A True Diamond in The Rough.
The game developer DICE really surprised us back in early 2008 where a little game called Mirror's Edge was released footage of. What surprised us at the time wasn't perhaps the unique art style and stunning graphics, but what they showed really didn't play like anything else out there, and people wondered if the real game would play anything like that. Mirror's Edge is pitched as a first-person parkour game, with the object of getting from point A to point B, not by shooting people but by running on walls, climbing over fences, and jumping over rooftops. On paper it seems to marry one of the worst gameplay elements first person games ever had which is platforming, to make a full game out of it. But how did it actually turn out?
Mirror's Edge is set in a near-future city where there's towering skyscrapers aplenty with all of them made with a combination of cold glass and metal. Basically Apple city. In fact that's probably not a bad comparison because not only is everything made out of glass and metal, but the city police rules everyone with an oppressive fist, watching everyone with security cameras and quick to stop anyone out of line. The result is a squeaky clean city, where each tile on a floor surface looks like no one actually stepped on it. Naturally this oppressive and watchful eye of the city leads privacy to be desired in forms of communication and shipping of packages without it be torn apart by some TSA officer. That's where you come in.
You play as Faith, a female “runner”. A runner's job is to get to get from point A, and deliver a package to point B without the package getting mangled with some authorities. To do that, the runners require to go on paths that would be difficult for police to chase after you and catch you. So they employ their parkour skills to jump on rooftops, vault over boxes, and slide down zip lines to lose to cops. If your wondering if the games objectives are just delivering packages, well unfortunately that concept only lasts for the first mission of the game. The story ends up being about a murder, who's Faith's sister who is a cop, is framed for, and develops into this mystery as to why the cops are suddenly out for the runners and who was the real murderer and why. The story is alright, but the characters and dialog perhaps need a bit of work. There not bad by any stretch but they try to act as if you've invested heavily into these characters that when something happens to them you should care, but you really don't because there's not enough interaction between these characters to develop any meaningful depth. The saving grace however is the relationship between Faith and her sister, which develops enough that at the end of the game there's a satisfying connection between them.
Presentation can be described as a bit odd with the “Esurance” style cartoons to move the story along, but there's probably good reason why they did that. Unfortunately the facial animations and models don't seem to be good enough to accurately translate the story across, so it's probably for the better they used that style of presentation for the story. Still you feel like they could have done something better.
Regardless, if your interested in Mirror's Edge, chances are it's for it's gameplay and curiosity if it works or not. The good news is it does, the mechanics and platforming work, even in a first-person viewpoint. The controls are responsive and reliable on both 360 and PC, but do get a little bit getting used to especially in the beginning, but that's basically the whole point of the game. Faith never unlocks new parkour abilities or run any faster, the game presents itself in a very “Skate” style where as the game progresses, the only person getting any better at the game is yourself, what you get at the beginning is just what you get in the end. The game also never does anything automatically for you, anything you do in the game is of your own actions, for instance if you fall off a high height, faith will stop all movement and take damage as she takes the full impact of the fall. But if you fall of a high height and hit the crouch button, she will tuck and roll conserving her momentum and not taking any damage. This sort of constant involvement is like driving a manual car vs an automatic. It could be too much to handle for some but it ultimately leads to a more satisfying experience. Fortunately the main game never requires you to do the more elaborate moves if you can't, the only benefit to doing something more complicated is to get from A to B faster and the own personal satisfaction of executing things smoothly. Which is probably a plus to Mirror's Edge in that it compels you to do something more challenging and better without requiring tangible benefit out of it.
Unfortunately it's not all peaches and cream for Mirror's Edge's gameplay. A lot of the sequences have police officers opening fire at you while your running as fast as you can, jumping over obstacles and running on walls. It's exciting, in fact I'd call it 21 century Pac-Man because Pac-Man was the first concept of running away from enemies instead of killing them. However there's some sequences that require you to use the games combat mechanics to fight these police officers. The mechanics are a simple attack button that throws punches and kicks depending on the situation of faith. Run and attack, and faith will throw a punch up to 3 combos, jump and attack and faith will do a kick, slide and attack and faith will do a sliding kick. However the other way to take down enemies is when you get close enough they'll start to melee you with their gun, in which it will turn red for a moment and if you hit the action button at the right time, Faith will initiate a take-down that results in a cool animation and Faith taking their gun, to assist you with that, Faith has an ability to go into slow mo, allowing lots of time to do it correctly. The problem is that the combat sequences involve most of time time with at least 3 enemies at once, and if you do the take the enemies weapon, if another enemy is next to you, they'll just start shooting you while your doing the animation. Resulting in frustrating deaths abound. You can use the guns in the game, but carrying most of them limits your ability to parkour, and the shooting isn't entirely satisfying, though it doesn't have to be as the guns are like power-ups that you pick up, empty the magazine, drop the weapon and move on. Think of it like Pac-Man's power pellet. It would have been fine if it was just 1 or at most 2 enemies, where you take down one, take his gun and shoot the next and move on, but because there's just 3 or more people sometimes, it can get frustrating and certainly kill the pace of the action. Compounding that is the problem that the police officers have a really big window of opportunity to take their weapon, where the swat officers have a really short window, causing some easy deaths.
