canuckeh's Mirror's Edge (Xbox 360) review

Will recommend insurance to the player.

Mirror’s Edge : A first person RUNNING game from Electronic Arts and Battlefield 1942-developer Dice.

Story : So evil corporations are ruling and oppressing the masses with their…well they’re evil alright, and whatever makes then so evil is enough to warrant a group of “runners” who leap across rooftops to give each other information that this evil corporation doesn’t want you to know about. Plot develops into some kind of not-really-well-explained conspiracy involving protagonist Faith’s sister being framed for murder and you getting to the bottom of this. The motivations for all parties involved isn’t exactly explained other than “the bad guys are evil companies” and “the good guys are sticking it to them” and for all I know, the plot was written by a graphic designer who wears a Che Guevara shirt and listens to Rage Against the Machine without being too certain why it who it is that he’s being told to kill in the name of. The cinematics between missions all employ that Flash-like computer animation style that’s common in several cartoons and Esurance commercials. Oh, and the story sucks. Try not to laugh during the final sequence. Your laughter, however, will be more emotion displayed than throughout the entire game.

Oh, and being a new franchise in this console generation, the game attempts to set up a sequel or five.

Mirror’s Edge leaves a killer first impression. After you go through the tutorial where you chase around an ally-turned-plot-device across the city as a means of explaining the unorthodox control scheme, the game throws you into an exciting first level (also the game’s demo), where the player leaps from building to building, pulling deft-defying maneuvers and watching in awe as Faith reacts to the world around her, all the while bullets are whizzing past. All of this hits a crescendo where you grab onto the side of a helicopter, which swings around dramatically before descending in front of a glass building, as Faith stares into her reflection and looks like she’s having deep thoughts, as if the designers think this game is smarter than it really is.

The pitch to Mirror’s Edge, if you will, is that the game is a platformer akin to the recent Prince of Persia games, but with a first person perspective and in a utopian city. Faith runs, jumps, slides, shimmies, wall-runs, rolls out of falls and generally dies a lot as she makes her way across a linear path. There’s a great emphasis on the “first person” aspect as smart vision effects and camera positioning makes you feel like you are indeed in the head of someone that’s in a hurry. You’ll knock down many doors and it always feels like a jarring experience. To compliment this emphasis on speed, the shoulder buttons have been redesigned for all you’re navigational needs. There’s a button for actions involving going UP, a button for actions that involve going DOWN, a button for turning around, and a button for destroying other things or lives.

The name of the game is momentum and the more you run or wall-run, the faster you go and the more of an adrenaline junkie you feel like. You’ll definitely have a world of this loveable momentum for that first level, but later missions are designed less for running and more for fidgeting around the game world. I guess you could call it someone’s idea of a puzzle element, but you’ll often find yourself jumping and trying to cling on to every object in a room trying to find out what it is the game wants you to latch on to and thus use to advance. It also hurts that a large chunk of the game is not played in those high-altitude building-jumping environments but indoors, in confined spaces like boiler rooms and such, where you have less room to soar and more of a need to find the exact pipe that you need to shimmy across.

And then there are the guards. I was led to believe that one would be able to avoid confrontation in Mirror’s Edge with enough skill, but the alternative to not trying to engage the enemy is to get shot at while you climb the necessary ladder. Your best bet is usually to try to wall-run and then drop kick an enemy, but later levels see the enemies realize that this is a runner’s technique of choice and thus avoid the walls altogether. Faith’s boxing skills are below amateur and thus you won’t get far engaging in fisticuffs, so you’re best alternative is to time a button press with you’re enemy’s melee attack to instantly KO him and swipe his gun (and whatever ammo is in the clip). While gun combat is preferred over fist-fighting armed guards for countless obvious reasons, the shooting mechanics in this game are far from spot-on as well; headshots aren’t anymore damaging than leg shots and its all trial-and-error oriented. Mis-time your counterattack by a split-second and you’re as good as gunned down and starting back at the last checkpoint, ready to bolt at the armed guard head on to try it again.

The later levels seem to get worse and worse in all of the above regards. There’s less of the thrilling outdoor sequences and more of the claustrophobic indoor frustration…and plenty more guards to kill your Faith. There are only nine missions, equally about 6 hours of gameplay, and I guess I should just be thankful that there’s no arbitrary fetch quest or back-tracking, but I couldn’t say that I was having fun playing the actual content. It seems that to properly get a thrill out of Mirror’s Edge, you need to memorize levels (and I mean really memorize them), and then replay them in time trial mode so you can brag about your times online…or post gameplay videos of breezing through a level on Youtube. If this game does one thing right, it’s that if you can finish a level without a single flaw in your approach, then you’re Mirror’s Edge bragging-rights video will look more cinematic and breathtaking than someone’s Super Metroid speed-run video. So I guess this game’s best value is not in playing it yourself but watching other people better than you playing.

But Mirror’s Edge does put me in an awkward position. It’s an original gameplay concept and I tend to feel that these should be awarded, and I tend to think that if the game succeeds, then a sequel could improve and polish this concept into something unique and exhilarating. But if you were to ask me whether or not to buy Mirror’s Edge, the answer would be “no, unless you like to post videos on Youtube of you beating Super Mario Bros in 15 minutes.” The art style of the game is strong but the gameplay is an exercise in frustration and you’ll experience most of the greatest possible thrills within the first level or two.

Pros : …amazingly, I’ve neglected to talk about the game’s visual style, which is mostly breathtaking I guess.

Cons : To post your time trials online, you need to surrender your e-mail address and sign up for an EA Account.

3 1/2 stars

I am fully aware I described myself in the story paragraph.
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