We all have our burdens that we must bear. Sisyphus had his rock that he had to push to the top of the hill. Loki had his eyes burned out by his serpent son every day. David Cheng has to fight for people to come to understand MSG. Anyone who works retail has to resist the urges of homicidal mania twice a day… And I, I seem to be the pillar for a particular and peculiar video game title.
Okay, so imagine 2008… For myself and many of the people I knew, it was an interesting time for the gaming industry. The launch of the PS3 and the Xbox 360, had brought about a massive shift in the gaming market. Graphics were becoming more advance, game play was changing, storytelling was adapting. In truth, there were so many titles that experimented with how to tell a story and how to make a game that would be different, that it was almost tough to find a generic title. In fact, they had been experimenting with exactly how to change the game play and story telling during the PS2 era of games. With the console wars in full effect, the competition bred stunning and unique titles.
Also, EA (Electronic Arts) was coming into full power. Yes, as a game developer, they had created games for the better part of a decade. However their focus seemed to be on the Battlefield series and an endless array of sports titles. Sports titles recycled every year and are some of the fastest depreciating games out there, where as Battlefield 2 is widely held as one of the best first person war games ever made for online combat. Mainly because you could do whatever you wanted.
Anyways, from such humble beginnings, EA launched 3 series that would come to define them for what they are capable of doing when they are great, and how far they can go to destroy a series.
From Battlefield 2, they created Battlefield Bad Company. A story of a group of renegade soldiers. Sure they were good soldiers, but they were also bad soldiers. It was a funny, tongue and cheek version of the war genre in general. It played well, and all the mechanics felt solid. It also introduced 2 things that are staples of games online now. Fully destructible environments, which give a player the ability to level a house if snipers are in it. As well as a robust balancing system with maps made for the game types. It felt like a level playing ground and game play was competitive yet enjoyable. The sequel was incredible and only further served it.
Sadly, the return to the standard Battlefield series has left many feeling awkward about it. Frankly, I hate playing them online due to a lack of balance in the game play. And well Russians (look up DOTA 2 to understand my reasoning for that. I love Russia, just not Russian gamers.)
Then came Dead Space. Which is a genuinely terrifying title. It is a unique blend of the Alien movie as well as Aliens, with elements of The Thing, as well as Event Horizon. It was fannnnttttaasstticccccc. Oh gods, okay… Um, you had terrifying monsters made from human parts. Disturbing displays of brutality that seem to cover the entire ship. You arrive and remain in 3rd person mode limited the entire game. And with exception of the beginning and ending of the game, there are no cut scenes. It all happens directly to your character and never breaks from the direct story. That is a massive accomplishment. It directly makes you feel more immersed in the title, as well the punishing elements of game play helps freak you out further. Hell, in time you learn to never trust a body and I still have trust issues to where in other games… I try to dismember every body I come across.
The second game furthered this and with the exception of a DLC mode that they added which was garbage. We were good…. We were doing well… Until EA felt it was needed to make a third. With that title, the first thing they announced was cooperative. About 2 years prior Resident Evil 5 tanked due to coop. Nobody wants a horror title with Co-Op. Then came a leak of the script for the game where they had to force in Ellie going missing and you happen to crash on the home planet of the Necromorphs? Which the question mark should be there because when we last left our heroes, they had just escaped death in our own solar system. Now they landed on Hoth from Star Wars except with the Thing from well… The Thing. All it needed was for Kurt Russel to come out and knock out the main character and it would have been better. Actually, that may have been a better sequel than what they created.
For the record, I really had high hopes for both series… Yet EA keeps destroying it. And sorry, for the previous info. I know not everyone is aware of the context of the gaming industry, so I wanted to put into perspective…
Mirrors Edge. Actually Mirrors edge.
The reason beyond me bringing up the context was to show that EA took a chance. They made a funny FPS about war during a modern era. And they took a massive chance on producing a 3rd person horror game with no cut scenes and was beyond terrifying. These were massive undertakings, and during this period came Mirrors Edge.
It was a revolutionary concept that has only 1 other title in the vast compendium of games to compare itself to. Mirrors Edge and Portal are two titles that fit into a genre of story focused solo games. Both were First Person Shooters that made you not want to shoot. In fact, both games didn’t even require guns for the mechanics (the portal gun isn’t really a gun.) Both games felt like they were somehow separate.
