Now that Mirror's Edge is a series, I replayed the original and cataloged all of the differences in the two games. Here, I outline what I think the original Mirror's Edge got right and how Catalyst took a few too many steps backwards.
Trust your intuition vs. follow the line
Mirror's Edge Catalyst broke away from the more streamlined gameplay of the first game. In my opinion, this isn't a good thing. In the original, you would traverse from one location to the next, always progressing the story. You rarely had indicators showing you where to go, except for when you needed them. I liken this to the gameplay of Uncharted where the environments look vast but ultimately are restricted in a way that they gently guide you to where they want you to go without making it obvious that you can't actually explore the whole world that you can see. Catalyst instead plops you in the middle of a pretty large open world with a red arrow always showing you where to go in order to reach the next checkpoint and continue the story. There's no sense of figuring out what to do as you're simply told outright. You can turn off "Runner Vision" so that you don't see this marker but then you're stuck on the exact opposite end of the spectrum where you have no idea how to get anywhere and can end up getting stuck in an area where you need help. Having to traverse the open world constantly also ends up making you repeat certain areas over and over again which gets boring quickly whether you're being told where to go or not.
Pacifist vs. aggressor
This is my biggest gripe about the sequel. The Mirror's Edge series is centered on a woman who runs for a living yet Catalyst forces you to get into skirmishes quite often. The original made enemies feel like just another part of the environment that, if done right, you can avoid fighting altogether. However, Catalyst has multiple moments where you are literally locked in a room until you take out hordes of enemies. It's a break from the free-running where you instead try to dodge enemy bullets and continuously punch and kick your way out of a situation. The enemies are tough, too, so you'll be retrying over and over again in hopes that you'll eventually break through and get back to the gameplay that you actually enjoy. At least, that's how it made me feel.
Colourful vs. shiny
Catalyst sure is shinier than Mirror's Edge, but that's about all that it does visually better than the original. The environments in Mirror's Edge are split about 50/50 between white rooftops and very colourful indoor buildings. This split of colour broke up the mostly dull visuals of the rooftops by treating you to bold colour palettes for sections of the game. Catalyst instead ops for keeping the environments mostly shiny and white with splashes of colour dotted around throughout. Therefore, it all starts to look the same quite quickly. The most variation I saw was an area of upscale condos that had a little extra purple than other areas. Maybe dialing down the selection of colours is supposed to be a philosophical thing showing how only those in the upper classes can delight in colour, or maybe it's just the developer getting lazy. Either way, I was disappointed every time I played as I was reminded how different it looks to the original.
Some odds and ends
There are a collection of smaller differences between these games that make me wish for another sequel closer to the original Mirror's Edge. First up, Mirror's Edge had a great theme song that I still listen to quite often on my iPod (Still Alive by Lisa Miskovsky). The music in the sequel sounds generic and doesn't do much to set the game apart.
Secondly, the original Mirror's Edge kept a sense of mystery around Faith's appearance. Though she can be seen on the cover of the game, you are always in first person view when you're playing it (including in cutscenes). I felt like this was a unique way to go and really made me feel like I was experiencing these events as Faith. Catalyst, however, only has you in first person view when you're running around. As soon as you hit a cutscene of any kind, you just watch her talk to people. It takes away from the original's air of mystique.
Lastly, Catalyst went too far in trying to provide extra content to keep the player interested after completing the story. The map is simply covered with markers for you to reach in order to complete time trails, deliver items and pick up collectibles. It's overwhelming and I know I'll never finish it all. The original Mirror's Edge kept this simple with sprinkling a small number of bags for you to find, hidden in the main levels. I had tons of fun trying to find these bags and once I was done finding them, I felt satisfied with the overall experience and it's length. When I wanted to boot up the game again later, I also had the choice of speed-running the story levels or playing some new levels that I could master set outside of The City of Glass with their own unique visual style.
After all is said and done, Mirror's Edge Catalyst took a significant step backwards for the series. Here's hoping if they ever make a third installment that they go back to the roots of the original 2008 version. In the end, it has aged wonderfully and fans like me are thirsty for more. Are you a Mirror's Edge fan? What do you think of the series so far?