Posted – 11.25.2008
When DICE had released the first footage of Mirror’s Edge to the ‘net, I wasn’t sure what to make of it. But that’s what pulled me in and as more art pieces, screenshots, and press came out to talk about it, I grew a lot more interested in what seemed to be a title that appeared to be Prince of Persia, only done from first person.
Mirror’s Edge takes place in a futuristic, unnamed, utopia in the near now where the public have accepted the increasingly intrusive surveillance set up behind the deceptively pristine face of city “for their safety”. The November Riots nearly more than eleven years earlier was the result of a peaceful protest gone wrong, leaving Faith and her sister, Kate, without a mother and only a grieving father. Today, Faith is a Runner, an illegal courier who uses her feet and the rooftops to deliver messages and information for clients who want to avoid the monitored networks of the city. That already makes her something of a rebel against the established status quo, but one of her jobs will graduate her into the big leagues with a bullet.
Faith isn’t alone and she’ll have a guardian angel in her ear thanks to Merc, her boss and the head of the group which Faith is a part of, who feeds her the information she needs to survive. The voice acting in the game is top notch, complimenting a story that is told throughout the game instead of being confined to the cuts in between each chapter. The story also isn’t bad, but some of the twists come off as a little too convenient or predictable, especially towards the end or when she decides to follow certain leads. The best part is that the end makes it feel like the start of a larger series which is actually a good thing.
Lisa Miskovsky’s haunting theme sets the mood of the game and the rest of the soundtrack right from the main menu remix with an almost ethereal ambiance to it as if reflecting Faith’s ability to defy gravity. The other tracks are just as unique, with a mix of light techno-pop for when Faith is sprinting through the air to driving beats for when she’s dodging bullets. One odd thing was that the music occasionally stops playing when it reloads an area and starts up again later but other than that, it adds as much stark color to the game in as much as the city does.
The city’s vivid colors cut the screen with surgical precision, a clean diorama blinding everything with the lie that it lives behind. DICE’s artists have carved out a Big Brother utopia of unquestioning acceptance with a dramatic play of cues and pragmatic design. The buildings feel as if they were pulled from the real world and then dumped into the game with only the smell of fresh paint missing from the DVD case. It’s one of the most stylish presentations of the future that is both familiar and false at the same time, a living embodiment of the story and theme behind Mirror’s Edge.
Because of the emphasis on free running within the game turning Faith’s legs and arms into her own best weapons, DICE’s artists have avoided making her a camera without legs. Her feet, hands, arms, and even her shadow can be seen in the game and the in-game cinematics. As beautiful as the city is, the characters are also as sharp with unique looks and some of the best graphics you might ever see on the 360. The same can’t be said for the animated shorts in between each chapter. They’re as stylish and clean as the city, but reminded me too much of a Flash animation seen on the web. That isn’t to say that they’re bad, just that after being exposed to the Unreal Engine 3 powered CG artistry of the city and its inhabitants, the 2D stuff felt somewhat out of place in Mirror’s Edge.
FPS players may feel even more out of place when they play a game that emphasizes free-running as opposed to shooting anything on two legs, turning the genre on its head in almost as much the same way as Valve’s Portal. If you have the timing, Faith has the skills to disarm someone up close and beat the living snot out of them, tac-armor or not, but you can also shoot your way through the game while leaping to the next objective. But there’s a reason why there’s an achievement for playing the game without shooting any of the bad guys, and despite the bullets, the main focus is on running as fast as Faith can to avoid fighting and to get to where she needs to go.
The default controls do a decent job…for the most part…with the shoulder and trigger buttons doing nearly all of the work. Faith also has “runner vision” which tags certain obstacles with the color red indicating where she needs to go, but don’t rely on it all the time as many of the chapters provide some open ended options leaving more than one way to get to where Faith needs to go. It also doesn’t seem to work all the time and many times, I just had to rely on what I already knew to keep moving without waiting for the cues.
Either taking the high road or the low road, taking out the bad guys first or just running high above them to escape their notice, it’s up to the player. But don’t expect the kind of open environment that Ubisoft’s Assassins’ Creed had demonstrated which is something of a disappointment, but looking at what DICE has provided so far, it’s not that much of a huge complaint. Just surviving what’s already there is hard enough, but it’s the most exciting part of the game and a tremendous design leap in creating an FPS that easily defies the usual conventions. It’s that unique an experience, but as new an idea as it is, it’s not without the kind of problems that a first-time outing like this can occasionally wear on its feet.