With Mirror’s Edge, the gamer was introduced into a world that felt beautiful. It was a beautifully detailed world, filled with environments that felt real. They seemed real, everything seem to operate at a size that worked within our understandings of space and dimension. The one to one ratio for the designs on the people, doors, weapons, buildings, all of the assets inside of the game felt real. It felt like you were actually in the game and able to do the insane Parkour practiced inside the game. Then there was the graphic design inside the title, which was stunning. Every room had a theme of color that carried throughout. Every screenshot of the game had a dominant color. Red meant action, green was peaceful, blue often implied fighting, yellow was common in cut scenes. These colors spoke to you and became part of the narrative told.
Every scene felt like something real and designed by people who cared for more the aesthetics than the practicality of it. Yet it didn’t suffer from the dwarfism or giantism of other platformers in where you had to climb across this absurdly massive and complicated structure just to unlock a door. With other games, it made sense why the society perished. Everyone would have died opening a door. Think about Resident Evil 2, where in order to open the break room in a police office you need 2 fist size rubies and 3 pieces of a puzzle. That’s just to go get coffee… What about stuff you would actually want to lock down.
Mirrors Edge however felt like some kind of oddly beautiful city where despite so many of the buildings being relatively close to one another, it felt like Dubai or Tokyo.
Game play followed this up. The characters really stuck to 1:1 scale and proportions. That is an important factor within games. Seeing errors or issues there is a clear sign something is wrong. With titles like COD or Battlefield, the people seem to hold their guns in very strange positions to have them take up so much of the field of view. Which seems to be accounted for by funny images people do where they recreate those positions. It gets out of hand. Also, there tends to be issues, where the body disappears or feet aren’t apparent. Strafing is awkward in most as well…. GTA Online is one of the few titles to do FPS really excellently, yet it does seem like they looked to Mirrors Edge for reference on stuff. Why? Because, you looked down and saw feet. In fact, you could see legs and your stomach. Your body was a thing that was there and worked within the title. And with the game play, you stayed in First Person mode. In fact, the take downs and fist fights are in First Person, the platforming is in First Person. Hell, there is an entire scene where you give your sister a hug in First Person. All of this makes it feel more immersive and resists breaking the story.
That is just perspective within the game play, the defining end of this is in how this combined with the actions inside the title to further reinforce it. The game play is smooth with all of your actions adding up. The controls are definitely different and take some getting used to, yet you quickly get used to the series of events you have to do in order to play the game well. The curve is high, higher than most titles yet no where near as brutal of a learning curve in dark souls or Super Meat Boy. The movement feel 1:1 with real movement in the world too. You can only jump so high. Wall running is limited to a few feet in a full sprint, which is real to life. Distances jumped are within reason. Not landing properly can hurt or effectively kill you. Falling off of a building had the added sensation of hearing wind howl past you as gravity assisted in your demise. Items in the environment would glow red to hint the path that you could take. Not paths that you had to take. This was a beautiful touch. Subtle, yet efficient. For those who wanted an extra challenge, you could turn this feature off.
Combat was fluid with actions and take downs being particularly skillful yet realistic. Honestly, one of my favorite parts is the loading screens actually shows you how the take downs work. Yet it stays in the POV, the entire time.
Even with the “runners time” where things seem to slow down in combat when you are countering, this still feels realistic. Many people describe moments of high stress feeling like they took far too long just because it was high stress. One of the best elements of the game was a smaller gem. You had a person you had to chase on the roof tops. Chasing him felt realistic. He didn’t pause and wait. He didn’t hesitate. When you chased him, you really chased after the man. It made it felt accurate.
The soundtrack and ambiance of the game also further plunged the player into thinking this city was a real thing, and that Faith could be a real person. The sound track was incredible and tied in well with the story.
It focuses around Faith, a runner who finally hits the streets again after shattering her arm during a run prior to the events of the first game. You are brought back up to speed by your best friend, Celeste. Then you are running along doing your thing, when Merc comes over the radio to let you know that shots were heard fired off at the place where your sister works and that your sister seems to be the person they are getting ready to pin a murder on. The murder of her boss, which was a man running for office hoping to change the city.
