Column: The Player: ‘Mirror’s Edge Catalyst’ skewers privacy, corporate governance in a tech-driven age
Imagine if the world were filtered through the home screen of a smartphone. Picture opening your eyes to an image overloaded with headlines and messages. Notifications no longer buzz, they flash before you.
“Warning,” the display blinks in the lower right, “your bank balance is low.”
This is the view of Faith, early in “Mirror’s Edge Catalyst.” Having just been released from prison, Faith may not be happy with her financial prospects, but she definitely isn’t too keen with the sensory overload of this futuristic, uncomfortably modern society.
“Is this what the employees see all the time?” she wonders.
In the world of “Mirror’s Edge Catalyst,” there aren’t citizens so much as employees — workers for one of a handful of conglomerates that controls the world. You are identified not by your ethnicity or your interests but your job.
It’s the tech-focused Western world, albeit exaggerated, and it’s alternately cold and inviting, as if the architecture of an entire city has been remade in the mold of an Apple Store.
No wonder Faith wants to run.
Throughout “Mirror’s Edge Catalyst,” Faith is almost always in full sprint mode, bounding from rooftop to rooftop as she attempts to escape and fight a society that only has room for the upper class. In a video-game rarity, she never brandishes a gun. Her currency is instead her speed and acrobatic agility.
“Mirror’s Edge Catalyst,” from Electronic Arts-owned Swedish studio DICE, puts its emphasis on style. The in-game fictional city, named Glass, looks made of the substance, and Faith is a cool, brash, mixed-race hero who stands out in an industry that too often favors men.
“It challenges so many of the preconceptions of the gaming industry,” says Sara Jansson, senior producer on the game. “So many games are so similar. There’s a lot of very gritty shooters with male protagonists. This is like the anti-vision of that. It’s beautiful. It’s pristine, with a super kick-ass female heroine.”
“Mirror’s Edge Catalyst” is a reboot, a revisiting of the “Mirror’s Edge” created in 2008. When “Mirror’s Edge” first arrived, it was an outlier, not only for the gender of its lead but for its emphasis on speed and running.
Combat was not necessarily the strong suit of “Mirror’s Edge” — and that’s generally true of “Catalyst” as well — but going all “Run Lola Run” through a brightly lighted dystopian future, where an entire city becomes an obstacle course, ultimately made it a cult favorite.
Though DICE has had far bigger successes, namely its “Battlefield” series, the studio that last year brought us “Star Wars Battlefront” never abandoned the idea of revisiting “Mirror’s Edge,” a game that producer Amo Mostofi says the studio considers one of its “passion projects.”
Today, mobile games such as, say, “Temple Run” have taken “Mirror’s Edge’s” emphasis on acceleration and made it bite-size. But “Catalyst” still largely looks and feels unlike anything else on the market. It can test — frustrate, more like it — your timing, and there are probably a few too many tone-deaf corporate goons to take down.
There’s surprisingly a lot of mileage to be had from sliding, leaping and spinning around buildings as Faith tries to erase her debt, uncover some secrets about her family and hopefully stop an evil corporation.
It’s alternately cold and inviting, as if the architecture of an entire city has been remade in the mold of an Apple Store. No wonder Faith wants to run.
— Todd Martens
Conspiracies are uncovered, and “Catalyst” probably could have benefited from trying to be a little more uncomfortable in its comparisons to our world of today. Rather than a generic, high-gloss sci-fi city, a greater impact could have been had if “Mirror’s Edge Catalyst” had hit a tad closer to home. The early scene, for instance, of a bank account’s balance constantly blinking before our eyes, feels nagging and not that unbelievable.
Still, “Mirror’s Edge Catalyst” does have some big ideas.
“We’ve taken consumerism and capitalism and made it so much a part of your life that it is absolutely natural for you to not question anything and give away your privacy and your rights in order to be, essentially, part of the system,” Mostofi explains. “That’s what we do pretty much every day as citizens today, and we accept that. So our story says, ‘Imagine that, but let’s take it to a point where, instead of a government, you have a series of companies that run the nation.’”
They want control of not just your pocketbooks but your minds. Still, some of the more topical storytelling is light. It rests on familiarity — “yes, of course, high-tech companies steal our privacy,” it seems to say, but it’s so exaggerated that any human would clearly unplug.
But maybe that’s the point. “Mirror’s Edge Catalyst” shows us what we may be unable to see in our daily routine — that the chase for wealth and new gadgets and a higher status has already siphoned power to too few. It’s alluring, flashy and fun to visit, but ultimately perhaps a little hollow.
Actually, maybe that’s not so unfamiliar after all.
“What would happen if we applied a high-gloss, high-finish to this?” Mostofi said of the game’s tone.
“That would make it a lot easier for people in the world of ‘Mirror’s Edge Catalyst’ to give away parts of their privacy for convenience and security. It wasn’t particularly difficult to envision that world moving forward from where we are now.”
“Mirror’s Edge Catalyst”
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Platforms: Xbox One (reviewed), PlayStation 4, PC
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Follow me on Twitter: @toddmartens
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