Mirror’s Edge Catalyst, which was published in 2016, is the first reboot I have played where I have also played the original, Mirror’s Edge (2008). Now, while the reboot of TV-franchises and movies over in Hollywood may suggest otherwise, reboots are not a new phenomenon. Usually, reboots serve one specific purpose: to cater to an audience with a different cultural background and, usually, a different set of stars. Today’s reboots in the entertainment industry are also adapted to a different audience, this one being a new generation of viewers.
Whether reboots are a good thing depends, in my experience, on whether or not you know the original before watching or playing the reboot. For my part, I find that, most of the time, the reboot sucks in comparison to the original.
It’s a little more complicated with Mirror’s Edge, though, the reason being that I played the reboot without any knowledge of there being an original. I therefore played it without prejudice. But once I had gotten my hands on the original – I guess you can tell by my wanting to get more of the Mirror’s Edge experience that I really liked Mirror’s Edge Catalyst – my opinion changed.
Beware of spoilers for both Mirror’s Edge and Mirror’s Edge Catalyst.
Parkour was a big thing when Mirror’s Edge was released, and I can’t shake the feeling it’s no coincidence that Noah Kekai from Mirror’s Edge Catalst is a veritable David Belle-lookalike.
Part 1: Mirror’s Edge
The setting and story
Mirror’s Edge is set in a not so distant future in a city, a loud and chaotic place, where at day the glare of the sun is ever present and all communication is being monitored by the government. The Runners are part of that city and the only way to communicate without the knowledge of the authorities. Which, in fact, makes them outlaws.
One of them is Faith. Faith and her sister, Kate, are orphans – their parents were killed during a riot-, but where Faith as turned her back on the law, Kate has embraced it and become a police officer. When a popular politician is murdered, Kate is the first on the scene and ends up being framed for killing him. Faith, who herself narrowly escapes the police as they storm the place, is seemingly the only one interested in exonerating her sister. Since she is also suspected as a possible perpetrator, whereever she shows her face the Blues, as she and the other Runners call the police, are never far behind. While the vehemence with which they hound her seems extreme at first, she soon discovers the authorities’ plan, called project Icarus, to put the Runners out of business and terminate every single one of them.
While the city where Mirror’s Edge takes place seems like a crowded, busy and chaotic place, the city of Glass is tidy and neat.
I like that the game’s hero is a woman who can take care of herself, very much so. I also like her aloof, no-nonsense manner. (BTW the cut scenes are all cartoon-style and the way Faith walks through deep shadows in parking garages to meet up with informants, the only thing missing are a fedora and a trenchcoat and she could be any (male) noir-hero).
Faith can use her agility to outrun guards and the police, but she’s also versed in hand-to-hand combat and may use guns dropped by downed enemies or wrenched from them in a cool disarming move she’s got. Faith isn’t very strong, though. When engaging in combat she’ll go down fast if she doesn’t keep moving and attacking guerilla style, which means striking quickly and hard and retreating behind cover again just as quickly.
While she’s emotionally invested in saving her sister and, later, her fellow Runners or, more specific, her handler Merc, she does not come across as a very emotional person. It’s just what needs doing because it is the right thing. Faith will never freak out, not even when confronted with betrayal and death. Also, she works pretty much on her own, there are next to no interactions with the few supporting characters that you might classify as friendly. Which is fine with me.
Faith is a cool cat.
The beauty of Parkour
Faith is a wanted outlaw and so avoids the streets and traverses the rooftops instead, Parkour-style. By the way, Parkour was a very popular phenomenon at the time Mirror’s Edge was released. Back in 2004 the French movie Banlieu 13 with Parkour-pioneer David Belle in one of the leads, had made a big splash at the box office, even spawning a sequel in 2009 and a US-reboot (!) in 2014 called Brick Mansions.