It turns out the city is full of corruption that goes to the very top and you set out to do nothing more than to save your sister and find yourself in a fight to expose a lie and prove her innocence. Along the way, it turns out that she was in the middle of a plot that was designed to smear Faith’s sister’s Boss and put together a group of private cops (under the employ of a man named Kruger) that would systematically run down those who practiced parkour (because they also ran anti-capitalist messages of revolution) and throw the runners to their deaths. Or to just shoot them and make it look like something else all together. It was some pretty dark information. Along the way of discovering project Icarus (you know… falling to your death and all… Subtle reminder than evil guys enjoy a good joke too…) you find out about Faith’s past. That her parents died during a revolution turned revolt. That she and her sister witness the brutality first hand. It made Faith run away and never stop running. And the whole time she was secretly caring for her sister.
The game’s story has been called weak. Yet that was only because it felt like something real and it didn’t focus around saving the world. It was all about saving one person. There are only 2 games I can think of that do this as well. Tomb Raider (2014, yes the year is needed,) and Last of Us. The latter of which becomes just that…. Mirrors Edge wasn’t a weak story. It wasn’t a story of a strong, empowered demigoddess of a woman. It was the story of seemingly a real person, with a real background interacting with other real people in a real city. It was a story that seemed so much more genuine than most of what I had scene. It wasn’t perfect and the evil city of corruption wasn’t that well stated, yet the focus was only on one person. Your character and the length you were willing to go to save her. It was fantastic in its own right.
The game wasn’t without its problems of course. Because it was developed in its own engine, the game was too intense for them to make all the cut scenes out of. Instead they settled on these comic style cut scenes. They were basic, but helped tell the story without placing too much more of a load on the systems. Space was an issue with titles at that time. There were also issues with some elements of the combat. Often times the combat was finicky and too precise. The margin of error with it and the free running meant that the smallest of mistakes was enough to cause your death. As unforgiving as it could be, it was still passable.
Mirrors Edge Catalyst, or that’s what it wants to be called.
For 8 years, I have been waiting for a sequel. It has been a long 8 years of information leaks, the occasional blip of rumors, and every once in a blue moon a piece of video was released. All of this added up to the title having some true potential. It sounded like it was just a matter of time until the next game would be announced. Hell, I had a pre order set up from like 2010 until 2012 when the title was cancelled…. Again.
Then came the first “released footage” of game play. Alpha game play is almost always highly subjective and the amount of it that would be altered over time is about 80%. Yet, it was enough to rekindle hope in the title. The game play footage was beautiful and stayed true to the original concepts of the game. There was no HUD (heads up display,) no indications of major changes. It was still Mirrors Edge as I knew it, they had just managed to improve the graphics to where the game was near perfect. The free running felt realistic, if not better grounded than the original. There was a clear emphasis on espionage and stealth. All in all, it was everything that I had been hoping for in a sequel.
Then rumors popped up about Mirrors Edge Catalyst. Theses were not positive rumors. Theses were stories of what they did to the game. The rumors stated that of all the ideas that they had on file, that they would be doing a prequel instead of a sequel. The story was shattered and broken by the sound of it and every bit of evidence released made it sound terrible. As if EA was purposely attempting to destroy the title. The further I looked into the new rumors of M.E.C. the more I came to want to cringe at what they were doing.
With the release of the game to reviewers and select gamers, it confirmed everything that I feared….
The story still seems to have a similar backstory, yet for some reason Faith no longer looks pure Japanese. Instead she looks a little french and Korean. It is still relatively close to the original, it just looks like they changed some elements of her look. They made her even prettier and attempted to take 7 or 8 years off of her. Which to be said, I think is a mistake. I don’t really see why it would even be necessary. I guess they felt she would be more appealing to a mass market that way.
