Name: Mirror’s Edge
Platform: Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, PC (Reviewed on PC)
Check out the Video Review.
At first, Mirror’s Edge seemed too good to be true. The promises of a bright, vivid first-person parkour title felt just out of reach for this generation, which has made a point to stay decidedly brown and gray. As its release approached, it became clear that it was, indeed, a reality, but many remained skeptical as to whether or not this new type of game could really turn out to be as fun as it looked.
Players assume the role of Faith Connors as she attempts to unravel the mystery surrounding her sister’s imprisonment after the assassination of a rising political figure. The world of Mirror’s Edge is visually bright and colorful, yet thematically dark and pessimistic. The dystopian society is overseen by a totalitarian government, and the last opposition to the law is runners, transporting information between those who’d rather keep their secrets to themselves. It has its share of unbelievably predictable twists and turns, as well as some swings at character building that mostly fall flat, but the story is entertaining enough to justify trying to see how it ends.
If it weren’t for the occasional textural pop-ins and previous knowledge of the title, it would be impossible to know that it was running on the Unreal Engine. Slick, smooth, bright and vibrant, the city glows with excitement and a sense of eerie perfection. Much of the game does take place atop vertigo educing rooftops, but there are also indoor sections splashed sporadically throughout the game. Running through a shopping mall, sewers, or subway tunnels adds needed variation to the gameplay, and you’re never in one place for long enough for it to feel repetitive. Even when running at the fastest speed, there are no framerate drops, and the game’s graphics are enough to justify a purchase for videophiles anxious to show what their television and console can present.
The PC version receives a significant kick up in terms of graphics. Aside from cleaner visuals, the game also features a bump with added PhysX effects. Cloth flows realistically in the wind, plastic tarps rip apart with machinegun fire, and glass shards accumulate on the ground, improving the game's already impressive visuals up several notches. It doesn’t do anything in terms of gameplay, but the effects definitely make the PC version of Mirror’s Edge the one to play if you have a computer capable of running it.
Gameplay, as you might expect, involves running. Faith is incredibly agile, and the camera remains in first person as she runs, jumps, and slides across different environments. The game is inspired by the pseudo-sport of parkour, where runners attempt to travel in the most efficient way possible, pushing their bodies to the limit. The controls are simple, allowing players to hit one button to go up and another to go down. Holding a button might slide under an obstacle, while another will jump over it. It’s very minimalist, even when combat controls and quick-turn modifiers are thrown into the mix. Before long, you’ll be able to control Faith as she runs along walls, disarming enemies and accomplishing fantastic acrobatic acts. Because of the simplistic controls, however, the game will sometimes misinterpret one action for another, and a wall run might instead leap forward, or visa versa. Combat can also feel a bit clumsy at times, so it is usually better to run than fight. It isn’t really an issue with the game, since Faith isn’t supposed to be a soldier, but with gamers themselves, who are used to more accurate combat controls.
The problem with Mirror’s Edge, and it’s one that I don’t think is easily solved, is that too much of the gameplay stems from frustrating trial-and-error situations. It’s too hard to judge if a ledge is out of reach, or if a fall will kill Faith and, because of this, repeating sections over and over again becomes routine. After dying a dozen times at the same section it’s hard to justify continued play, and it takes persistence to complete the story. Some parts simply require several attempts to complete, even if it feels like nothing different was done on the final successful run. Mirror’s Edge demands perfection from its players, and can be brutal and unforgiving.
It also doesn’t really meet the “open world” expectations many had of it, and, although somewhat customizable, there are usually only three paths to take: the fast one, the slow one, and the wrong one. The game could also take some cues from Assassin’s Creed and throw civilians into the mix, creating an element besides gunfire and gravity that Faith needs to deal with. It seems strange that there are so few people wandering around shopping malls and office buildings, and a human population would add more complexity to the parts of the game that don’t involve jumping.
That’s not to say that it isn’t enjoyable – there are few games that give the sense of accomplishment given after completing a particularly tough section. It’s just that when it isn’t flowing beautifully and smoothly the game feels overly difficult and maddeningly frustrating. Luckily, thanks to a well implemented quick save, even failures are only minor setbacks, and speedy loading prevents this issue from overtaking the entertainment value.
The story mode itself might not offer a huge amount of replay value, but EA was sure to address that issue with Time Trial and Race Modes. Connecting to the internet, gamers can compete with players from all around the world to complete different chapters in the game in the shortest amount of time in Time Trial mode, or race in different locations while hitting markers in Race Mode. Both have ghost support, meaning that the friend and world record holding times can be raced against as incorporeal red runners. It’s great for practice, and almost acts like a multiplayer component to the game. Watching some of the highest ranked players shows the fantastic feats possible in Mirror’s Edge, and can add an immense amount of replay value for anyone already interested in the title.
It’s easy to grow frustrated with Mirror’s Edge; the game doesn’t bother being that user friendly. At times, it might feel like pixel-perfect precision needed in old platformers is needed to complete the game, but it’s usually worth the extended effort to try. When it works, it works great, and if the issues are addressed in a sequel I could see the series being extremely well received in the future. In the present, however, it’s still worth paying attention to. It’s fast, original, and beautiful – everything you should expect from a holiday blockbuster. If you’re easily frustrated by difficult games it might be wise to rent it first, but be warned; the beauty and addictive race modes might pull you in for a purchase.