Now, Parkour is all about using all of the urban landscape to get from one place to another. Using stairs or doors or even the streets is not necessarily a part of that. The setting of Mirror’s Edge allows for an incredible variety of locations Faith gets to run across. There’s a storm drain, underground train tunnels, office buildings and even a ship! And, of course and always, the rooftops. Running across rooftops is one thing, but Faith has to overcome a variety of obstacles too, like electric fences, the chasms between buildings and police officers out to get her.
Each mission sees Faith running across the rooftops and streets to get to her objective, then infiltrate the targeted location and get out, usually with the Blues hot on her heels. While she is always on her own, Merc, the leader of the Runners, is connected to her via earpiece and will help her by giving directions and warnings. I very clearly remember him telling Faith to “get down into the storm drain” and I was like WTF? You see, finding your path and NOT plunging to your death is incredibly difficult. And that’s the beauty of the game.
There are visual markers, like pipes, doors or spring boards highlighted in blood red, but sometimes they are well hidden from sight and you have to find and identify them first. Yet while running up and along walls and doing backflips is all well and good, finding the right path is the reall challenge. Which is cool, in a way, and sometimes extremely frustrating. But, overall, it’s great.
Part 2: Mirror’s Edge Catalyst (spoilers ahead)
The setting and story
The reboot of Mirror’s Edge, Mirror’s Edge Catalyst, does a lot to improve the background story and the characterization of its protagonists. For example, while the city in Mirror’s Edge has a very gritty style to it and is full of noise, the city of Glass of Mirror’s Edge Catalyst in what is called Cascadia appears calm and gentle and very neat on the surface.
Yet the premises for the story are the same and in some ways worse. Cascadia is governed by a totalitarian caste regime led by family-owned corporations that control all information and every citizen’s life. The Runners are not part of the system, but since they lend their illegal delivery services to the rich and mighty as well as the common folk, they are being tolerated. Their members, organized in so-called cabals, are like family, and heroine Faith Connors is part of one of those cabals, led by Noah Kekai, the reboots’s Merc, who was a close friend of her parents. Faith had a sister, Caitlin, called Cat, who died in her arms during a riot that also cost their parents their lives. It was Noah who saved her and took her in. Now he is like a father to her and pretty much the most important person in her life. He’s also the one character I felt most invested in, not Faith. Which isn’t good, but then, her character has changed from the original. But, more on that later.
(BTW I suppose it’s no coincidence that, with his shock of black hair and tatoos, Noah bears more of just a passing resemblance to French Parkour-god David Belle.)
Corporate rule includes KrugerSec, a subdivision of the Kruger family’s business empire. It is led by Gabriel Kruger, a man consumed by the idea of order and keeping the status quo. Faith crosses paths with him when she is sent to steal some information that, incidentally, is key to Cascadia’s nefarious plan of taking full control of the people by directly influencing their emotions and therefore their minds. Which is a pretty horrifying idea and, of course, Kruger needs to make sure that noone gets to know about it or the plan won’t work out. Which means that, by agreeing to have Faith steal that particular piece of information, Noah has unintentionally brought doom upon the Runners. When KrugerSec strikes them down it is up to Faith to make everything right again. With, and that’s new, the help of some friends, one of them called Icarus, btw, and (sometimes not so well-meaning) allies.
In Mirror’s Edge Faith Connors was an independent-minded woman who knew very clearly what she wanted and how to get it, no matter the cost or the consequences. The Faith Connors we meet in the reboot is a girl, a very social creature with old friends and acquaintances she clearly cares about. She is also very eager to please them as well as her surrogate father. Whatever they ask of her, she does, regardless of the consequences. In fact, whatever anyone asks her to do she does, never even considering an alternative approach. Which makes her appear a weak-willed victim of circumstance instead of her own woman. Which I really hated. But then, after catastrophe strikes, she finally begins to think for herself. At least that was what I hoped.
MAJOR SPOILERS AHEAD!
So, it turns out Faith’s sister Caitlin didn’t die after all. She is alive and has found a new family with Gabriel Kruger, who has adopted her as his own. Great setup, right? One sister who’s a criminal and one who’s a model citizen employed in law enforcement and two surrogate fathers who despise each other.