Just in watching the first ten to twelve minutes of the game play, quite a few things jumped out to me that they did wrong. It starts on UI…. For some reason, the HUD is mandatory. In fact, it is relatively apparent. You have a health bar, so do your opponents. Your route is no longer “suggested to you.” It is now just flat out demanded. Like the game comments “put in that uplink” and the moment you do you are bombarded by information. Supposedly, it is noise caused by some type of tracking device put on you. Hell, people known who are considered chuds in the world (um, it is a joke but effectively the boring, normal people) are called “employs.” They may as well be called fools or sheeple. Honestly, it is a really weak mulligan for the story and plot.
From there, the game immediately does some weird stuff with the story. Guards act as if they know you, and yet are brutal and dismissive towards you. In fact, they seem to be caricatures of actual guards versus the well grounded in reality ones they had in the first game. The free running feels like some of the least realistic free running in a game I have ever seen. Your first jump sends you flying a solid 15 feet in the air as just a basic running jump, you also seem to cover about 20 feet in the jump. There is also the matter of you learning the controls which seem to be super simplified to the n-th degree. The controls are explained as some kind of mod to your system that makes you be able to run.
In fact, now you see a glowing trail leading to where you need to go. In the original title, it was just a sheen added to items that would fade. A subtle “use this” or “go this way.” Now it might as well be a “you see this trail, follow it or else.” I mean, it is called a red ghost in regards to you following it. It shows the keys you need to hit in order to go that direction. It robs the player of a sense of freedom by streamlining the process. Whats worse is how this is combined with the lack of gravity or lack of understanding of distances a human can travel. The first game was absurd to a degree in thinking a human could do all of that in a day, yet it had a code of realism.
Mirrors Edge Catalyst has you jump 20 feet, then swing to clear areas that are 15 feet from bar to bar, then free run across a 30 foot wall, kick off, do a 10 foot jump and then wall run/slingshot around the corner… That doesn’t sound very real to me. They even try to justify this via a line that is honestly… “It looks like prison made you even better at this.” What? No, you should be out of practice, not a running demigod.
They also added “a combat mod.” Sigh.
What the hell is a combat mod? More or less, they mean that somehow the uplink gives you some form of power that gives you the ability to fight. It is a ridiculous concept and an even worse concept in regards to the overall game. More or less, every time you are forced to enter into combat the combat mod takes over. You are given instruction to fight and then goes a step farther. Somehow you then see things in 3rd person, it shatters the immersion of the game. With a game like Fallout 4 which does this, it is explained and is a basic part of the game’s mechanics.
The take the idea of this mod way too far. The story decides that you need mods and upgrades like in Assassin’s Creed. Seeing how the story does take place over the course of days and with it being an open world concept, it kinda makes sense. These upgrades include abilities to carry around a mag rope… A magnetic rope… Jump onto quad copters and crash them to fast travel. That alone is idiotic honestly, it quad copters can’t support the weight of a person. Hell, they can barely support the weight of the cameras attached. They went as far as to give you a runners shield. In where, if you run fast enough bullets can’t hit you. Because, every knows that bullets are afraid of being charged at due to a horrible Red Rover incident and will fall out of the sky with PTSD if you run at them.
And it looks like the abilities manage to change elements of the game. Probably, because they believe this is going to improve the game somehow. Honestly….
Finally, it seems to be just what they did to the game. The original was a linear game in terms of stories as well as areas you could travel. You moved forward, fluidly. There was no turning around, no going back. That was the whole point of the series and it should be. It is the core tenant of Parkour in general.
Mirrors Edge Catalyst seems to be about going back and exploring the same areas again and again. With ideas that trap you in a single place until you have the needed items to surpass it. Until you have the abilities to pass into this new area. An open world game is something that can be done, but plot always suffers for it. It is hard to give people endless options for what they can do and then build a suitable story into it. Oddly enough, MGSV: Phantom Pain manages to accomplish that. However, it received heavy criticism at its story for being weak and at times hard to follow. Personally, I struggle to find myself wanting to get on board with the story in place.