Despite being as innovative as it is in pushing the FPS genre forward with a fully realized in-game character and with bright visuals that make the setting both a story and a playground, Mirror’s Edge falls short in how it builds its gameplay around those ideas. Checkpoints in the game are all over the place, either being just right or incredibly frustrating in forcing the player to repeat large sections of a map or a particularly challenging jump that they may have only lucked out on getting right the first time around. I hope you love repetition because some of the chapters in this game will serve it up along with a side order of wasted time. Several levels make moving Faith around a frustrating exercise in asking yourself why she doesn’t have the kind of acrobatic chops that Lara Croft does. Mirror’s Edge isn’t as forgiving.
Even if you’re a few millimeters off target, Faith will often miss certain grips and fall to her death. The same with ledges, balance bars, and anything else that you’d expect her to actually try and reach towards to avoid ending up a pancake on the streets below. There is little to no margin of error and some levels force the player through exercises of how not to screw up the camera in order to allow Faith to shimmy to where she can jump out from between two walls. As realistic as that sounds, it’s also amazingly aggravating considering how poorly spaced many checkpoints are along with how inconsistent her precision feels.
Faith can jump and automatically reach out towards a helicopter’s landing strut, but can’t reach for a pipe right next to her? Really? The irony of this is that this is exactly what I’d probably expect from an old school, 2D platformer where pixel perfect jumps were the order of the day, the cold logic of their design making certain things expected and predictable. Mirror’s Edge where it gives you the illusion of Faith being able to cross those one or two pixels in order to grab onto dear life, but it ‘sometimes’ doesn’t happen that way for whatever reason even when the ledge or pipe is literally in her face.
Perhaps the most telling problem is that she performs far better outside scampering up and across cranes, rooftops, or whatever else in in her way hundreds of feet above the ground. Put her indoors, and the controls fail to deliver the same depth. On one map, a catwalk railing was only a few inches from Faith’s head and I could only wonder why the game forced me to jump at it instead of allowing her to reach and pull herself over instead.
If it was meant to underline a weakness in Faith, to demonstrate how affected a Runner is by being closed in on all sides by the city that is their foe, then DICE has pulled it off by taking away the fun that I was having up until that point in sharing her pain. I don’t think it’s that deep of an insight, though, so I’m more willing to chalk it up to the feeling that Mirror’s Edge presents the illusion of being able to perform acrobatic stuff only to falter when it comes time for the simpler things. It’s like a teacher in school that is so smart that they can’t teach at the level you’re at, assuming that what they’re talking about is something that everyone discusses at McDonald’s over french fries and hamburgers.
Going solo yields a single player experience that can be finished in less than eight or so hours with only some of the more repetitive segments adding any time to the clock. That might not be enough for some players, but there are also time trial challenges that can test to see how quickly you can clear a set of markers in cleared areas without those pesky enemies to muck things up. Unfortunately, if you’re hoping for a seamless integration with Xbox Live! outside of achievements, forget it as this is an EA title that wants to do things its own way. If you want to share your timed stats with anyone else on the leaderboards, or compete against a ghostly image of your friends’ best times, get ready to sign up for yet another service with EA’s if you haven’t already. There are also hidden bags that you can find in each chapter, and you can replay them from the start or from certain checkmarks to try and grab them all or just have fun. Other than these trials and hidden extras, there’s not a whole lot else outside of the unlockable gallery and soundtrack listing to look forward to.
After catching my breath at the end of this run, Mirror’s Edge feels a lot like what the next-generation should be offering; a unique take on a stale genre that turns it around and dares to be different. To this end, it works by setting the stage for what feels like the start of an exciting new series set amidst a high tech utopia where free thought is controlled down to the colors fed into your imagination. But control issues and a distinct lack of balance to many of the challenges due to them stifle these ideas in as much as Faith is forced to run from her endless enemies. It’s an artistic title that is at once arresting for its beauty as it is for its entertainment, but without the rest of what should push it to be great, it can often feel as painful as falling forty stories from a missed jump.
– World 1-1