This article contains spoilers for 2008's Mirror's Edge.
Tuesday's release of Mirror's Edge: Catalyst has me stretching my legs and tightening my running shoes - just figuratively, though; I get winded walking up stairs. Either way, it's enough excitement to bring me back to the 2008 original.
Upon spending a couple afternoons sprinting through a city whiter than a Kansas anime convention, I fell back in love with the game: its premise, its design, the feeling of perfectly landing that skill roll after leaping across a chasm - it's all still there. And yet, the original Mirror's Edge isn't without its share of problems, like wonky contextual moves, labyrinthian level design or a bland story with cringey dialogue. But I came across one issue I hadn't thought much of before: Faith is kind of a terrorist.
It all comes from a little something called "ludonarrative dissonance." It's not just a way for games journalists to feel smart; it's that feeling you get while playing a game like Dishonored, where Corvo has to prove he isn't a murderer by murdering hundreds of people. It's the way Uncharted wants you to believe Nathan Drake is a plucky everyman between bouts of shooting thugs in the face or leaving ancient civilizations in ruins. What you're doing in the game doesn't fit the story or the character, but there's no way to get around it.
The superb Uncharted 4: A Thief's End touched some on this, going beyond a self-referential trophy. Through his inability to leave his life of plundering behind, Nate starts to realize he isn't such a good guy; but I'll say I was somewhat disappointed by the shallowness of the character study.
Then we have Faith Connors: champion of the people, mouthpiece to the voiceless in the face of totalitarian oppression. If you haven't played Mirror's Edge, Faith is our first-person parkour superstar. She's a Runner, a hired messenger in a city where most communication is cut off or monitored. We're led to believe she, and by extension the player, is the hero, caught up in a conspiracy to frame Faith's sister for the murder of a mayoral candidate brave enough to challenge the system.
Gameplay for the most part is simple enough: when you're not running, rolling and sliding around the city, you're evading or fighting cops and hired security there to take you down. Get into trouble? A few punches and kicks or a well-timed takedown makes short work of your adversaries.
Then there are the guns. Sure, it's a game made by EA DICE, a developer famous for the Battlefield franchise; no one expected them to take the pacifist route. Early enemies are easy enough to beat, and the guns slow you down, so you leave them be for now.
Level three comes along - "Heat," my favorite in the game. It has these little touches, like a pistol that looks like nothing more than background design on a desk until you hit the Y button and pick it up to shoot out some windows to make your path easier. Or there's the ending leap between two construction cranes half a mile in the air, where you hit the rarely used slow motion button just to have a chance to glance down at the abyss. It's a blast.
Before that though is the helicopter chase, where a chopper fires its minigun at you while you weave in and out of scaffolding atop some skyscrapers. Once you think you've evaded them, the game tells you, "Blues up ahead. Get ready for a fight." You're on the top layer of scaffolding, and you think you have a moment to breathe. You begin to round a corner - and a cop jumps you. Not thinking much about it, you throw a jump kick his way; then he starts to fall. And fall. You look over the edge - still falling. Crunch.
If you've avoided guns this far into the game for that special achievement, this is the first moment that surprises you with its violence. I'm no pacifist, mind you - I get the same joy out of chainsawing an enemy in Gears of War as anyone else with a pulse. But this feels bizarre, like Faith should feel the least bit apologetic for RoboCop-ing one of her sister's fellow officers.
Toward the end of the game, it's hard to feel like the hero. From the game's difficulty, it's hard to avoid guns as well (but not impossible). You'll find yourself cradling firearms like a card-carrying NRA member at the Democratic National Convention.
A later level sees you freeing your sister from a police convoy by sniping the truck and having it crash into an office building. You mow down about a dozen officers on your way down. The final level's assault on the Shard has you blowing up doors, crashing elevators, demolishing computer servers and, again, gunning down countless security guards. Sure, they receive better weaponry as the game goes on, but it's difficult to tell if the game is challenging you or if they're doing it out of self-preservation.
Mirror's Edge concludes with Faith kicking yet another person out of the sky to his death; not to be outdone, she also lets a helicopter crash into the side of the building, raining debris on unsuspecting civilians. The payoff? Faith hugs her sister.
A hug? That's it? After killing countless people and causing hundreds of thousands of dollars, there's no hint that Faith's sister will be safe, let alone if anything gets better for the city.
I don't know if Catalyst is any good, or if it remedies the ludonarrative dissonance of the original. What I do know is that 2008's Mirror's Edge has earned a special place in my heart - and that Faith Connors has earned a special place in prison.