There’s definitely an interesting argument to be made when comparing the parkour of Titanfall 2, Mirror’s Edge, and Mirror’s Edge Catalyst.
This article can be both watched and read. If you can’t watch a video at this time, a transcript is provided below, however, I’d greatly appreciate it if you’re able to watch the video.
So, I finished the campaign for Titanfall 2 recently, and my god, was it amazing. The setting really made the story come alive, and I loved the relationship Cooper and BT had. The level design always provided something new, and there were so many good ideas that could have been used for hours without becoming boring. One criticism I have of the campaign is the length. Titanfall 2’s singleplayer is 5 hours, but provided so much substance that it could have easily spanned a 10-hour duration. However, I’d much rather the game was short and sweet than long and bloated, especially considering there’s a separate multiplayer mode that can provide instead. The potential and shorter length of the campaign reminded me a lot of Mirror’s Edge, a game that I absolutely adore, but one that had several crippling issues that kept it from being perfect.
So, I’m going to argue that the parkour system in Mirror’s Edge Catalyst isn’t as good as Titanfall 2 when you compare both to the original Mirror’s Edge. Don’t get me wrong: in no way is Titanfall 2 a Mirror’s Edge game. The game’s focus on gunplay, combat and the Titans themselves make it a completely different style of game, but both series seem to handle traversal in a similar fashion. You have wallrunning, sliding, and a momentum system that encourages forwards movement, as opposed to lateral.
Let’s address the elephant in the room. Catalyst’s open world really isn’t the best. The mechanics of Mirror’s Edge fit linear design much better, and, in fact, the linear levels of the game’s story are by far the best parts of the game. I love the open world of the game, but, I presume due to technical limitations, it’s segregated into parts. This means that you have to follow specific routes to get from one block of buildings to the next, and will most likely leave you plunging to your doom when you misinterpret what’s ahead. Titanfall 2’s campaign is purely linear, and this means they can really refine the experience to compliment the game’s controls to a degree not possible in an open world.
But wait, you say, doesn’t Catalyst lead you forward with Runner’s Vision? Well, yes, it does, but I turned that off. It may have created a smaller issue in navigation, but it solved one of the main issues with the game. Runner’s Vision in the original Mirror’s Edge highlighted objects in red that should be used to get past the landscape. This gave you hints at the times when you were stuck, especially when in a rush, desperately looking for an exit. In Catalyst, the game also provides a red path, highlighting the route to take. This means that the game eventually becomes a follow-the-leader, instead of a rewarding free-running experience. You can either change Runner’s Vision to act like it did in the original, or do what I did and forgo it completely. This option isn’t for everyone, but in my opinion leaves you much more immersed in the game’s world.
Titanfall 2’s controls are also much more forgiving that those in Catalyst. If you fall in TF2, then you can attempt a frantic scramble to escape the bottomless pit you’re about to plunge into, by wallrunning on various surfaces. If you fall in Catalyst, you’re dead. That’s it. In a way, you may even consider Catalyst’s system better for its gameplay, which punishes you for sloppy movement. While this is true, the loading times are pretty long for how frequently you’ll see them. This is because the game’s trying to generate an open-world, whereas the original Mirror’s Edge only had to make the one section of the level, but it still makes dying an inconvenience, not an obstacle. In fact, both Mirror’s Edge games had issues with loading. The first game had to provide far too many elevator and valve-turning sequences, moments where you just have to wait, which killed the momentum of the game. Catalyst has long loading screens, which makes getting past a confusing obstacle a chore. Titanfall 2 is a game that actually addressed this concern, by at most only loading during short conversation sequences, or having loading screens between 15-minute chunks of gameplay.
The combat in TF2 also compliments the movement far better than Catalyst. In the original Mirror’s Edge, you were given the option of either using a barebones melee system or using tacked-on gunplay controls that lacked the sensory response every other action in the game provided. In Catalyst, they thankfully did away with guns, but instead determinedly try to lock you into close-quarters combat. This would be fine if enemies died in one or two hits, but most enemies are bullet-sponges without the bullets, and you’re instead left awkwardly shuffling around foes until you eventually defeat them. The Mirror’s Edge series most definitely does not need guns, but what it does need is stronger movement-based attacks that, if pulled off correctly, allow you to keep your momentum. Titanfall 2 excels in this aspect, as the ranged attacks at your disposal can deal with enemies as you gracefully soar mid-jump past them. The best comparison is with sliding attacks. Both games let you attack during a slide, but in Catalyst, you have a choice of either sliding right under enemies, lightly tapping their health bars on the way past, or a stronger attack that kills any momentum you had, but most definitely does not kill your enemy. Titanfall 2 lets you just slide on by enemies as you gun them down, or, if you really want, you can end the slide in a punch if you think there’s nobody around to shoot you. Killing several foes whilst sliding is incredibly rewarding, whereas Catalyst’s slide attacks only lightly graze the enemy.
