Years ago, EA’s UK headquarters was a building in Chertsey, designed by architectural firm Foster and Partners, and featured a lot of cool features. To begin with, there was a big ditch full of ducks, or maybe they were swans, and the front of the structure was movable. Looking up, it turned out that the building looked like a large letter E. Electronic!

Inside, it sure looked like it was in the lair of a movie villain, as it was built in the same years as the concrete doomsday spiral at Westminster Station, London. The irregular windows could not predict in which direction the electric shutters that prevented light from reflecting off the skeletal stairs and dark surfaces would descend. In short, a setting so suggestive that it ended in Inception, and in the television series Jekyll, obviously to evoke a certain unease, something almost unreal. EA no longer works there, but this mausoleum in disguise as a building is still there.

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I have spent the last few days exploring another encounter between electronic arts and architecture and, although this time Foster and Partners has nothing to do with it, I have found abstract shapes and atmospheres as the basis of Specter. . Maybe it’s weird architecture again, maybe it can’t even fulfill its function one hundred percent, but I fell in love with Mirror’s Edge Catalyst, finally landed on Steam with its load of races , jumps, dive and slide.

Remember when EA announced the sequel to Mirror’s Edge saying that the Dice parkour simulator would become an open world? I remember thinking that an open world would be necessary for this gameplay like no other. The first episode is also definitely poles apart from an open world, and it is not immediately easy to imagine how the change of approach would work. In the first chapter, each level was a little urban design puzzle, sunny and white, made of almost plastered surfaces on the outside and confusing on the inside.

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I really liked these atmospheres. I also liked getting lost in the offices and not being able to find the exit, but I realize that this is definitely not an experience for everyone, which probably doesn’t go very well with the approach of ‘a company like EA. The idea of ​​expanding these spaces outward without losing their tangle, of making them open world areas to explore and come back to again and again, must have caused more than a few headaches for level designers. The first Mirror’s Edge was made up of levels that felt like they were connected to each other, but making them truly connected is a whole different matter.

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Catalyst’s stroke of genius, and it’s a stroke of genius despite the lukewarm response from audiences and critics, is that its spaces are connected to each other, but at the same time they give the intention to hide even deeper and more inaccessible connections. Roofs, alleys, stairs, conduits and luxury semi-open suites. Gutters, dumpsters, fans to slow down to pass. A beautiful deserted glass city with a sky that looks like a rendering of the future. A city of paths and paths, but also a city of surfaces.

I was amazed how many times I found myself staring at a surface in front of me. There are windows, of course, that let you peek into the sterile desks, but there are those fans that let you peek into what’s on the other side. And the floors, gentlemen, what floors! There are moments that you look down and through through perforated metal or plastic grids or panels and sheer materials that seem to come out of the Enterprise signed by JJ Abrams. You look down and see rooms you don’t know how to reach (and if you can), places to hide that might be accessible or inaccessible.

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And then you look up. Again, there is an overwhelming white to dominate the city, but it is a white that acquires its total whiteness through the grays and blues and highlights and all these colors that are not white at all. The city is the protagonist: cold, steep, bad. But the further you go, the more missions you find that take you out of town and into gigantic computers. Maybe the message is that the city itself is a computer, with humans instead of electrons? What is certain is that these few humans who meet do not seem particularly comfortable trapped in rooms that seem to have no entrances or exits.

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This aseptic setting is surprisingly fun. It sometimes seems to the dentist, but the architectures invite you to lightning without stopping. The best mission is to ask to climb a skyscraper to remove a piece of it. It’s that moment in the game where you learn the fast turn, that movement that you might have been able to ignore until this moment but suddenly becomes an obvious glue among everyone else. It seems to be in Burnout Paradise when you carve a perfect path through a world that comes together very quickly and always a step away from impact. Suddenly it turns out that the pipes are there on purpose to let us change direction in the blink of an eye and the red objects to follow line up so perfectly that we forget to be in a game about rebellion. making us follow a straight line.

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And then you land and you hear the landing. The moment of impact is very well rendered with this tremor and the gaze on the hands halfway between the camera and the beautifully made floors. These are sudden but necessary stops. They are the price to pay for the rides to remain believable, and they are also firmly embedded in the design of the city.

From images like this, it’s clear EA didn’t know how to position their game, in a world that they felt was like playing Assassin’s Creed.

When the flow of action stops, however, Mirror’s Edge Catalyst is the closest thing to those dreams where you want to do something simple but you can’t. Maybe you need to open a door or put the pin code on your cell phone, but you keep making mistakes, you forget the numbers or every number takes you forever. Do you understand this feeling? However, between one mission and another, when you go looking for collectibles around the city, it is almost pleasant to get lost in the nightmare. It’s fun running nonstop, up, down, through a city defined by a control system that just wants us to think about where we’ll be in a moment on the vertical axis.

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And what’s odd is there’s no shortage of references to real-world locations, more so than in less stylized games. Maybe it’s just this minimization that works. San Adreas is Los Angelese and only Los Angeles, Crackdown 3 looks like a suburb of London, but Catalyst’s candid city emptiness reminds us of any summer in the deserted streets, or a nighttime stroll along a river. , no matter where exactly is it. It would be interesting to know what the designers had in mind (an invisible but constantly perceived presence in the game, not always benevolent), what images or books they were thinking of, and if we perhaps have any in common. I am thinking of Lloyd Wright Jr.’s plan to transform the Los Angeles neighborhood of Bunker Hill into a space entirely surrounded by walls, with paths at different heights divided by means of transport in order to make the presence of traffic and traffic felt. hide at the same time. Much Mirror’s Edge as an approach.

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What the game’s virtual city has, and which doesn’t seem to refer to anything else, is this stacking of levels upon levels: unglazed, ungrateful, non-plastic, and glimpses below them. of a hidden world. And above, in the sky, that shiny, squeaky texture that now clearly becomes glue to the whole thing without making it completely readable.

The whole city, and everything it contains, is immersed in this lucid atmosphere. Plastic? Concrete? Foam? It is never clear. The materials are always well made, but there is something about them that makes them almost caramel, something indecipherable. Something to fall in love with.

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Source : Reddit