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

Has moments of pure genius but boils down to trail and error

Mirror's Edge is something to keep your tattooed eye on. The game is not quite ready to be a masterpiece but it might eventually get there if EA actually listens to critics. It's a slick journey through a vivid world, but it is also encumbered with painfully frustrating hurdles and precarious gameplay. Players beware: you will curse.

The main problem with Electronic Art's new baby is the pacing. We have a game based around freestyling ("parkouring", for all you Euro-types), which translates to large dozes of running and jumping over urban trappings. And though the running part is decently executed the game also gives players a healthy serving of "figure out what the designers were thinking". I personally hate figuring out what designers were thinking, because it usually ends with me being scraped off the sidewalk and being forced to watch the same level reload a hundred times. Mirror's Edge has a lot of "reloading", mainly because pressure put on the player makes it hard to discern where you have to go and how to get there. If you are expecting a fast-paced ballet of action, get ready to put in more hours getting used to the levels than actually enjoying the game. A single playthrough isn't enough, simply because Mirror's Edge is best played once you know what to do.

REFLECTIONS OF A NOT-SO-DISTANT FUTURE

Electronic Arts does a great job staging a futuristic world where dissident couriers called Runners are the last bastion of free speech in a perfectly sterile society that controls all means of communication. The world is clean and comfortable for those who abide by its Orwellian rules. Those who reject it are cast out. We never see the outcasts but we know they are a happy lot. Runners are their lifeblood because unrepressed communication means their freedom. Ironically, Runners live above both societies under the clean, blue sky, dashing from building to building on the edge, leaving behind them but a reflection on the mirrored windows of corporate sky rises. Hence the name: Mirror's Edge.

The story revolves around a nimble Runner, Faith, embroiled in a conspiracy that involves her sister, a cop, who was framed for murder. As conspiracies go this one is your typical yarn with the expected betrayals and twists -- in short, nothing extraordinary. But the plot is told through exquisitely animated cutscenes worthy of a good anime. Electronic Arts does a wonderful job with colors like few games before it, accentuating the sterile nature of the city in contrasting shades of white, blue and red.

Mirror's Edge offers an interesting feature called Runner Vision, which shows us the world through the eyes of a Runner by painting objects of interest in red, like doors, pipes, beam and ramps that can be used to parkour through. It helps. What doesn't help is constant pressure put on players and tenacious first-perspective.

BETWEEN THE GLOSS AND THE REALITY

Like its closest rival, Prince of Persia, Faith can climb, wall-run, swing on poles and bounce off walls. But that's where the similarities end. Faith can also slide, zip-line, jump over objects and bounce off specific items. Players can roll into a ball while landing from high up and spin around 180 at a whim. Levels are cleverly designed around the game's running mechanics. You don't simply jump over objects, you freestyle through them in sprint. We see Faith's arms, legs and body as she flows through the levels.

All this running around in first-perspective without a HUD or life meter can be a bit dizzying at times but it makes parkouring that much more fun and realistic. The game could have really benefited from some third-perspective action, though, especially while wall-running and performing other precise maneuvering. It almost feels like Electronic Arts refused to add a third-perspective feature out of fear that Mirror's Edge would be labeled a Prince of Persia clone. Some advice: don't play this game with your parents around. They'll be astonished at how many swear words you can string together when you careen to your death for the X'ed time because you didn't give Faith the right amount of time to properly pivot before bouncing off a wall, or because you didn't quite connect with a wall before wall-running or walking a narrow ledge.

There were parts in Mirror's Edge were I stopped expecting to reach my objective and started counting the new ways I would die. That's a not a good thing for a game that prides itself for being fast-paced; dying sort of puts a halt on things. It's one of those games that requires you to die until you figure out how to approach certain parts, or better, how not to approach them. This is clearly the biggest flaw. Pressing a button focuses Faith's vision at an objective, but that feature still needs work. Your Runner will often aim at the final goal, ignoring the ones in between, giving players the wrong idea how to tackle a level.

The environment is killer. One false step and the white settings below get a new shade of red. But if falling to your death because of awkward controls wasn't enough, EA added rabid cops trying to mow you down with everything but heavy artillery (actually they have that too in the form of military choppers). The result is Faith running for her life like a gazelle just about anywhere she goes, crashing through doors to always escape in the nick of time. Again, it's exciting… when you don't die. And die you will.