Now, Faith has every reason for wanting to take Kruger down, after all, he’s stolen her entire family from her! And now she’s got a chance to win Caitlin back. All she has to do is talk to her, explain herself, reach out and make that connection. Be the older sister and role model Caitlin lost. It could have been really beautiful.
But things are complicated and Cat doesn’t take the news that her older sister is alive well. In fact, she blames her for leaving her behind to die back in the day. Maybe the fact that I myself have siblings made me balk at that. Maybe the fact that it is such an incredibly immature reaction factored into that as well. (Sometimes I feel I really am too old for this sh*t.) And maybe it was Faith’s reaction that really annoyed me.
You see, faced with false accusations Faith will never ever offer a counter argument. When Cat blames her for having left her, when Gabriel Kruger, her worst enemy, tells her she’s responsible for everything that happened (she was a child when her parents and her sister died, btw), she displays a weakness of character that I find impossible to bear. Instead of reasoning or pointing out the obvious flaws of the argument she reacts impulsively, emotional, like a teenager. Which is awful and made me dislike her despite all the emotional baggage she certainly carries.
The beauty of Parkour
In contrast to the original, free running has become much easier and feels incredibly liberating. Over the course of the game Faith learns new abilities and is presented with new toys to help her traverse the expansive world of the city of Glass with its various districts.
While it seems odd that she would need to relearn things (though less odd than Assassin’s Creed‘s Altair losing basic fighting abilities like throwing knives along with his rank), this is explained by her having been in Juvie vor two years and therefore unable to keep up her practice. Faith’s parkour abilities allow for some awesome combat takedowns that make her a more competent fighter than the original Faith.
As opposed to the original, there’s no way to set the difficulty, which is a shame. See, Faith gets some new tools that help her overcome more obstacles and they feel pretty cool. Once you play the original, though, you’ll realise that cool means easy means boring. To make things even easier, the Runner’s Vision from the first game has been upgraded. While pipes, spring boards and so forth are still highlighted in red, an animated red line and arrows superimposed on surfaces like walls show you exactly where you need to go. There are a very few real challenges left that require you to figure out by yourself how to approach the climb up a specific buidling or how to reach a collectible. Which is fine. Disabling the Runner’s Vision helps to improve the challenge too.
While running feels easy, you’ll also never find yourself backed into a corner, there is always a way out, either by running or by fighting. Now, while the original featured police officers shooting real bullets at Faith that could and would eventually kill her, the KrugerSec guards use batons and stun guns to bring their victims down. Which is very pacifistic. But it takes away part of the thrill of danger I experienced in the original, where death was always a prospective outcome, including the one time I was hit by a train in the underground train tunnels. Speaking of weapons, the fact that guns are biometrically linked to their owner explains why Faith can’t use them, as opposed to the original, but I guess she could use a baton. Logic, right? Well, no matter, Faith is, as mentioned, a capable fighter.
Time trials are still available as well as collecting Runner Bags, and doing the race courses is pretty awesome. One tip, though: Find your own way and don’t follow the red markings of Runner’s Vision. There are also more collectibles scattered across the world and side missions flesh out the main storyline. In that, Mirror’s Edge Catalyst has adapted to the state of the art of action adventure games, but without overdoing it. There are enough activities to keep you busy and entertained, but not so many that you’ll lose focus of the main story.
So, good ar bad reboot?
Mirror’s Edge Catalyst is, in itself, an entertaining and enjoyable game with some flaws story- and character-wise. Compared to the original, I think the overall game experience has lost its edge. Since the original’s story is rather simple, I can only compare the gameplay and that is, at times, far too easy. I want to be challenged, I want to puzzle out a solution myself and, yes, I am not ashamed of consulting walkthroughs when I’ve exhausted every other possibility.
Now, the ending of Mirror’s Edge Catalyst hints at a sequel and I would totally play that, simply because I love the parkour part. And hope the story is improved.
As for reboots, I will given them a pass in the future or, if I like them, avoid playing the original.