Combat isn't the only thing that kills the pace of the game. There is a unique and innovative way that Mirror's Edge presents it's pathing and telling where the player to go. It paints certain objects like boxes, walls, or pipes red, even though their not that color in the world, justifying that runners see the world differently than other people. It's a fantastic idea in concept it's just that they didn't go far enough with it. There's not enough stuff that's painted red to tell you exactly where to go and how to do, so much so that the game implement a hint system that if you press it, will make faith look in the direction where she needs to go. The problem with that too is that it seems like they added it at the last minute because a lot of the time you'll be looking up or an area where you need to go but no idea how to get there. This can lead to a lot of circumstances where your standing around trying to figure out where to go, and in some instances while getting shot at. Couple that with some unnecessary ventilation shaft crawling, and turning of pipes to open doors or shut of a water or steam line that’s in your way, it really kills the pace of the game sometimes. On the Xbox360 I highly recommend installing it to your hard drive because there are sometimes where there are loading sequences while your in the middle of running. Which REALLY kills the pace of the game, however if you install the game, these events basically never happen. There are elevators that separate sections of a level and this concept is hit and miss, from a design stand point it seems okay since its there to mask the loading times, and the game can get so intense that a small break from each of the sections is quite welcomed, but at sometimes you feel like it kills the pace of the action.
But through all these issues, it almost seems excusable. Because when everything goes right in this game, it just delivers this satisfying and smooth adrenaline rush while your running around this amazingly artistic environment. Bottom line, there's simply no game that does this. It has an almost rhythm game style of attraction to it's gameplay that it's not about if you know what to do, but how you do it, and even if you go back to the same level over and over again, doing the same jumps in the same places, it never feels old because the challenge is in actually executing those moves. And when your able to chain several jumps, rolls, and wall runs perfectly, you feel like a rock star. The presentation when your running, how your peripheral vision will start to blur, Faith's heavy breathing and footsteps, and how her hands will pop up in the screen as she's running just work perfectly when the game all works. (If you own a PC with a proper Nividia card, PhsyX even adds more onto the satisfaction.) I think I can just sum up the gameplay that it's flawed for sure, but when it works the controls feel analog, they feel living, and above all satisfying.
As a proposition of value these days, Mirror's Edge for better or for worse is now selling for $20 on Origin and Steam, so the question is more “is it worth my time?” I think with that, you should really play the Mirror's Edge demo on the consoles. If you enjoyed that in any way, and enjoy the prospect of playing more of it, the full version of Mirror's Edge is exactly that. If your worried about value, if you enjoy Mirror's Edge it's gameplay leads it's single-player to be almost infinitely replayable. If that's not enough, there are also several dedicated time trial maps that are different than the main single-player and of course speedrun modes for the main single-player. However if your only going to go through it once, Mirror's Edge is at most a 6 hour experience first time through.
I find it hard to review Mirror's Edge, a game which I spent 50 hours playing in a 6 hour single-player. It's not that what other reviewers say is wrong or incorrect, it's just because after that amount of time you start to pick up on what the game really wanted to be, and are capable of doing a couple of tricks to get around those problems and make the game really work, like wall running then executing a kick on a guard so his back is turned against you and you can take is weapon automatically. Or the fact that the issues with the environment not exactly being clear about telling you where to go, fading away as you are already familiar with the map and are able to enjoy the free flowing game that it is. Mirror's Edge is a weird game where the more you play it, the better the game gets, and the worst part is that you have to play it for the first time. If you don't have the patience to play a game multiple times even as short as Mirror's Edge I understand, but if you do, you'll discover possibly one of the most unique and enjoyable gaming experience that you can't get anywhere else.