EA Games, 2008
Mirror’s Edge is perhaps more impressive for what it could have been that what it is. A first person parkour inspired platformer Mirror’s Edge represents a step forward in way the player interacts with the world around them while at the same time mires its gameplay in traps completely familiar to the average game player. At its heights the game mirrors (**groan**) the energy, excitement and tension of Casino Royale’s opening chase scene and at its worst is vaguely reminiscent of ramming one’s head into a concrete wall…repeatedly.
Before I dive into a lengthy discourse on gameplay let me briefly discuss the narrative which is, to put it mildly, pretty terrible. For a game that wants to immerse you in the experience of a “runner” the game starts off pretty good with an in-game cut scene from the first person perspective. Unfortunately, this is soon marred by animated cut scenes between each chapter that look like some low-level Flash animation straight off of Newgrounds. The story is thin at best, with you on a quest to prove your sister innocent of murder while at the same time uncovering shady government plots to tighten up their totalitarian regime. I give the devs credit at managing a sense of history between Faith and her sister but the plot moves far to quickly to form any sort of emotional attachment and the lack of any type of character development elsewhere makes that small bit too little, too late.
The game intro makes a big deal about “runners” carrying packages for those left who still believe in a free and open city and, to be fair, the plot developments later in the game echo this as well. Unfortunately, since I never delivered a single package, nor do I know who or why people need said packages carried, the shock value and emotional connection to those plot developments never really develops. In truth, given the type of game play involved in the game a more “open world” approach (i.e. carrying messages/packages back and forth) would have been a more interesting way of exploring the game world and the mechanics that make Mirror’s Edge stand out from the rest of the first-person crowd.
Visually Mirror’s Edge is an attractive game and the unnamed city is a visually impressive piece of work. The game world employs a visual aestetic the (don’t do it!) mirrors (**groan**) the uniformity one might expect from a totalitarian “big brother” type government. The game features an impressive draw distance with a very minimal load times. It does feature the return of the “elevator load screen” but lacks the little world-building and character development moments that , Mass Effect had during similar sequences. I heartily approve of Faith’s character design which might be the first time in a game that I’ve seen a female character actually designed to fit their in-game profession (I’m looking at you Lara Croft! or X-Blades, or Damnation…you get the idea).
Ok, ok enough is enough on to the gameplay. Much was made during the game development of the games freedom of movement. The ability to run on walls, slide under things, vault over obstacles, and basically open up the game world in just about any and every direction. I would call those claims completely and utterly true which is almost a shame since other gameplay elements, most notably level design and combat, do little to accentuate this and do quite a bit to hinder it.
The game, makes much of what it calls “the flow,” which is to put it simply the path you use to navigate the gameworld. The moments when you feel this “flow” are where the game really shines offering truly transcendent moments and a sense of euphoria that few games come close to achieving. The majority of these moments occur on the rooftops of the city, typically when you aren’t being chased and/or shot out. Unfortunately, those moments in the game are few and far between mainly because arbitrary plot elements force you to play the game a particular way. Furthermore, the game frequently railroads you into buildings and cramped spaces the often require frequent stops in order to orient yourself or, more frequently, constant deaths before you realize the particular path the game wants you to take. For a game that makes so much out of the idea of “flow” to interrupt it so frequently is a crying shame.
That isn’t to say all indoor environments are bad. Despite my toxic levels of frustration an indoor section of what I think was a parking garage made for some interesting movement that was perhaps employed the most varied set of skills. “Runner’s Vision,” objects highlighted in orange that typically mark the best path, doesn’t work too well indoors which really put a hamper on situations like the parking garage level where being able to see the best path would have made progress infinitely more entertaining. Now, I typically suck a platformers a fact I’m sure played a part in some of the more difficult jumping sequences, but wasn’t as huge a problem for me as I thought it might be. Gamers who are experienced in the platformer genre will likely find the game easier than I did; though I could be wrong.
Combat is also a bit of an issue. On the one hand just about all the enemies in the game are “optional” but on the other hand the constant rain of bullets and the often poor implementation of “runner’s vision” mean that thinking a way around enemies isn’t always that easy. Combat mostly revolves around getting into melee range of an enemy and punching/kicking them till they drop, or attempting to disarm them (which works like a pretty standard QTE). You even have a handy bullet time like slowdown that helps somewhat but can just as frequently be annoying as hell (dying in slow motion is never fun, and I did it…a lot). I had issues with targeting in the game. Faith’s impressive agility often saw me overshooting enemies only to get plugged in the back. This game would have been an impressive place to employ some kind of targetings system ala Legend of Zelda, even adding some fancy dodge moves to spice things up. Even something like Fallout’s VATS system, where you can slow down time and target specific parts of enemies, would have made combat almost enjoyable. Frequently though combat is a rage-inducing frustration. Again, in most cases you can find away around or through enemies (especially in the last 2 chapters) but it isn’t always easy to remember that fact; especially for those used to the FPS genre
In the end Mirror’s Edge marks an important evolution of movement in first-person games. It strikes a fairly even balance between frustration and fun that can make playing an occasional chore. Certainly not a bad game Mirror’s Edge suffers from something of an identity crisis. It’s a Frankenstein’s monster; a bastardization of a racing game, a first-person shooter, and a platformer that doesn’t quite excel in anyone one category. Regardless, Mirror’s Edge marks an important moment in video games and I would recommend all fans of first-person games and platformers play it or at least give it a try. Recommended with reservations.