Living Life On The Edge
Let's be honest here: most gamers don't live life on the edge. Sure, a few of us may bust out 900s on a skateboard, rock climb sheer cliffs, or attempt to surf tsunamis, but most of us would rather perform those dangerous activities with our controllers. Still, we occasionally need new thrills, so it's refreshing seeing titles that break boundaries like DICE's Mirror's Edge.
Take all your preconceptions of a mirror and smash them to pieces, because you won't be staring at your reflection In Mirror's Edge. Instead, you'll take part in the art of moving otherwise known as parkour.
If you're unfamiliar with parkour, breathe a sigh of relief, because all you need to know is that it's an art that consists of navigating through urban environments as if you were being pursued. This means that a parkour practitioner spends most of her time jumping from rooftop to rooftop and climbing over various obstacles as quickly as possible. This is exactly what the protagonist of Mirror's Edge known as Faith does.
Faith is a runner (basically a parkour practitioner) that is out to solve a murder mystery and save her sister (a police officer) who's been framed by a corrupt organization. While trying to set things straight, she's pursued by agents of this corporation who planning on silencing all runners.
As her job title implies, Faith is on the run throughout her entire adventure. She'll leap from building to building, climb into air vents, wall jump, slide under pipes, and will even engage in hand-to-hand combat. Longtime players of video games have seen all these moves before, but what's different here is that this game is played entirely from a first-person perspective. Yes, this is a first-person title where running and gunning aren't the main focus of the game.
There have been a few first-person titles where gunplay isn't the main focus (most notably Metroid Prime and Jumping Flash), but never before have players felt so agile. For the first time ever in a video game, I actually felt like I was running.
Each time I took off and made a leap, I felt a sense of dread that is rarely felt in titles other than Mega Man and its masochistic ilk. This caused me to focus before each leap, and pay close attention to the proximity of other objects.
At first, it was difficult to judge the position of my feet before jumping, but I quickly got used to the game's first-person viewpoint. Once I had the hang of things, jumping off walls and ramps was generally thrilling, but occasionally my character would fail to reach her destination. Sometimes, this was due to me jumping too early or not having enough momentum, but other times, it felt like Faith should have grabbed on to the object she was reaching for.
Another issue I encountered was being unable to find the appropriate path to my destination. Throughout most of the game, you're given some sense of direction by bright red objects strewn about, but occasionally, you'll have no idea what to do. Sometimes, it was fun experimenting to determine the correct path, but other times, it was a painful process. These frustrating moments could have been avoided if DICE had made some objects more obvious, or if they had added some kind of hint system.
Also, it would have been nice if DICE made more frequent checkpoints, because occasionally you'll take part in lengthy, difficult sequences. I remember one point being particularly frustrating. I was climbing a set of towers by running along walls and performing difficult jumps, but sometimes, I'd narrowly miss the platform and fall several stories. Usually, this would kill me and I'd start close to where I left off at, but if I miraculously survived the fall, I'd have to climb all the way up again. This could have been avoided by letting players restart from the previous checkpoint.
Clearly, Mirror's Edge has some technical problems, but I'd be lying if I didn't admit to it generally being a rush. There's nothing like performing several difficult maneuvers in a row while being pursued by guys with guns. However, the player's sense of speed and the thrill of being chased are not the only factors that contribute to her sense of fear -- the striking visuals and intense music also add to the atmosphere.
Mirror's Edge is one of those games that has a one-of-a-kind visual style. Its visuals aren't dark and gritty like Gears of War; they're not photorealistic like Uncharted; and they're not a series of animated watercolor paintings like Okami. Instead, the visuals mostly consist of white and blue with other colors used minimally.
You'd think that a color scheme with white as the dominant color would be too plain, but it really adds emphasis to colors that are only occasionally used, and it gives credence to the idea of a corporation running the city. Somehow with colors like red, orange, yellow, and green only used sparingly, Mirror's Edge's metropolis still looks incredible.
While on building rooftops, you can easily make out distant structures and see what is happening on the bustling city streets below. I have to admit though, it's strange that there's a clear blue sky in place of a smog infested skyline. I mean come on, this is a city!
Mirror's Edge's interiors also look amazing. You'll travel through sewers, subways, ventilation ducts, and malls, which are generally more colorful than Mirror's Edge's outdoor environments. While in these indoor areas, you'll often run into trouble, as guards are typically found patrolling these areas. In some cases, Faith will be able to bypass them, but other times, she'll have to use her martial arts and weapon wielding skills.
I didn't particularly enjoy these encounters, but I wouldn't call them abysmal. To fight armed goons, Faith can perform a flying kick, slide tackle, punch, or she can disarm them. Usually, the former three are the best options, but disarming can work if you pay close attention to the guard's movements.
If you manage to pilfer a weapon, you'll be able to unload a single clip on incoming enemies. Unfortunately, you run out of ammo rather fast, so you have to aim carefully. This is easier said than done, because the aiming is fairly loose, and sometimes you'll be fighting off multiple soldiers at a time. To survive these encounters, you have to make good use of cover and have deadly accuracy.
All of these fights are doable, but I would have preferred being given the option to escape. I appreciated how you could get through most of the game without using violence, so it would have been nice if Mirror's Edge allowed you to play the entire game that way.
Even though the last wish of mine didn't come true, I was at least granted a solid soundtrack. Mirror's Edge has a laid back, yet memorable theme song, but most of the game is accompanied by intense electronic tunes. These beat heavy songs play an important role by making the player feel as if she's being pursued.
After a short, but sweet six hour chase, I came away from Mirror's Edge quite satisfied. The game had some technical issues, and the combat system could have used some tightening, but for the most part, it was a thrilling experience. Sure, DICE's unique first-person effort wasn't a perfect experience, but at least they took a chance and proved that first-person adventure games can be fun in the process. Mirror's Edge might not be worth its original sixty dollar price tag, but at a price of $20 it's a no-brainer. If enough people purchase it now, perhaps EA will continue to explore new franchises.
· Finally, an innovative first-person game
· Leaping and sliding under obstacles in a first-person perspective is thrilling
· One of the rare games that provides a sense of panic
· Features a great techno soundtrack
· Mirror's Edge has a unique, but beautiful visual style
· The game features a realistically proportioned and respectable heroine
· Aiming with guns feels a bit loose
· You can't avoid all fights
· Sometimes, your character won't grab on to objects when she's supposed to
· The environments and gameplay get a bit repetitive towards the end
· More frequent checkpoints would be nice. It's hard to understand radio chatter that sounds like it's being mumbled