Like I said, Catalyst’s combat tries to lock you into a ring around the Kruger forces, to quickly sidestep around and attack from behind. The problem is, you have to fight the controls to get out of this stance, and the game often lumps you in a room with enemies, leaving you to fight a combat system that’s very clunky when you don’t have any momentum. For the most part, you can just walk past TF2’s IMC forces. This does make the whole combat thing a bit redundant, but in some cases leaving enemies only grants you several shots in the back, so sometimes disposing of enemies is less of a risk. Later in the game, you gradually learn to use the parkour to evade your enemies, or dispose of them quickly. Mirror’s Edge Catalyst, in comparison, chooses to throw tougher enemies at you nearer the end-game, forcing longer fights. The actual platforming of each game is excellent in their own ways, but Titanfall 2 gives you the perfect mix of combat and platforming that makes it feel natural. Catalyst’s combat seems entirely separate from the freerunning, and that makes it feel unnatural.
Thankfully, both games lack a ‘Boat’ level - that being a level in Mirror’s Edge notorious for awkward combat sections and lots of waiting around. The traversal mechanics are also very tight in both titles, and each game handles level design far better than the original Mirror’s Edge ever did. My only complaint with Catalyst is that new mechanics, such as the grappling hook, only seem to work if you approach grapple points from the right angles, whilst Titanfall 2 lets you get away with things it really probably shouldn’t. The elements of freedom and the reliability in the controls gives TF2 a slight advantage over Catalyst.
Something that both games failed, disappointingly, was keeping the consistency of the camera’s perspective. In Mirror’s Edge, and, hell, even in the first Titanfall, the first-person viewpoint was always upheld. Mirror’s Edge even had first-person cutscenes, with the only out-of-body angles being between levels. Catalyst adores its third-person camera, giving you cinematic angles for finishing moves in combat, and tailoring the cutscenes to perfection, but in my mind, it was a trade-off. The original game had you fully immersed in your role, as you could only see through Faith’s eyes, and this is an aspect that Titanfall 2 mostly pulls off. Cutscenes in the game aren’t really cutscenes, as they have you observing things going on around you, most of the time giving you free control of the camera, and your movement. Even when the game does take control from you, it doesn’t yank you out of your place. The only aspect where they fail this is when you enter your Titan, which is ridiculous considering the original Titanfall had a slew of fluid first-person embarking sequences that were picked based on your location relative to your Titan.
One of the best things about the original Mirror’s Edge was the feeling of freedom, of escaping the world’s burdens. Only occasionally did your friend Merc speak to you over the wire, and it was only used to notify you of what was around you, and to occasionally give some oomph to certain moments. Titanfall 2 mostly leaves you to your thoughts, with only the occasional exchange with your Titan, BT. Mirror’s Edge Catalyst, on the other hand, is an auditory overload, buzzing with chatter between multiple characters that really don’t benefit gameplay in any meaningful way.
I think the main issue with Catalyst, especially when compared to Titanfall 2, is the use of momentum. In the original Mirror’s Edge, taking a hard fall was a serious problem, as it took several seconds of running to get back to full speed, and get back into the rhythm of moving around. In Catalyst, you get to full speed... by pressing right-click. I can’t stress how much of an impact this has on the experience. Very little is at stake when you can rebuild speed instantly, and that takes the tension away from a lot of the game. Stringing together moves and landing a particularly close jump no longer has the immensely rewarding feeling the first game gave you. This is why, despite the differences in parkour systems, I feel that Titanfall 2 is superior to Mirror’s Edge Catalyst. Instead of building and preserving momentum, momentum must instead be earned through more difficult manoeuvres such as leaping from a wallrun, or slidehopping. Slidehopping is best described as a simpler form of bunnyhopping, which grants you a much higher base speed if your jump timing is exact with when you hit the ground. This is an advanced tactic, but the times you pull it off give you a serious adrenaline rush, and when you chain slidehopping into a wallrun, taking out enemies along the way... the feeling of pure joy in indescribable, and one that I’ve not experienced in such concentration since Mirror’s Edge released, all the way back in 2008.
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