Long distance running and parkour are two activities I can’t participate in real life without losing a limb or two in the process, so when I played the recent Mirror’s Edge: Catalyst (you can take a look at my review), it was exhilarating to do both with such wild abandon. Faith’s movements are smooth and seamless, and she can swiftly recover from falls and near-accidents—mishaps that can send her hurtling to the streets several stories below. Plus, every step, glide and leap I take as Faith was felt so acutely as they were accentuated by the game’s soundscape, from her slight breathlessness to the gust of the wind whooshing by as she raced across rooftops. Catalyst allows me to live out my reckless daredevil fantasies, and that is why despite all its glaring flaws, I would still highly recommend it.
But what flaws, you ask? It’s the game’s narrative, which seemed to have taken its inspiration from a handbook of dystopian clichés. To start, Catalyst is all about Faith, a young, headstrong and cocky courier—or Runner, as what they are called in this game—who was freshly released from juvie. She immediately heads back to meet her mentor, who told her to keep her cool and not get into trouble. But of course she gets into trouble, because we now have a game to play.
This predictability is unfortunate for many reasons; Catalyst was billed as an open-world game that was to feature a richer narrative, complete with a retelling of Faith’s backstory and even a comic book prequel, Mirror’s Edge: Exordium, that explained how Faith ended up in juvie in the first place. It was obvious, then, from all these efforts that the developer, EA DICE, wanted to place a greater emphasis on plot. During E3 last year, that was what narrative director, Christofer Ermgard, had said about the game:
“I think what we felt was that we wanted a more fleshed out world, a larger world that was more detailed and textured than [what] the original game had…[Faith’s] personality now is more fleshed out. The game is about her personal journey, I would say. Of course there’s this big plot about getting involved against oppression and all that stuff, but the more important story is her journey, who she becomes and where she starts out and what happens along the way to make her into the person that she is.”
Unfortunately, it fell very, very short of expectations.
Before I go on, do note that this piece will be about Catalyst’s lacklustre plot, so be warned: there are tons of spoilers if you haven’t finished the game! But to be honest, you can probably read on anyway if you are curious. I really doubt it’s going to spoil your experience.
Ready? Alright, let’s go.
Like I mentioned above, EA DICE intended for Catalyst to have a much more engaging plot as compared to the original; the first Mirror’s Edge title from eight years ago was extremely linear. You watch a cut scene, complete a mission, watch yet another cut scene, and then complete the next mission, and it kind of meanders on like this. Plot-wise, it wasn’t very arresting—more of a means to string some semblance of a story together for a game.
But Catalyst wanted to do more. In order to make Faith seem more relatable, the game painstakingly depicted the trauma that she has suffered as a child, and is just begging you to sympathise with her. On some nights, she wakes up in cold sweat, and in others, she cries in her sleep. And during her flashbacks to her childhood, she, as a wee child, was seen huddling at one corner with her younger sister as she watched her parents being murdered in cold blood by the Conglomerate—a bunch of mega-corporations that is the establishment behind glossy city of Glass and the country called…I don’t know. It’s not very important.
However, like a boyband from the 90s, these scenes are so formulaic and designed to tug at your heartstrings. I know I was supposed to feel a sense of loss while watching these scenes play out. Instead, I reached out for the “esc” key to skip the more overly weepy ones. Bore.
It is also evident from the audio recorders and documents scattered across the world that the developers wanted to add a layer of character complexity to Glass and its characters. For instance, you can pick up a recording of Rebecca Thane, the leader of a resistance movement called Black November, who talks about how much she hates the Conglomerate. They took her family away! They destroyed everything! They are greedy and soulless! Speaking of which, it is a marvel that such important documents can be thrown aside so carelessly. As the leader of a rebel force, I would think the last thing to do is to record your conversations and toss them on a rooftop for people to discover.
Talking about Rebecca Thane, I doubt there is ever a moment when she is not growling and scowling at anyone unlucky enough to be within close proximity. An aggressive idealist who believes that anyone who does not support her cause completely are against her, Rebecca is completely unhinged—and is a walking stereotype of a battle-hardened anti-hero.
But she isn’t the only archetypal character in Catalyst. There is the socially impaired tech savant called Plastic, who has somewhat subverted this trope as a black girl; the dastardly Gabriel Kruger who believes in absolute power; the nurturing father figure Noah, who is Faith’s mentor; and cocky fellow Runner Icarus, who developed some sort of friendly rivalry with Faith. Three guesses as to whether he falls in love with Faith.
Last but not least, Faith herself is the typical hot-headed stock character who acts before she thinks.
There are simply no surprises in the game.
Disappointingly, the ending to this game is a horrendous sequel bait (it was even brought up in a Reddit thread). More predictable is the fact that Faith’s sister was actually NOT DEAD, and could even be next in line in the evil Kruger empire. Much more drama and angst ensues—and if all goes well, we will be soon be seeing a Mirror’s Edge: Catalyst 2, and even a TV show. Hey, a TV studio has even acquired the rights for a film based on the game.
If I could sum up Catalyst, it is that it is simply trying too hard to be EA’s answer to Assassin’s Creed, in terms of its attempt to build a grand, narrative experience. It should just embrace itself for what it really is: a breath-taking parkour simulator that is also a heck of a kinetic thrill ride.
Kyun is a copywriter by day, aspiring musician by night, and gamer by midnight, impossibly early mornings, and when it’s time to actually go to bed. If you like what you read, feel free to say hi to her on Twitter. She also writes for Pixel Dynamo.