The Next 'Leap' In Gaming?
Mirror's Edge is a hard game to review. Part of me absolutely loves it and another part really doesn’t. It’s part exhilarating roller coaster and part frustrating, sloppy mess. Set in the near future, this unnamed city is controlled by an overpowering government that speaks of utopia through force. The idea is that there’s less destruction, less crime, less hate at the cost of individuality. There are those who fight against this though and runners, such as the main protagonist Faith, act as the middle man for these people by carrying information for these people.
This background story never goes beyond this shallow level. Who these individuals are and how they are fighting the government is completely unknown to the gamer. The story has a fairly intriguing premise but in practice, feels a little thrown together. The writing is B-movie bad and the character development is non-existent. The background story is there to set up the main story; a murder mystery involving Faith's sister and a plot to take out all runners in this city. However, this main story is far less intriguing then the background story in premise and, in practice, I ended up not caring at all about the main story. This main story isn't helped by the fact that the cut scenes have a weirdly Flashback or Out of This World look (if they had been created in 1080p) that not only don't fit with the main game's look but actually detract from the emotional impact of the already flat main story.
The presentation is very good because it is so unique. Everything has a clean look about it. The menus are easy to navigate and are very similar to the PS3 or Sony TV menus meaning they are nothing spectacular but very functional all the same. The in-game graphics are very nice. Imagine Portal with more color and you get Mirror's Edge. Many of the textures are low-resolution up close and the animations can be stiff but the atmosphere works really well. The voice acting is suitable but not phenomenal. They actors certainly don’t detract from the game and considering the lines they have to read they did a great job. The music is clearly the high point in the presentation. During action sequences the music picks up and gets the heart pumping and during slower sequences the music mellows down to quiet, atmospheric soundscapes. The music is capped off by one of the best full-fledged songs (by this I mean vocals as well as music) I’ve heard in a game in a long time.
The gameplay of the main single-player campaign centers around three mechanics; puzzle platforming, chases (either chasing or being chased), and fighting. The puzzle platforming is pretty fun especially when you can piece everything together. Basically you’ll be given either an indoor room or a group of buildings in an outdoor setting and will either be asked to go up to some place or hit some switch and then reach some place. Since Mirror's Edge relies on a free-running game mechanic how one gets from point A to point B is entirely up to them. This freedom is nice but a little shallow. Yes the platforming is open-ended but it’s clear the level designers developed one perfect route and several ok, but not very fast, substitutes. This is mostly done because all of the single-player stages also act as time trial races (which I’ll touch on later). The biggest thing this mechanic needed to succeed is that the gameplay, the free running, needed to be fun and for the most part it is. The bad news is that it can be very frustrating. Sometimes the hit detection can be off. There will be times you think you’ve made the perfect jump to a ledge only to fall to your death. The platforming revolves around perfect timing and precision leading to frustration and a huge learning curve. The other point of frustration is, at times, the player will be completely lost. The game comes with an option called “runner’s vision” which makes important objects turn red. However this only turns on when one is right next to the said object and at times the red objects will be the final destination leaving the journey there up to the player. The other option the game comes with is a button (the B button for the Xbox 360 version) that points the camera toward the next location the player needs to go. However the camera directly points the player where to go but doesn’t really help the player determine how to get there. What this gameplay mechanic comes down to is how much the player likes the free running gameplay and how patient they are. If one can stick with the game and understand the techniques employed by the developers this section of the game can be a lot of fun.
The chase sequences are basically like the puzzle platforming but much faster and more streamlined. One will have to perform some strategic platforming but for the most part the idea behind this mechanic is to be fast and carry momentum through various obstacles. For the most part this works. That is until one has to fight. Fighting isn’t terrible it just isn’t all that good. The developers want the player to isolate each bad guy and fight one on one. This would be fine if fighting were a little easier to do. There is no lock-on feature in this game meaning one simply punches and kicks and hopes something lands. The other option is to steal the bad guy’s gun. This also is hit and miss as no matter how much practice one has at taking a weapon away one will still have problems doing it consistently. The other aspect of fighting is shooting weapons. Gunplay is very loose and sloppy. There are three ways to look at this; either the developers intentionally made the gunplay sloppy to discourage it and encourage melee fighting , the developers want the player to realize the protagonist, being a runner, is not accustomed to firing weaponry and therefore is not good at it, or the developers were lazy and threw the gunplay into the game hoping that the game, with violence, would appeal to more people. Regardless the gunplay isn’t very good requiring that one be at near point blank range (unless one uses a sniper rifle which the protagonist, oddly, is very good at handing) for the weapon to hit its desired target.
The other aspects of the gameplay are time trial races and speed runs. The speed runs are the single-player levels set to a time limit. Nothing really special here but a nice, and challenging, add-on. The time trial races are a lot of fun. These consist of various checkpoints set out through various levels of the single-player campaign. Each race has a ranking system from one star to three stars. Getting a one star rating is fairly easy while a three star rating can be very difficult. Each course has one perfect route and many adequate routes. To get a three star rating one must run the perfect route quickly and flawlessly. After each race the player’s scores are recorded and ranked among other players online across the world. These races can be intense but also very frustrating as finding the perfect route, and running it well, is easier said then done. But once you get a good handle on the game these races provide a good, hard challenge. The people who enjoy these races, and constantly try to better their scores, will get the most out of Mirror's Edge as the main single player can be beat in a day or two.
Mirror's Edge is a strange game to review. On the one hand Dice should be applauded for trying something new and Electronic Arts should be applauded for publishing it. This is really a unique game. Many first-person shooters have platforming sequences but none, until Mirror's Edge, made platforming the main aspect of the game. Platforming has becoming a somewhat stale genre usually only existing as segments in games rather then as full-fledged games. The Super Mario Galaxy games helped to keep the genre relevant with exciting new gameplay but the genre can’t survive on Mario alone. Games like Mirror's Edge really help to push the genre forward by not necessarily reinventing the genre but taking it to new and exciting places. On the other hand Mirror's Edge doesn’t feel like a full-fledged game. It feels like a really well made downloadable game with a lot of extras. The story is bad, the game is short, the platforming can be incredibly harsh and frustrating, and the fighting is no where near as good as it should be considering the games this game is up against. We should expect more from games that cost $60. If this game were around $30 I’d say it was a must buy but for $60 I just can’t say that. If you played the demo and liked it, especially if you were one of those that played it over and over again, pick up this game. If you are at least interested in it I’d rent it or wait to buy it when the price goes down.