Additional reasons seem to be stated in the first 10 minutes. Kruger from the first game goes from being a man running the private security forces to a man running prisons as well. And he somehow knows Faith, in fact it is hinted that even the mayor may know her. For some reason, Merc is replaced with a man named Noah who is a leader of a Cabal. A Cabal that refers to themselves as cabals. Honestly, that is like a spy that introduces himself as Spy Jones. Hush now, we are secret operatives…
And seemingly, you are tied up with the young and foolish teenager. Because every story with younger people needs insanely insecure and cynical teenagers. Deadpool had it right when he mentioned the moody teenager who wants to be a bad ass because that is exactly what you get a massive dose of in the first 10 minutes of the game. He also seems to magically vanish and reappear for cut scenes. Despite the first game having good mechanics around chasing and reintroducing you to the movements for the tutorial, they had to scrap that. Everyone prefers one that just throws you to the wolves and gives you a snarky, angsty teenager to leer you into where you should go. Perhaps the worst decision, they named him Icarus. Icarus, like the name of the project in the first game that is designed to kill everyone.
Why EA? Why?
Now it must be said, everything I said about the title is my opinion. Also, the truth is no matter how bad the game may be two things are true.
- I will be buying this title regardless. I want to support the title and series, that and I am genuinely curious about it. I want to see what they are able to do with it.
- Crucially, whatever game that they produce will be better than the game I didn’t produce.
But what would I have done?
Well, in an ideal world in which I could work with a host of additional artists, programmers, and use a similar modified engine…. I would have actually done a sequel. The reboot is entirely unnecessary. If anything, the evil corruption was manageable and I would have created a title that was acting to ensure change for the city. However, due to the ending events of Mirrors Edge, the change would be significant. The reason: collateral damage. In Faith’s efforts to save her sister at any cost, the chief of police is dead (presumably,) Kruger’s private officers may have been outed, the mayor of the city is dead, the lead candidate for change died a martyr (which carries implication.) However, at the same time the runner’s wouldn’t know who to trust. One of their top guys for guidance would be dead and there are quite a few members of Project Icarus running around.
The story would be tough due to it having to contain all of this information. The city would be in utter turmoil because none of the information could be hidden or contained. It would follow closely to the upheaval in the latter half of Bethesda’s interesting game called Dishonored. It would have to follow the aftermath of the events, the Runners would have to follow a new set of protocols as well as reestablish themselves. It wouldn’t be like that of Assassin’s Creed at all. Where Assassin’s Creed has you killing people because you are told to by people… Aliens… lizard people… cursed golden apples?
It would have to be Faith finding a way to either assist herself and her family in part with some element of police against Kruger’s forces. With the failures of the standard police departments and the rise of Kruger’s Private army, it paints a clear picture of who one of the enemies left is. Yet there would still be concern about who in the Runner’s who could be trusted. Chances are that Faith would come to track down her old friend who has gone into hiding in order to learn exactly how far the corruption goes. In terms the chaos that could come of this, it would create an interesting title. It would be focused on espionage and stealth, versus high action. Honestly, I would barely touch the combat system and not even bother with abilities. It doesn’t factor into anything that would improve the game. It is entirely unnecessary.
Finally, the UI? What UI?
Or what about a good example of a proper sequel?
Well, Portal 2 is actually the best example of taking a simple concept and producing a fantastic title with it. The sequel was a smash hit on a game that was the filmiest of the games included in the Orange box. In fact, I think it was one of the first titles given away by Valve from the Orange Box. However, Portal 2 was desired by the fans intensely, and because of the way Valve work’s they had a trick.
The original game ends in a certain way that makes a sequel not possible, however they still made a sequel. It is also set knowingly in the same world as that of Half-life. Therefore, the ending was altered in such a way to where it was easy to assume that a sequel was possible. And Portal 2 delivered on every expectation.
It had fantastic puzzles that challenged your thought processes. You had moderately competent boss fights that actually make some level of sense for the game, the bosses actually had brains and personalities to them. Despite it being a cast of 3 fleshed out major characters (1 human, 2 robots,) and an assorted cast of a dozen or so lesser characters, the story on it was so simple yet effective. It also is one of the few titles in modern times where your character says nothing the whole game and it is kinda explained in the beginning of the game.
The point is to EA… You can make a beloved sequel to an underdog game without changing much, but instead enriching what was there.
Anyways, I hope you all enjoyed this. I felt like I had to talk about this and get it off my chest. Sorry for the number of words, but it took more than a few to tell the truth of the title I have come to know and love. Till then, take it easy