Mirror's Edge Review
Where most see only perilous falls to their doom, the Runners see pathways to freedom.
Over the last few years, it's been a rare thing for Electronic Arts to really let loose and even attempt to start up a new game series. Lately, however, EA has begun making attempts to change that image by embracing new games. Army of Two, Boom Blox, and Dead Space are all good examples of this new mentality. None, however, are quite as innovative as the first-person adventure, Mirror's Edge.
Mirror's Edge takes place in a near future where the government has total control over all aspects of people's lives. Even something as simple as communication is censored for the citizens. Entering this situation are the Runners; a group of secret messengers who traverse the paths that most others wouldn't dare. Making their way over the rooftops, down pipes and along the tops of trains it is up to the Runners to carry messages between those who aren't willing to just let their lives mandated by the oppressive government.
Enter Faith, one of the most talented of the Runners. What begins as a simple package delivery job quickly spirals wildly out of control and ends up with her every step being dogged by the police. Even worse than that, her sister has been framed for the murder of someone very important in the city. All of this ties itself up in a rather interesting story that isn't told very well.
But this kind of highlights much of Mirror's Edge; this is a game of fantastic ideas but with slightly dubious execution. But we're getting ahead of ourselves.
As befitting a first-person game you will see everything that occurs through Faiths eyes but this game takes it one step further. Rather than just running through stages while shooting at everything that moves Mirror's Edge instead focuses on platforming that would be at home in any modern Prince of Persia game, all seen through the players eyes. This requires that one remains intensely alert of the players every inch, asking for plenty of spatial awareness from the player so that they don't plummet to their death.
While this sounds intensely complicated it really isn't. The fine folks at DICE have done their best to streamline the entire control process. There is one button for all upward movement, such as jumping, vaulting and climbing, and another button for all down movement, such as ducking, rolling and sliding. By using only the analog stick and these two buttons you can chain together large series of moves so as to gather up plenty of momentum. Using this momentum will allow you to move faster, jump farther and wall run longer distances.
Exploring the world at large is actually a rather enthralling experience. As you move across the rooftops, jumping and climbing over everything in sight, to get from point A to point B there are multiple paths to be taken. The most obvious path is highlighted bright red by what is known as Runners Vision, an intuitive ability for Runners to sense a path through their environment. But what you see is only a portion of what is there.
For example in one stage that takes place in subway tunnels you will notice a hard to reach red pipe that will let you swing to another platform you need to get to. But why take such an obvious route when there's a more exciting way to go about it. Why not leap onto the roof of the moving train, quickly run across it and leap to the ledge you're trying to get to? Or why bother climbing up a pipe slowly when you can wall run, leap to a higher ledge and then leap to the rooftop the pipe would have led you to. There are instances like this where you can make your own shortcuts through the stages that are usually quicker and more effective than the most obvious of routes.
It is this which makes Mirror's Edge such an enthralling experience, crafting your own route over the roofs as you move as quickly as possible. In both the regular stages of the game, speed runs and time trials through those stages all of these routes will be important to completing them as fast and efficiently as possible.
As you can guess the game is at its best when it's running on all cylinders. This is heightened by the moments where you have cops shooting at you while a chopper flies around to find the best position to shoot you full of led with its machinegun. Making good use of cover while never stopping is going to be like second nature over time and is an intense feeling.
But the game, all too often, comes to a halt for either platforming or action segments and this is when the game is at its weakest. Control issues plague the game with Faith doing such annoying things as refusing to jump when told to do so but it becomes most readily apparent during platforming and combat.
Platforming is problematic in that it's not the neatest of elements. Wall running and leaping from ledge to ledge is a blast but when you're sitting there trying to figure out why Faith won't grab a particular ledge the game starts to bust at the seams a bit. Then when you finally reach the ledge Faith pulls herself up onto it like something she can stand on only to fall down behind it because there's no standing room there. Better yet is when you try to leap from pipe to pipe only to realize that you weren't aiming completely straight at the other pipe and plummet to your doom through to Faiths finicky responses.
The combat ends up being frustrating due to simplistic enemy AI that relies upon large groups to even stand a chance at hitting you. This isn't a problem when you've got lots of running space but it becomes a frustrating when forced into situations where you end up having to fight enemies. Since combat isn't the point of the game, nor very interesting, you generally spend much of your time avoiding it. So when the game forces you to fight it feels like an imposition, an artificial way of lengthening the game through repeated reloads as you try to figure out how you need to fight this particular group to proceed to the next area.
Luckily none of this stops Mirror's Edge from being a fantastic game. It has a great visual flair to it that makes the entire game stand out amongst all of the grays and browns of this current console generation and a fantastic soundtrack. Even the cutscenes manage to be incredibly stylish even though they aren't of the best quality. They stand out in contrast to the rest of the game and give you a split feeling of what the world is like through Faiths eyes and otherwise. As an aside, the theme to Mirror's Edge, "Still Alive" by Lisa Miskovsky, is one of the best songs to slip its way into a video game since that other somewhat famous tune with the same name from Portal.
Overall Mirror's Edge is a game that should be experienced by anyone who enjoys adventure games. This isn't a long game, clocking in at six or seven hours on average, but that's not entirely the point. Not only is this a game it's an experience, one you should play through several times to explore the world that has been laid out before you by the developers. It's a flawed game that can be trying on your patience at times but more often than not a death is followed by an "oops" not a virulent string of curses as the game forces you through trial and error.