After playing through Mirror’s Edge Catalyst, the good but not great reboot of the cult-favorite first-person parkour IP, a number of questions arise. Catalyst is by no means a bad game, as its parkour is downright fun to master and its sterile city aesthetic stands out from everything else out on the market, but it is not without its flaws. The largest complaint that we had with DICE’s latest title came at the expense of its open-world activities, which often seem like busywork rather than dynamic additions to a fascinating sandbox. There’s nothing inherently wrong with the design of any of these missions, but they speak to a larger issue in AAA open-world games. Considering that we’re treated to countless open-world games every single year, it’s beginning to get a bit disappointing to see the same sorts of missions in the vast majority of these titles. Still, the overworld in Mirror’s Edge Catalyst gives players the opportunity to create exciting new parkour routes for themselves, thus spawning the great debate surrounding this particular game.
Let’s start with why an open-world structure winds up adding to the entire Mirror’s Edge Catalyst experience, shall we? When you journey back to 2008 and look at some of the issues with the original Mirror’s Edge, one of its subtle flaws was how much it tunneled the players into a very specific route. Granted, this allowed high-level players to master every moment of the campaign through multiple playthroughs, but it also removed some of the potential joy away from the experience. Of course, this is something that we only realize in retrospect now that we have first-person open-world parkour titles like Dying Light and, of course, Mirror’s Edge Catalyst. There’s a unique sensation that comes from thinking on your toes and rapidly choosing a path in the middle of executing free-running combos. No other form of entertainment outside of playing actual sports can capitalize on the connection between reflexes and quick thought, and Mirror’s Edge Catalyst’s greatest strength comes from its ability to provide improvisational traversal. With that said, you can’t necessarily provide players with an open-world without giving them ample activities inside of it, and its through these activities that some of Mirror’s Edge Catalyst’s weaker points emerge.
Perhaps it’s a result of constantly playing AAA open-world games, but the checkbox-style open-world framework made famous by Ubisoft is beginning to grow a bit stale. There are certainly going to be a ton of players who love all of the fairly redundant time trials and collectibles scattered throughout Mirror’s Edge Catalyst, but those who have spent time with similar titles are going to find that they’re a bit samey. It’s a tad disappointing that every mission is designed around either getting from point A to point B in the quickest time possible or clearing out an area of enemies before destroying a tower, as these are things that you don’t necessarily have to flock to a Mirror’s Edge game to do. Granted, the larger fast-travel unlocking missions are a bit more exciting, but considering that Mirror’s Edge Catalyst’s calling card is its traversal system, the reward here isn’t all that motivating. After all, if you’re looking to fast-travel in a Mirror’s Edge game, is there really a point in playing it in the first place? This isn’t to say that Mirror’s Edge Catalyst has bad side content, it’s just uninspired and average enough to where it quickly grows mundane after a few examples.
With all of that said, it’s time to answer the question posed in the title of this article. Should Mirror’s Edge Catalyst have been an open-world game? While it might seem like a bit of a cop-out, the answer here is probably. The dream scenario for Mirror’s Edge Catalyst (and what would have made it a great game as opposed to just a good one) would be to have an open-world loaded with meaningful side-stories and missions that do more than just ask players to race against the clock. An open-world structure enabled Mirror’s Edge Catalyst’s traversal system to feel far more fluid and dynamic, but without tangible motivation outside of the main story, it wouldn’t be shocking to see the majority of players stick to the central set of quests. One can only hope that Catalyst is more successful than the original Mirror’s Edge, as this could allow DICE to make a third franchise entry that improves upon these faults.