Innovation is something that hasn’t exactly been commonplace in First Person Shooters in recent years. It seems like we’ve been busy picking off Nazis and Aliens for eons, that that it’s impossible to do anything else within the genre. Mirror’s Edge sought to dramatically change the conventions we hold for what a FPS can and should be.
Mirror’s Edge focuses heavily on the fast, graceful form of urban free running called “Parkour,” where the goal is to move from one point to another as quickly as possible. The daring sport translates into this game in the form of traversing the lofty heights of a stark metropolis, while wall running and flying down zip lines. The EA developer DICE wants to shift focus from blowing away everything in sight to a “flight over fight” formula. With the emphasis on eluding and out-foxing your enemies, the gameplay holds the weighty responsibility of being accessible and reliable. The question is, does Mirror’s Edge allow you to run like the wind across the rooftops, or does it leave you plummeting to the asphalt?
The story of Mirror’s Edge takes place in a sterile, white washed city where control and surveillance of its citizens is paramount. With electronic communications being heavily monitored, the trade of physically “running” information is at a premium. The main character, Faith, is one of these runners. She is an athletic, graceful woman who has a level head and deep compassion for others. Early on, one of her loved ones is framed for murder, and the subsequent plot revolves around evading the police and getting to the bottom of the mystery. You’ll encounter corrupt officials, rival runners, ex-pro wrestlers, and a few interesting yet predictable surprises along the way. Ultimately, the story is not what will keep you coming back to run a mile in Faith’s shoes.
To call Mirror’s Edge a First Person Shooter is like calling Metal Gear Solid a shoot ‘em up. Dispatching foes with guns is just one option for dealing with enemies, as the real challenge and reward stems from evading enemies. Just as in Metal Gear Solid, if you choose to approach things aggressively you may find yourself severely outmatched, and thusly, a smoking corpse. Players are encouraged early on to only engage enemies if necessary, and to use their developing running skills as a means for escape.
The story is basically a shell to deliver the main hook of the game, the platforming. It is important to first express that playing as Faith feels cool. You immediately posses the skills of a free runner through “runner’s vision,” where otherwise ordinary looking objects are highlighted in bright red that clue you in to their usefulness. It is difficult describe the sense of freedom felt when darting along walls, leaping off of them, grabbing onto a ledge, heaving yourself up, and vaulting over a fence. The game’s control scheme encourages you to keep your thumbs on the analog sticks most of time, and thus maps jumping, crouching/sliding, and attacking to the shoulder buttons.
When you settle into a groove and are nailing the platforming, you feel unstoppable. That is, when you aren’t falling hundreds of feet to your doom. That’s right, you experience every inch of freefall after a botched landing, and you’ll even hear even the wince-inducing bone crunch at the end. The first few times this happens you may feel your stomach lift in empathetic anticipation, but further into the game the dramatic deaths become commonplace and annoying. Trial and error is the commonplace here, and you will die. A lot.
The gameplay mechanics mainly involve you running in a given direction and timing jumps. Actions like grapping ledges, wall sidling, and riding zip lines are all automatic. Mostly these automatic actions are responsive and reliable, but there will be times when you are certain you perfectly lined up a jump and instead of grabbing on to a ledge, you’ll become a pavement pancake. The game holds your hand through a simple tutorial stage, but pay attention because you may not actually utilize one of your learned techniques until much later.
When you’re not plodding across the rooftops, you’ll probably be staring at a convoluted mess of pipes and walkways trying to figure out where to go. The large chunks of maze/ puzzle-like segments in this game surprised me. Even though the camera will automatically point to your destination when you press a certain button, you’ll spend good amounts of time awkwardly craning the camera around trying to find the best route. These diversions only prove to help pace the game, and you’ll be back to full sprint in no time.
When you’re not running full force or trying to figure out where to go, you’ll probably be going toe to toe with a few enemies. The opposing force in the game is pretty generic, as it comes in the form of various policemen. The combat system integrates fluidly from the fast paced platforming mechanics, allowing you begin a fight by slide-kicking or jump-kicking your foes. Fighting baddies is mostly accomplished by mashing the right trigger, while also attempting to time a button press to disarm them when their weapon flashes red. To assist with the somewhat challenging disarm timing, a “slow motion” button allows you to constrict the passage of time briefly, extending the disarm opportunity window.
In my run through of the game, I was trying to avoid shooting anyone, but in the heat of things it was very easy to squeeze a round off accidentally. You see, whenever you disarm a foe you automatically shoulder the weapon and the aiming reticule shows up on screen, requiring only one misplaced push of the trigger button to misfire and blow your pacifism streak. Minor issues aside, the shooting in the game is standard and easy. However, you are limited to what few rounds are loaded into the gun when you find it, which is further discouragement from gunplay. Overall the combat in the game is straight forward and never really gets controller-smashingly difficult, save for a few spots late in the game that felt out of place.
The visuals of the game are refreshing. It is hard to find a first person game that features anything other than brown and dark brown for their dismal color palate. On the contrary, Mirror’s Edge‘s scenery is a pure white accented with sharp blues, yellows, and the signature “runner vision” red. When the vibrant colors are combined with the game’s graphical polish, you end up with something that looks unlike anything else in modern FPS’s.
The character models are straight-forward yet beautiful in appearance, offering realistic, expressive features. The artistic direction of this game is a fresh one, and something I hope more developers will take into consideration. The cutscenes exchange the gorgeous presentation of the in-game engine for somewhat standard cel-shaded cartoons, the likes of which you’ve probably seen in a certain insurance commercial. Though these cutscenes feel a bit tacked on, the voice acting is still solid and worthy of your attention.
The sound for the game is crisp and appropriate. You will hear the sound of the wind rushing past you as Faith huffs and puffs. Grunts and groans are heard during hard landings and furious combat. Interrupting the otherwise quiet atmosphere is Faith’s guide Mercury, who advises her via an earpiece. Beside the serene, melodic main theme “Still Alive,” the music is mostly forgettable and is only noticeable during intense chase and fight scenes.
Mirror’s Edge makes up for its ludicrously short story mode (8 hours!) with trial and error heavy “speed runs” and “time trials.” The courses designed for these bonus modes feature segments from the main game, along with some new ones. This mode is very addicting, and you may find yourself playing over and over again to discover the best route from checkpoint to checkpoint. You can even compete for standing online, and race against other players’ ghosts.
In the end, Mirror’s Edge is for those looking to scratch something besides their itchy trigger finger. In fact, until you play Mirror’s Edge, you may not know that first person platforming was an itch you even had. When you inevitably put down the controller and walk away from a session with the game, you’ll find yourself urging to quickly pick it back up and perfect your skill at the art of virtual Parkour. There is defiantly room amidst the aliens and Nazis for Mirror’s Edge, and it is certainly worth your time.
Reviewer’s note: The Xbox 360 version was tested for this review
The in game character models and color scheme are breathtaking and fresh. The cartoony cutscenes feel generic and out of place.
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You can tell what they were going for here, and everything is golden up until the game basically forced gunplay on you. Full Parkour or bust.
Pretty generic stuff all around here. Faith’s breathing is accurate, but gets a little annoying after all the trial and error. “Still Alive” becomes grating after time despite it’s soft melodies.
The real lasting power of this game is found in the time trials, which you’ll find yourself masochistically trying over and over for better times.
A brilliant first attempt at an original concept. The result of innovation is a fun game, but there is room for perfection.