A leap of faith worth taking.
Mirror's Edge is an incredibly unique experience that is extremely important in the age of an extremely over-saturate game market. We're constantly being flooded by the same types of games and an endless stream of sequels that rarely do anything new. That's not to say any of these games are bad, but they drown out innovation by constantly playing it safe - as well as wearing out their welcome. Games like Mirror's Edge don't come around very often, and when they do we'd be best not to ignore them, lest we want games that take a chance and break the mold to fade into obscurity.
By now most people are probably already at least somewhat familiar with what Mirror's Edge is - it's a first person action game with heavy emphasis on platforming. You'll take control of Faith, a young woman who is a part of a group known as runners, who spread information the old fashioned way, rather than electronically due to an overbearing government in a totalitarian society which heavily monitors all forms of communication. In order to achieve these goals you will find yourself soaring through the air, vaulting over objects, and doing things you'd have never thought possible.
Well, that's great, but why should I care about Mirror's Edge you ask? Because Mirror's Edge is such a one-of-a-kind experience that simply just does not exist in any other game form. Sure, platforming in the vein of Mirror's Edge has been done before, but this is the first time we've ever been able to experience it from such a personal first person perspective. When you play Mirror's Edge you truly become one with Faith which creates a very immersive atmosphere. Mirror's Edge provides the player with full-body awareness. When you look down Faith can see herself, when you lean against a wall Faith will place her hands against it to hold herself up, when you get a huge sprint going Faith's breathing can be heard, and you can see her arms swinging back and forth. It might not sound like a big deal but first person games were brought up thinking it was alright to just forget that the player's body actually exists, and we've entered a new age of gaming where we're finally starting to become the characters we are playing from a first person perspective, rather than just being floating eyeballs. The experience of full-body awareness in Mirror's Edge is incredibly well realized and is extremely similar to that of Crysis, so if you've played one of them, then you know what to expect from the other.
The parkour aspect of Mirror's Edge is obviously its main attraction and the extreme importance placed in immersing the player in the character is a huge reason why it's so exciting. As Faith you will do a variety of things, from climbing rooftops, leaping over impossibly huge gaps, running across walls, scaling construction sites, and so on. You won't be spending all of your time outdoors however, a significant portion of Mirror's Edge will be spent indoors, and while the outdoor areas are perhaps the most notable areas of the game, the indoor sections have some really awesome, lonely almost Portal-esque environments.
Mirror's Edge is an oddly abandoned game world, and while it would be easy to fault it for this, it's actually a part of what makes it feel so special and immersive, if that even makes any sense. Mirror's Edge is a very lonely game and you will spend a lot of time in abandoned industrial environments, but the sense of atmosphere evoked can only be described as breathtaking. Outdoors is still quite desolate but you will see the odd pedestrian here and there, vehicles driving around, and even airplanes flying overhead way up in the sky. In fact, aside from the animated cutscenes, the vast majority of your human contact in Mirror's Edge will be spent running from the law.
This is where one of Mirror's Edge's most widely criticized aspects come in - the combat. For a game that puts so much emphasis on platforming and running, there are numerous situations in Mirror's Edge where you are literally forced into fighting. Faith is no slouch as she has quite a few moves at her disposal, as well as numerous types of disarm attacks, but these are highly situational and not entirely easy to pull off either. In fact, the sole reason why combat can be so frustrating is simply due to how little punishment Faith can take. A couple hits is all you need for a swift game over. It's especially frustrating when you are confined in an area and need to escape but are being shot at by a battalion of riot police with assault rifles. Thus, you will most likely experience quite a few frustrating deaths during these sections, and will have to replay them several times until you get it just right - or at least figure out where you're supposed to run to. In fact, most of the time once you figure out where you need to go you're better off not fighting at all and simply just running away. You will occasionally need to take out a few guys but the combat system as well as the various guns at your disposal are competent enough to get the job done, so long as you stay out of your enemy's sights.
The audio-visual department of Mirror's Edge is absolutely astounding in every sense of the word. The city in Mirror's Edge is full of lush over-saturated whiteness, with red hues that define Faith's 'runner vision' which highlights important objects in red as you close in on them. This is designed as a hint to keep the flow of movement going and to allow players to quickly adapt to their ever changing environment. You can actually turn off the runner vision, and I actually personally preferred this method of play my second time around, but you'll want to keep it enabled for your first time through the game. On top of looking amazing though, the level design in Mirror's Edge is superb, and while some may be slightly disappointed at the linearity of the game, the levels are expertly crafted and look incredible.
The only real issue with Mirror's Edge are the computer animated cutscenes which have a striking resemblance to a certain auto insurance company's commercials, and they really feel out of place. They simply just don't match the visual flair that the game went for, and they really take you out of the experience. There are a few very rare instances of first person in-game cutscenes and they feel much more natural and do a significantly better job of conveying the story. It would have been preferable to have the entirety of the game's cutscenes told through this method, and hopefully they will ditch the computer animated cutscenes for the sequel. It must be stated that the cutscenes aren't really specifically awful or anything, they just don't fit in with the strikingly realistic vibe the rest of the game is going for, and for that they take you out of an otherwise incredible experience from a visual perspective.
On the audio side of things Mirror's Edge is mind-blowing. The soundtrack was composed by Swedish electronic musician Magnus Birgersson, and was performed under his Solar Fields alias. The soundtrack contains a significant variety of different types of electronic numbers, ranging from ethereal ambient tunes, to fast-paced beat-driven combat numbers, to soothing downtempo goodness. The Mirror's Edge soundtrack is so good that I actually obtained the official soundtrack, and have since become a relatively big fan of Solar Field's material. I could go as far as saying that Mirror's Edge has one of the best video game soundtracks I have ever heard, Magnus Birgersson is simply that good. There's also an actual theme song, performed by Swedish singer-songwriter Lisa Miskovsky, and while it may not be everyone's cup of tea it's a commendable effort on her behalf that fits incredibly well with the game thanks to its electronic arrangement by Solar Fields himself. The voice acting in Mirror's Edge is also extremely solid, the most notable of which obviously being Faith's voice actor Jules de Jongh who delivers a very convincing performance, and is easily the biggest reason why playing as Faith is so enjoyable. The sound design is also expertly done, and everything in the game world sounds just like it should.
Mirror's Edge is not perfect, and while it does stumble occasionally due to frustrations caused by what seems like trial and error gameplay, or a minor irritation due to game design, Mirror's Edge is a truly remarkable game that I whole-heartily welcome and embrace in a video game industry that is filled to the brim with publishers that are content with regurgitating the exact same thing on an disgustingly frequent basis. Props must be given to DICE for trying something new, and they've succeeded in creating a remarkable game experience. Not everyone will enjoy Mirror's Edge to the same degree, but when Mirror's Edge finds the right people they will be blown away by it's breathtaking visuals, chilling ambience, and utterly remarkable soundtrack, not to mention its unique gameplay experience that when combined with all of its other qualities simply cannot be found anywhere else.