Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Mirror's Edge: Catalyst and Parkour in the Open World

'Parkour' is defined as "the activity or sport of moving rapidly through an area, typically in an urban environment, negotiating obstacles by running, jumping, and climbing." It's all about efficiency, choosing the proper path, and adapting to what's in front of you. Mirror's Edge endeavors to take those ideas, and put them into a game. It's not an easy task, but the initial result is beloved by many despite quite a few stumbles.

Mirror's Edge: Catalyst, released June 2016 after eight long years, made one huge, quite controversial decision in its attempt: It has an open world. Where the original game has very limited levels and few alternate routes the, Catalyst throws you into a huge, varied area and expects you to figure it out.

And you will have to figure it out. Catalyst takes practice. You have to learn the routes, the types of obstacles you encounter, and different techniques as you traverse the rooftops and scaffolding of the City of Glass, and every time you think you've got it's number the game pushes you to a new area, with new obstacles to overcome.

This is a brilliant idea. It's reminiscent of how many people learn parkour in real life - organically, running around the concrete playgrounds of their city. The biggest problem - and it is quite a problem - is level design. In a lot of open world games, one area is much like another, and you often don't have to pay too much heed to the flow of traversal through an area. Stack a few crates around, throw some clotheslines between some buildings, some nice tall towers, and there's your Assassin's Creed town.

The City of Glass is an entirely different proposition. Every roof, every ledge, every railing needs to be tightly designed to allow for Faith's freeform, off the cuff traversal style to flow properly. Allowances have to be made for the evolution of her abilities, to both reward the player when they master (or unlock) a new ability, but also to be tolerant if they haven't yet. It also needs to be able to teach the player organically through the introduction of new obstacles and elements. It's an amazingly tough job.

They mostly pulled it off! I had my share of hair-pulling moments, particularly with some of the random delivery missions early on, but the feeling when I realized how much better I was getting was amazing. At first I felt slow and clumsy, adjusting to new controls, new abilities, and a very different environment, but before too long I felt like I was flying over the rooftops. It was a great experience, and in the end almost exactly what I wanted from a Mirror's Edge open world sequel.

No comments:

Post a Comment