A lot of video games feature underdog heroes who fight against über-powerful oppressors. And Mirror’s Edge Catalyst is one of them. But where those other titles might showcase protagonists who sport accidentally acquired superpowers or advanced martial skills or weaponry, Catalyst’s Faith Connors only has one overarching ability to call upon: She can run, jump, leap and tumble … really well.
This second Mirror’s Edge contest is something of a hybrid reboot/prequel of the 2008 original. But whereas the first game established its first-person heroine, Faith, as a gifted parkour runner who happened to get caught up in a murder mystery mixed amid her package-delivery duties, this one establishes her as more of a free-running freedom fighter.
Faith flips, tumbles and wall-runs through a very open world (known as Glass City) ruled by a corrupt, tyrannical business conglomerate. Her story is set in an undefined future where the hyper-rich have done away with antiquated concepts such as crime, democracy and, well, freedom. Those wealthy few employ constant Big Brother oversight, free-will-sapping tech and heavy-fisted security forces to keep the underclasses suitably numbed and in their “proper” place.
There are, however, some who are willing to fight for their form of anti-capitalist liberty.
Faith and her hard-running rebel comrades—called the Cabal—use technological vandalism and data theft to hobble those in charge. At the same time, another more lethal group known as Black November fights the ruling-class families with terror-like attacks.
So what does all that mean for Catalyst’s gameplay? While there is quite a bit of pow-boom action in the storyline itself, you’re not the one pulling the trigger or detonating the explosives. Rather, your job as a player is to help Faith stealthily accomplish her espionage objectives, techy stuff like pulling a particular chip, tapping into a certain hard drive or planting a computer virus.
Completing those tasks requires constantly finding the best pathway up, over and past seemingly impossible obstacles and sky-high buildings using Faith’s incredible parkour moves. For example, you might have to identify just the right handhold to climb a building, or locate a ventilation shaft to scamper up. Then you’ve got to pair the right path with the right move, timing button-punch leaps and somersaults just right to get to where Faith needs to go.
Of course, the gymnastic Ms. Connors does occasionally encounter hostile security personnel who brandish stun or kill weaponry. But there are no blades or guns for her. She is only allowed to incapacitate them with punches, tumbling takedowns or well-placed kicks. In fact, any time her quests might lead to destruction on a larger scale, the conscientious protagonist always takes extra steps to insure that innocent citizens have been evacuated first.
Mirror’s Edge Catalyst, then, is in some ways more cerebral than visceral. It focuses more on expertly executing the right move than expertly executing enemies—which is to its credit.
That said, there are some look-before-you-leap concerns with Catalyst. The biggest is perhaps the simplistic haves-versus-have-nots worldview featured in the game. It borrows heavily from today’s inequality headlines, but reduces those complex issues into a much more black-and-white, us-vs.-them narrative. That’s a perspective that could encourage young, undiscerning players resisting the game’s despotic authorities in the future to adopt similar attitudes toward legitimate authorities today. After all, it could be argued that Faith is battering and bashing police as she and her guerrilla warfare peers rebel against the oppressive powers that be.
And while Faith is adamantly opposed to using lethal force, some of her kicks and punches do launch foes off ledges and walkways, oftentimes many stories up in the air. Faith herself also occasionally plunges to her digital demise if her fingertip leaps from one lofty ledge to another aren’t timed exactly right. Likewise, we witness a few of Faith’s loved ones being killed by electrocution and gunshots in the game’s cutscenes. There is no gore here, but these scenes are nevertheless intense. On top of all that, this T-rated action platformer includes uses of profanity such as “h—,” “b–ch” and “d–n” in the dialogue.
In the final analysis, Mirror’s Edge Catalyst walks a T-rated tightrope between challenging, acrobatic gameplay and content parents of young or impressionable players may wish the game had just jumped over.
After spending more than two decades touring, directing, writing and producing for Christian theater and radio (most recently for Adventures in Odyssey, which he still contributes to), Bob joined the Plugged In staff to help us focus more heavily on video games. He is also one of our primary movie reviewers.