When I first heard about Mirror’s Edge, I was a little skeptical. The idea sounded interesting enough, emphasizing leaping from rooftops and sprinting away from enemies rather than engaging in mass baddie-genocide, as is usually the case. The game’s presentation, though, was a bit of a letdown. Even after I saw the much-lauded E3 trailer, I wasn’t that interested. I mean, why make a game revolving around Parkour-based acrobatics if it’s going to be in first-person?
When I first heard about Mirror’s Edge, I was a little skeptical. The idea sounded interesting enough, emphasizing leaping from rooftops and sprinting away from enemies rather than engaging in mass baddie-genocide, as is usually the case.
The game’s presentation, though, was a bit of a letdown. Even after I saw the much-lauded E3 trailer, I wasn’t that interested. I mean, why make a game revolving around Parkour-based acrobatics if it’s going to be in first-person?
But rather than missing the point, since you can’t see anything your gorgeously modeled character is doing, playing the game gives you a sense of what DICE was trying to accomplish–because at it’s core, Mirror’s Edge is about one thing: exhilaration.
Although at first glance you might think Mirror’s Edge is just another more-or-less typical first-person shooter, it’s not true. In fact, the game isn’t really a shooter at all.
Sure, you can pick up weapons and attempt to engage in combat, but if you do, you’ll probably die–even in the tutorial you’re warned to only take on enemies one at a time, because you’re consistently outgunned. Instead, Mirror’s Edge would probably be better described as a first-person free-running adventure game.
And you will be doing a lot of running. Playing as Faith, a “Runner” that shuttles illegal information between clients in a 1984-esque society, you spend the majority of the game wall-running, vaulting, sprinting and bounding through a clean, primary-color infused metropolis eluding the law, otherwise know as the “Blues”.
Mirror’s Edge‘s narrative involves Faith trying to clear the name of her Blue sister, Kate, who’s been framed for murder. Spotted fleeing the scene of Kate’s frame up (although our Runner heroine is otherwise wanted, as Runners are illegal in the Mirror’s Edge universe) Faith becomes the Blues’ prime suspect.
Of course, the murdered man was offed because of a big secret that powerful interests around the city want to keep hush-hush (c’mon, did you forget this was a video game?), meaning Faith has to uncover that secret, as well as save her sibling.
As routine as the story seems to be, it’s serviceable–but that’s not why you should play Mirror’s Edge.
Apart from the game’s killer atmosphere, made up of combination of clean visuals and appropriately ambient music (maybe worth the price of admission alone), Mirror’s Edge‘s series of “running-for-your-life” scenarios that take you across rooftops, through sewers, office buildings and other locales deliver a fresh gaming experience that’s definitely satisfying, if at times somewhat frustrating.
For a game about something as complex as Parkour, the controls are deceptively simple, of a variety of vaults, jumps and other aerial maneuvers. High moves, (read: all kinds of jumping) low moves (mostly slides and rolls), attacks and interaction are handled with just four buttons.
Fortunately, rather than hampering the experience, this minimalist set-up allows for effortless execution of moves and level progression. Faith is also equipped with “Runner Vision,” which soaks objects that can be used to propel yourself across a space in bright, stark red.
For the most part, this works well, and when you can Parkour your way over through the would-be obstacle courses that make up Mirror’s Edge‘s levels, it’s a huge rush.
The frustration comes when you can’t, which happens a fair bit. Although Faith can utilize level hints–essentially amounting to a quick head turn toward wherever her next destination is–the system is inherently flawed. Given that the game has a thing for heights, if you screw up, you’re generally treated with a dizzying fall, followed by a bone-snapping, cut-to-black death.
In short, until you get the hang of thinking like a Runner, which the game unremittingly forces you to do, it can be tough.
Once you do, though, spotting the unseen paths made up of the game’s architectural design, the experience is like little else in gaming.
Although the attention in Mirror’s Edge is on aerial moves and running, occasionally you do get backed into a wall and have to fight, mostly resulting in a lot of death (on Faith’s part).
Add to that the fact that you’ve usually got about 30-second head start before a horde of Blues bust down the doors of the structure you’re currently in, and you’ve got a game that leaves very little margin for error.But Faith isn’t just trained in wall-jumping escapades.
She can also perform some basic martial arts and weapon disarms, the latter of which are pretty cool. On the other hand, any first-person shooting that you decide to engage in is rudimentary at best, and guns are also heavy, robbing you of precious momentum (which can be used in a pinch to slow down time).
The point of the game isn’t combat–that much is clear from the outset. It’s just a shame the game wasn’t designed so you could avoid it completely if you wanted, although DICE did do a pretty good job keeping unavoidable encounters to a minimum. Still, when you’re riddled with bullets for the 100th time in a five-minute period, it has the unfortunate effect of ruining the adrenaline-pumping rush Mirror’s Edge works so hard to deliver.
Don’t get me wrong–when Mirror’s Edge works, it works really well. The first time you jump aboard a speeding train, elude a small army of heavily armed Blues or perform a mid-air drop from one rooftop zipline to another is undeniably sweet, akin to something out of the first Matrix film.
The game isn’t perfect–the combat sections and somewhat steep learning curve mar what could have been something revolutionary–but conceptually, the game is rock-solid, it creates an experience and moves the genre ahead in a new, exciting way. And in this so-called next-gen era, which is supposed to usher in new ways to play, that alone is worth your attention.
Mirror’s Edge****EAPS3, Xbox 360$59.99