Mirror’s Edge: Catalyst is a game about mastering a set of skills and then testing them. You, as Faith, will fight security guards, destroy buildings, dodge lasers and ride flying spy drones above a technicolour concrete jungle, but to do any of this well you’ll need to become adept at the game’s system of precisely-timed jumps, rolls, flips and slides. The more fluent you become in the game’s vocabulary, the more naturally you’ll fly through the challenges it throws at you, and the greater the sense of accomplishment you’ll feel while doing it.
Mastering these moves is then hugely important to the game, and it’s no coincidence that the vast, open structure of the city of Glass affords you a giant play ground in which to grow as a runner. What first appears an obstacle course quickly become a sprawling, tangled network of racing lanes, mapped out in neon behind your eyes. Fences and scattered crates are your launch pads, 10-foot gaps an excuse to enjoy a quick tumble, walls just another surface to support your careening weight.
Side missions and collectibles dot a massive city map, and critically, there’s no quick-travel teleport system of the kind that plagues so many open world games. If you want to tag a billboard on the other side of the map, instead of pressing ‘Y’ and being magically carried to your destination, you’re going to have to hoof it, and this traversal, a chore to be skipped in nearly every open world game, becomes a constant joy. The
challenge of hitting jumps, rolls and spins in time with Faith’s momentum is rewarded not with points or currency, but the visceral satisfaction of maintaining a breakneck speed. Through this repetition controlling Faith quickly enters your muscle memory, so that when you choose to step off a window ledge and into a story mission, the mechanics of the game have become innate, and you can focus on the more bombastic set pieces the game reserves for its central plot.
Still aping GTA 3, 15 years on, open-world games have become such so commonplace that developers have forgotten to question some basic premises. Game worlds have become elaborate, fully-realized living environments, and there’s certainly an appeal to the sense of adventure that comes with exploring a vast world. But if players routinely fall back on quick-travel to skip to the fun parts of a game, we should ask if we really need the spaces in between, or if traversing those spaces between can be made to serve a better purpose. If schlepping from street to street, town to town, or island to island isn’t the focus of your game, if it’s more fun for the player to push ‘Y’ than to experience vast stretches of your game, why waste budget and hard-drive space on the video game equivalent of an intermission?