same, I break out the game every summer. I get that itch, and jump (quite literally) back into the City of Glass. It’s got flaws all its own (the story is ambitious and has its merits, but it teeters on melodramatic). But it also has heart. And it has just about some of my favorite gameplay in any game ever.
Beyond the first, Catalyst increases the ‘wow’ factor, and it works for me. It’s even more ambitious in its environments, emphasizing the thrills of going up, up, up into some of the sky-hill buildings in the city. It adds in a story structure that lets you replay story sections to find pickups (or even just for the fun of it). And for all the mixed bag in new characters, I find Plastic to be an endearing favorite – one I’d love to see more of in hypothetical sequels.
The added peripherals (upgraded and enormously improved from the first) offer extra bits of incentive to poke around every corner of the gameworld. In many games, this might be a chore. In Catalyst, buoyed by the euphoric gameplay, it’s like adding extra layers to an already delicious cake.
I’m sad to think this will likely be the last of it. The premise was probably a little too demanding for mainstream gamers, making it something of a niche experience. A title that was doomed in any attempts to turn it into a AAA franchise. Mirror’s Edge is right up there on my list of games I’d most like to see given another chance (right next to the GBA Golden Sun series).
Still, I can’t complain. I’ll always have Catalyst at my fingertips, and I return to it with reliability. It’s pure and clean and utterly addictive. And I’ll probably be playing it until I can’t even remember what a gaming console is anymore.