Post Script

For­get the city, and fo­cus on the lines


Out in the open, away from the per­plex­ing choke­points that link its hubs, the City Of Glass is a mas­ter­class in en­vi­ron­men­tal sand­box de­sign. This gleam­ing, tow­er­ing me­trop­o­lis has been hand built to show­case Faith’s park­our move set, of­fer­ing a mul­ti­tude of po­ten­tial routes in any di­rec­tion you choose to set out. But while it’s a re­mark­ably ac­com­mo­dat­ing space, it fails to be a be­liev­able one. It’s a sur­pris­ing re­gres­sion from Glass, the set­ting for the first Mir­ror’s Edge, which feels con­sid­er­ably more con­vinc­ing as a city. De­spite its sparsely pop­u­lated rooftops and streets, Glass feels lived in and con­structed for daily life in a way that City Of Glass, in all its grandeur, sim­ply can’t repli­cate.

But it’s not for want of try­ing. DICE seeds the city with eaves­drop­ping en­coun­ters in which you’ll hap­pen across a pair dis­cussing some press­ing mat­ter in a house or glassy cor­ri­dor. There are dozens of po­ten­tial cus­tomers hang­ing out, oddly, on roofs wait­ing for you to de­liver a pack­age for them. You’ll bump into fel­low run­ners near the bases you fre­quent. And you’ll even oc­ca­sion­ally en­counter a crowd of rev­ellers, al­beit from a dis­tance. But this rel­a­tive surge of ac­tiv­ity only serves to high­light the empty steril­ity of the world. It feels like the build­ings only ex­ist as fa­cades on a movie set.

Take Ocean Glass View, one of the city’s five over­ground dis­tricts. A shim­mer­ing play­ground for the rich, it’s tinted pink and pur­ple by blos­som trees and grape-coloured paint. Here you’ll gain ac­cess to the pent­houses and rooftop domi­ciles of the area’s af­flu­ent res­i­dents, and move through rooms decked out in what must be award-win­ning in­te­rior de­sign. Rather than a movie set, here build­ings feel like show homes for the kind of peo­ple who never smile or eat any­thing that might break into crumbs. But while it’s one of the hol­low­est lo­ca­tions in terms of its sense of hu­man­ity, it’s one of the more en­joy­able play­grounds to gad about in thanks to a se­ries of spec­tac­u­lar bal­conies, pompous gar­den struc­tures, and plenty of op­por­tu­ni­ties to taunt other play­ers with some awk­ward-to-reach Beat LEs.

An early mis­sion in the Down­town-based Ely­sium Labs makes good use of the game’s dis­qui­et­ing sense of an aban­doned city as you break into the build­ing in the evening and work your way through its re­mark­ably in­ef­fi­ciently laid-out in­te­rior. There’s a cer­tain thrill to silently nav­i­gat­ing the nearly empty build­ing af­ter even the clean­ers have left, but when every space in the city you en­ter feels sim­i­larly closed for busi­ness ir­re­spec­tive of the time of day, this early im­pact is un­der­mined. Al­most every lo­ca­tion is a fun climb­ing frame, sure, but they rarely feel like any­thing more.

Of course, the game’s fic­tion de­picts a hu­mour­less con­glom­er­ate in the process of re­mod­elling a city af­ter its own aus­ter­ity, and DICE in­tends there to be an air of de­tach­ment in the cul­ture hinted at by its barely no­tice­able brush strokes. But it for­gets the hu­man­ity needed to make the city feel like a real place, and so un­der­mines your in­vest­ment in it – even your pas­sion­ately re­bel­lious co-con­spir­a­tors live in a man­ner that would ap­pease a Habi­tat cat­a­logue pho­tog­ra­pher. The one place where the city does feel real is De­vel­op­ment Zone G, an area the rul­ing con­glom­er­ate is yet to cover with shiny new sky­scrapers. Disas­sem­bled, the dis­trict ex­udes more char­ac­ter and, like the af­ter­hours Ely­sium build­ing, thrives on the short­fall of life. The dis­trict plays host to two of the game’s most en­joy­able set-pieces, and nav­i­gat­ing the rem­nants of the Old City in a state of tran­si­tion feels like peek­ing be­hind the bro­ken pan­els of a mal­func­tion­ing wall in Por­tal, of­fer­ing a glimpse into the out­side world long since for­got­ten by the city’s sup­posed res­i­dents.

But all of this only mat­ters if you in­vest in the story in the first place, an ef­fort that, de­spite some strong cen­tral per­for­mances, there’s lit­tle rea­son to com­mit to. Bet­ter, then, to let Cat­a­lyst’s bold, min­i­mal­ist de­sign soften into ab­strac­tion as any pre­ten­sions of a func­tion­ing city melt away to re­veal only po­ten­tial paths through its ge­om­e­try. And it’s in these mo­ments, un­der­pinned by the Run­ner’s Vi­sion’s shim­mer­ing red path-mark­ing, that DICE’s cre­ation re­veals its majesty.

It’s telling that the first game’s most cel­e­brated com­po­nent was its Pure Time Tri­als DLC, which dis­pensed with sto­ry­lines and ur­ban tex­tures in favour of brightly coloured, ab­stract ob­sta­cle cour­ses. And it’s no sur­prise to dis­cover that Cat­a­lyst’s best mo­ments co­in­cide with the times it sets aside world build­ing and yarn spin­ning and in­stead fo­cuses on the sim­ple pu­rity of move­ment. The game’s self-con­tained Gridnode runs are a par­tic­u­lar high­light, of­fer­ing Por­tal- es­que plat­form­ing chal­lenges, which take place in non­de­script rooms wrapped in white pan­els and server banks, and in which it’s pos­si­ble to for­get about ev­ery­thing but the task at hand. Sim­i­larly, tack­ling the game’s time tri­als or cre­at­ing your own shifts your fo­cus to noth­ing other than your path through the world, and we’ve lost sev­eral hours to per­fect­ing our lines through the chal­lenges.

The con­cept be­hind the Mir­ror’s Edge se­ries’ utopian dystopia is laced with po­ten­tial, but DICE has now missed the mark twice when it comes to do­ing it jus­tice. Along with Cat­a­lyst’s un­for­tu­nate com­pul­sory bat­tles and awk­ward en­vi­ron­men­tal gat­ing, the stu­dio is still shack­led by a de­sire to shore up its ground­break­ing me­chan­ics with more recog­nis­able, heavy­set de­sign tra­di­tions. The re­sult is that it weighs down what could be an ex­cep­tional game un­der a city’s worth of clut­ter.

It’s no sur­prise Cat­a­lyst’s best mo­ments co­in­cide with the times it fo­cuses on the sim­ple pu­rity of move­ment

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