2016’s Mirrors Edge Catalyst kind of disappeared under the radar when it released. Did it deserve to be ignored by gamers?
My first play through of EA’s Mirror’s Edge Catalyst left an odd impression. I was mostly conflicted about where my feelings exactly stood. On one hand, it was an experience rarely found in video games; one that created a vivid, unique world with equally unique game play mechanics. The story may have stumbled a few too many times than I care to admit, but it left me wondering if I would ever get to play through a game quite like Mirror’s Edge again. So that begs the question, is Mirror’s Edge Catalyst underrated?
The first Mirror’s Edge arrived at a time when games like Portal had just perfected using explosive, unique visuals to accompany its story. While it didn’t exactly stand out thanks to the uncertainty of its first-person parkour elements, it did generate enough buzz under the radar to grab my attention. Upon playing it, I realized the flawed masterpiece that could’ve been something special had it been marketed under the right circumstances. Mirror’s Edge, with all its imperfections in narrative, was an astonishingly beautiful and refreshing game. The parkour sometimes didn’t work to your favor and the story was absent of any real emotional punch, but it was that sense of wonder and scope that won me over.
When a sequel/reboot was announced, I didn’t think too much of it. The first game left an imprint, but I was never drawn to the idea of a retelling of the story that we already knew. Mirror’s Edge Catalyst dared to try new ideas by adding a dystopian sub-plot involving a rebellious uprising, but by then it was all too commonplace to include rebellion themes as most recent young adult films have unfortunately milked to death.
However, Mirror’s Edge Catalyst became a day one purchase. Perhaps my curiosity got the better of me. I finished the game feeling more confused, realizing that it left me feeling exactly the same way the first game did. A poor narrative, underdeveloped characters and some questionable exclusions such as the use of guns in the game made me feel indifferent, but the thrill of the experience overwhelmed me in some ways the first game didn’t.
A few missions in the game has protagonist Faith Connors scaling towers to complete objectives, with the last mission especially standing out as some of the most breathtaking moments I’ve ever played in video games. When standing atop a hundred-floor tower, it made me really appreciate the finer details that developer DICE put into the game. I felt the passion that went into the project. It didn’t strike any chords with the story, but the sheer scale of the journey and the tasks you undertook made it seem worthwhile and satisfying enough to almost forgive its shortcomings.
The gameplay had been tweaked a bit, favouring hand-to-gun combat as opposed to Faith mercilessly slaughtering police (though questionably dropkicking police off high buildings doesn’t justify much). While the open-ended City of Glass never truly felt like an open world, it gave plenty of branching paths that could’ve benefited any other inventive platformer. In Mirror’s Edge Catalyst, it meant a never-ending flow of adrenaline that kept me on the edge of my seat with every corner and jump perfected with pinpoint accuracy. In an industry plagued by mindless objective-based shooters and the next “groundbreaking” sequels, it’s good to see at least one game retain the fundamental part of gaming that keeps us coming back; immersion.
Mirror’s Edge Catalyst is by no means a perfect game. In fact, there’s a few gripes I have yet to come to peace with, but would I call it an underrated, perhaps even artful piece of gaming? I truly would. Mirror’s Edge as a series is deserving of the word “unique” when it comes to masterful (albeit simplistic) art design and player immersion. There’s no half-hearted attempt to lure gamers into thinking it’s a one-and-only experience (that unfortunately can be applied to 12 other games around it within the same genre), but rather, it’s met with some undeserving harshness when critics pin the faults of the game entirely on its wonky narrative.
Keep in mind, several underrated gems in the past that we now consider cult classics were once panned for equally discerning reasons. I guess only time will tell if Mirror’s Edge Catalyst ends up falling into that bracket, but as it stands, I gladly eat my words. It’s fine entertainment.