Fresh But Not Flawless
Mirror’s Edge is a 2008 first-person platforming game from DICE. It’s rather surprising that DICE made a platformer, let alone a first-person platformer, but here it is. The game takes place in a futuristic dystopia where the government has breached the privacy of its citizens, and forced regulations on all aspects of the city in an effort to drive down crime. The game puts you in the shoes of Faith Connors, one the “runners” of the city, a group who act as couriers for those who want their packages delivered free of government interference. However, when a mayoral candidate is murdered and Faith’s own sister is framed for it, she becomes inextricably caught up in a major conspiracy.
The gameplay of Mirror’s Edge has you traversing the skyscrapers and construction sites of the city by running, jumping, and diving your way through them. The control scheme the game presents you with for all of this is not only simple and original, but highly intuitive. You combine your movements with use of the LB button for anything that requires moving upwards, such as jumps, wall-runs, and vaults, and you combine your movements with use of the LT button for anything that requires moving downwards, including slides, and dropping off ledges. You can also turn 180 degrees at any time, which is useful in situations such as kicking from one wall to another. These controls are one of the greatest strengths of Mirror’s Edge, and make the game feel all the smoother.
Of course, knowing how to move through the city is one thing, but actually being able to do so is another. The game helps make your path through the levels obvious by colouring objects relating to where you need to go in red, and providing a button which will instantly snap your view to the direction of the objective. While the former is far more helpful than the latter, this system means that oftentimes you have a good idea of what you need to do to get from point A to point B, and when you can get into the flow of traversing sections of the city at speed, it gives a feeling that you make the impossible look effortless. That being said, while the first-person perspective can work to Mirror’s Edge’s advantage, it can also work against it. There’s a reason why most platform games opt for a third-person perspective and that’s because in first-person it can be a task to get a good idea of your surroundings, especially when moving at speed. Sometimes Mirror’s Edge makes you feel like a master of the art of parkour, flowing gracefully through the city, and sometimes you feel like the failures you make are due to a restrictive and frustrating field of view.
Perhaps the issues related to the game being taken straight through the eyes of the protagonist wouldn’t be so harrowing if it wasn’t for the fact that the game throws in a combat system with little reason to do so. You are told specifically in the game’s prologue that should you encounter enemies, you should always run from them. However, in some situations, especially in the back half of the game, you are met with scenarios where the only logical choice is to take on your aggressors. Faith doesn’t have the seemingly bulletproof skin of most video game protagonists and it only takes a few shots to bring her down, so when you are trapped in a room with about six gunmen, trying to run through the hail of bullets is likely to earn you a one-way ticket back to the last checkpoint.
So, how does the combat in Mirror’s Edge work? Well, when you come face-to-face with an enemy you can deliver a melee attack, or if they try to melee you there is a split-second window where you can counter, taking them down in one hit and stealing their weapon. If you can get a run up on your enemies you can also take them down more easily with moves like jump and slide kicks, and Faith also has the ability to temporarily slow down time. While getting the drop on an enemy or delivering a well-timed counter can be satisfying, encounters with enemies in general can butcher the pace of the game. Running when enemies are giving chase can be exhilarating, but there’s too many times where it pushes you into making blind leaps off of buildings instead of being able to plan your moves, and when you are forced into combat, starting over multiple times just so you can run up to an enemy and hit the Y button at the right time isn’t fun. Even when you do steal their weaponry there’s no sense of power or accuracy behind any of it. It’s just a good thing the game reloads previous checkpoints quickly.
In addition to completing the story mode, which is fairly short, players can also find bags hidden in the levels, play time trials, or set a record for a speed-run of a level. For those completionists out there, and those looking for a real challenge, Mirror’s Edge provides it, although going around looking for bags usually results in the game’s pacing being completely trashed, and the time trials remove the “runner vision” which colours objects red, meaning the mode is usually more about boring memorisation of levels than actual free-running. Should you slip up during a time trial, restarting the level, even in situations where the level is small, will also lead to you having to sit through a lengthy load time.
In terms of graphics the environments of Mirror’s Edge don’t differ all that much, usually taking place in futuristic offices, on rooftops, or in similar locations. However, these environments are some of the best you can see in a video game. The world is made up of eerily clean-looking white surfaces, punctuated by vivid yellows, blues, or greens, depending on where you are, and the highlighted red objects blend into this perfectly. Additionally, the camera effects while dashing and leaping your way through the city make you truly feel as though you are experiencing all that happens as Faith. We’ve all seen camera shake before but the use of camera offset, blurring, and the animation of Faith’s arms and legs make it look all the more amazing when you’re jumping around the rooftops.
The game’s sound also does a good job of making you feel like you are part of the action. Faith’s breathing will get heavier as she speeds up, and should you end up unfortunately hurtling towards the streets below you will hear the air rushing past your ears before you make impact. The game also effectively ramps up the tension during particularly action-oriented scenarios through its use of fast-tempo techno tunes. Voice acting in the game is generally of a good quality, with Jules de Jongh turning in a particularly good performance as Faith.
The game was written by Rhianna Pratchet, daughter of writer Terry Pratchet, and while the world of Mirror’s Edge has a lot of potential behind it, little in the world ever feels fleshed out enough to be all that interesting. Additionally, there seems to be a strong disconnect between gameplay and story, with a lot of plot advancement happening in animated cutscenes and very little story being injected into the levels themselves. Overall the narrative is just not that engrossing.
Mirror’s Edge provides some fantastic controls, breathtaking visuals, and at its best a great sense of pacing. However, it too often puts its greatest assets to waste by breaking up levels with poor combat, and is held back by the very first-person element it thrives on. This is very likely a game you’ll want to rent, not buy.