"RUN FAITH RUN"

Electronic Arts has a good concept on their hands. The ultimate effect resembles the cult movie "Run Lola Run", where a slim female character always manages to hit the elevator button before the bad guys get to her. At times your heart will pump as fast as Faith's. Things unfortunately often go wrong when you have bullets whistling past your ear. Jumping over structures like fences and pipes is a pleasure in itself. Had the game omitted much the bullet action in favor of more parkouring, things would have felt less tedious. Players will often find themselves looking for a vent shaft or the next plank to jump on while gunners are practicing their aim on you.

Combat is designed around Faith's physical ability, not her skill with firearms. The latter doesn't even let her reload. When a gun is empty she has to drop it and find another. Theoretically Faith has all the skills needed to take on any adversary in hand-to-hand combat. In practice, though, players will prefer blasting someone away -- much easier. In theory, our Runner can grab and disarm an opponent at an opportune moment (when the weapon turns red). In practice, your opponent always has three or four mates watching his back. In theory Faith can wall-run and kick her opponents into the ground. In practice, your opponents rarely stand next to a wall long enough for you to perform any acrobatics. A time slow-down feature helps players perform the aforementioned moves, though results may vary depending on the surroundings and opponents -- some enemies are harder to time your grabs against.

EA should have changed the premise of most scenes. Most of the time odds are stacked a bit too high against us. Having played through the entire single player mode I never had a chance to unexpectedly disarm an opponent, even though according to the tutorial it is possible.

Ultimately, Mirror's Edge starts too quickly, especially with so much potential. How do Runners perform jobs? How do regular citizens react to them? How do their employers live? How do cops behave under "normal" circumstances? What does Faith do in her spare time? We don't know because the game begins in "fugitive" mode. A few normal Runner missions and street-level stages would have set the tone and deepened the world our heroine lives in. Not always having a target on her back would have also allowed Faith to fully use her skills.

But despite the shortcomings, Electronic Arts still does a great job conveying this new playground. Complimenting the clean graphics is an amazing futuristic ambient score. Voice acting is also superb, though your guide, Merc, could have been more helpful and cops have a stupid habit of shooting first then yelling "stop or we'll shoot!" Sound effects are detailed and plentiful. Faith sometimes groans a bit too much, even while doing the smallest of things, but her presence is well established, both visually and audibly.

The game is rather short, clocking in between 5 and 10 hours, however a second playthrough is recommended to fully enjoy the experience. Speed Run mode is nothing more than rehashed solo missions with a timer. Time Trial is where the fun is at. It allows players to run through checkmarks without the cop presence. Too bad EA didn't expand on it, like adding NPC Runners to square off against and creating open-ended "freestlye" races. One has to wonder if the game would have been better off focusing more on Time Trial missions similar to Need for Speed or Midnight Club rather than plain old Story mode. The latter almost seems inadequate. Multiplayer is reserved for the most fanatic of fans. I wouldn't attempt any of the multiplayer modes before having mastered all the levels; it's required to even have the slightest chance against all the young Runners out there.

SUMMARY


Mirror's Edge delivers a solid performance for its first attempt but it wobbles in some parts. The game can be infuriating at times due to trial and error. Too much is asked of Faith. She's a Runner but the game treats her like an 80's action hero. Levels are well designed, unfortunately there is always someone trying to kill you, and they usually have friends, which limits the player's choices and reaction time. The concept would have been more interesting had it shown us more of this futuristic world and less of the whole "conspiracy". It's recommended to hardcore gamers.


GRAPHICS 85
Excellent levels with beautiful colors. The future never looked cleaner. Lack of HUD and seeing parts of Faith's body adds to realism. Not enough street missions.

GAMEPLAY 70
1st-perspective can be frustrating. Cop pressure limits player choices resulting in needless trial and error. Good controls and speed mechanics.

PRODUCTION 72
Great animated scenes. Future conveyed well but more could have been done. Missed chances to elaborate the Runner lifestyle. Extra modes lack creativity.

SOUND 80
Nice ambient music and plenty of cool sound effects, especially when running. A few miscued voice effects and missed chances to improve gameplay with Merc.

LASTING APPEAL 75
Solo lasts 5-10 hours but replaying the game can be fun, especially in Time Trial. Lackluster extras. Online modes reserved for the best players.

OVERALL 76

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