You are awful. Not as a person, necessarily, but you are awful at remembering things. And with all the excitement (and years of rumors) surrounding Mirror’s Edge Catalyst, the sequel to a 2008 triple-A release that garnered critical acclaim but not much commercial success, it’s worth going back to see if we all remember the original as well as we think we do.
Let’s lay out the obvious first. The story is, as a Eurogamer review put it, “rambling.” It starts with an interesting seed and then blossoms into, well, kind of a wet seed that someone wrote SUNSHINE on. If that’s your recollection of the plot, then congratulations! You are dead on.
Then there are the shooting sequences. I thought I just tolerated them before. It turns out I pushed myself through it as if Zeus ordered me to push a boulder up a hill. They seemed unending and were the most egregious offenders of the trial and error criticism reviewers threw at it.
But my god the freerunning. If you recall it being only impressive, then your memory is failing you. But of course, how do you stow away the sensation of visceral, primal depth? It’s a hard thing to capture let alone bring back up its accompanying sensations on demand. Many games egg you towards leaning into its motions but few require it of you.
The sequences of the story are fine for the most part. They’ll dip in and out of brilliance as cramped corridors and surprisingly stuffy rooftops do their best to undermine a sense of momentum and flow. There are, in fact, many times when the linear paths—dogmatically following red—inspire genuine glee. It’s just a shame when the equally numerous times you are brought to a halt also stamp out your joy.
Instead, the game’s mechanics truly shine in the time trials. They’re (mostly) little self-contained maps with the goal of getting from point A to point B with checkpoints in between as fast as possible. And strangely enough, they’re most fun precisely because of the trial and error methodology many found fault in with the campaign. (Also the soundtrack is damn good.)
Getting two stars is often easy enough. You futz around for a few minutes, figure out what you shouldn’t do, and whammy you’ve got two stars. Getting three, though, is the kicker because it usually requires you to really dive in deep with the map’s nuances and figure out the best tactics.
The Atrium levels are a good example of this. It’s mostly a multistory vertical shaft that is ostensibly under construction with lots of half built ramps and flapping tarps and structural supports littered about. The first one has you going up to the top, and it’s a bitch. Granted, the second one is also a bitch, but let’s focus up.
You have to steel yourself for making consecutive long jumps at the edge of tiny ledges just three feet wide. And you have to pull up on elevated jumps with your legs tucked in, a maneuver that ruined hundreds of runs for me as I forgot, clipped a rail, and yelled with a rage only the sun could match. You have to keep in mind a dozen techniques and strategies every second or you fall.
It’s just as much about muscle memory as it is dealing with small problems. There are big problems that you just hit reset on, but the small ones force ingenuity and discovery. I had to deal with a botched wall run/clamber/reverse/tuck combo. Never thinking to do so before—let alone in the heat of a run—I tucked up across a gap, landed on a rail, and clamber/reversed over there.
It was a true moment of an unadulterated high. It felt like seeing in another frequency of light except it was deeper. Instead of that Master Builder or Matrix vision Emmet and Neo get, it’s a built-up and ingrained sense. Like instead of reading the scene, I was feeling it. (Perhaps that’s what it feels like being a compiled language versus interpreted.)
That is the great success of Mirror’s Edge. In tight, compact sequences where you switch off from being someone sitting on a couch and holding a controller, you become something far more…base. Like shedding the complications of a medium built for analogous intent, you reduce the game to a beautiful little lump of exultant thought. In that moment, it is pure. And you remember that.