Developed by DICE
Released: 12 January 2009 (Windows)
Platforms: PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, Windows
No spoilers to be found here!
Developer DICE had created some of the biggest first-person shooter in the video game industry and it was therefor a surprise to see them release a very different game, Mirror’s Edge. Mirror’s Edge is a first-person platform game based on speed and momentum. You run from rooftop to rooftop avoiding enemies and perform some amazing parkour. It feels like the natural evolution of the platforming genre and is great fun to play. However, the game is not only about running, as it also features a story and some basic combat. Both of these aspects are bland and forgettable, considerably slowing down a game all based around speed. Mirror’s Edge is a fun game that simply has to many issues that keeps it from reaching greatness.
Mirror’s Edge takes place in a not so distant future, set in a Utopian city where everyone is happy and crime-rates are low. Not everything is perfect however, as this is a totalitarian regime where citizens are spied on constantly. To counter this the runners were created, messengers speeding through the rooftops delivering information. You play as Faith, a young runner, as she gets involved in a conspiracy involving the new candidate for mayor and her own sister.
When Mirror’s Edge was developed, story and character wasn’t the main focus and it shows. While I do think the world they have created is interesting, it’s clear that both the world and story-line is only there to push the player forward and experience more gameplay. There is barely any story-moments in-game, as most of it is told in 2d-animated cut scenes in between chapters. DICE probably didn’t want to spend too much money on storytelling I do think these cut scenes work. But like I said, the story is only really there in order for me to want to continue the game. During the first few chapters I was somewhat intrigued, but as the game progressed I quickly lost interest. It is not very captivating and most of it’s twists and turns fell flat for me.
The characters are okay, I really like the design of Faith and she is also a fairly decent character. She has that young, energetic and rebellious side which her voice actress manages to deliver on really well. But you have seen this type of character before and therefore Faith isn’t that memorable. Other than that I like her boss Merc, a bit clichéd, but the voice acting is solid and he is pretty likable. Other than that there are barely any characters in the game. As you can see, story and characters wasn’t the biggest priority of the game and it shows, it is pretty average, an interesting setting with okay characters and a forgettable plot.
What Mirror’s Edge is all about is gameplay, fast-paced, heart-pounding gameplay. This is probably the first time that I played a fully fledged first-person platform game (if you don’t count Metroid Prime, but I don’t) and I have to say that it works wonderfully. The gameplay consists of you running, building up speed and then jumping over gaps, swinging on poles, wall-running, falling and rolling and whatever you could hope for in a first person platforming game. The sense of speed and immersion while playing is unmatched, you quickly learn the controls and become one with this game, running around at crazy speeds and trying all different tricks. Since there are so many different ways to pull of moves, you can get real creative and it makes Mirror’s Edge very fun and rewarding to play. It feels like a logical progression of the platforming genre and I’m curious to why we haven’t seen any other games with similar gameplay since this one came out. The game follows a linear structure so there is always a limit to how creative you can get with you parkour, as it is not fully open world. It does not however become an issue, as the areas you visit are open enough in order to reward creative thinking. Overall, a great idea for gameplay with wonderful execution.
Other than the gameplay, what sticks out to me about Mirror’s Edge is how utterly fantastic it looks and still does over 8 years after release. While the graphics themselves are pretty good, with some occasional low-res textures, it is the art style and aesthetics that makes it look so amazing. The game has a really simple color-scheme, everything is white and clean, with some items being in different colors. This creates a beautiful minimalist theme that is downright gorgeous at times. During some in-doors section they fill entire rooms with different and interesting color schemes that look wonderful as well. This gives Mirror’s Edge an unforgettable look, but it’s not only visual. Since you run around at very high speeds, you don’t want to slow down in order to find the correct path to take. The game solves this with runner vision, explained as an instinctual ability to recognize potential pathways. What this means for the game is that certain items will be marked in red, making them stand out from everything else and are therefore easy to spot. These red items guide you through the chapters and you rarely have to slow down to find them. I think this was a very smart solution, as you can now play the game without slowing down to look for the correct path, as it is always shown to you. A perfect example of an amazing art style that manages to look great even with aged graphics and at the same time helps out with the gameplay. Simply amazing.
The music of Mirror’s Edge is fast-paced and energetic, perfect for when you are speeding through rooftops avoiding bullets trying to find the correct way. When I listen to it I get a sense of freedom and motivation, perfectly encapsulating everything Mirror’s Edge stands for. Maybe not something I would buy, but I will surely ad this to my programming playlist.
Mirror’s Edge is a very unique game, but I can’t stop making parallels to Portal. Both are smaller, experimental games from big developers who usually make shooters. They both features platforming in the first person, where speed and momentum is key. Both games also have bigger sequels and huge fan bases. To top it all of, both end credit songs in the games are called “Still Alive” and are great in their own way. However, where I think that Portal is a game that succeeded with basically everything it did, I can’t say the same for Mirror’s Edge. There is one aspect of the game drags it from being a fantastic game to merely pretty good one and that is the combat.
While the moment to moment gameplay and level-design of Mirror’s Edge blend together perfectly and create an excellent sense of speed and agility, the same can’t be said for the combat. It is disappointing to see that such big part of the gameplay goes against this design principle entirely, making the whole game suffer. Let me illustrate with an example. Let’s say you are running on a roof, grabbing a ledge, making a leap of faith, grabbing a zip-line and glide across to another roof. There you are met with three armed enemies, all shooting at you. Instead of continuing on you flowing streak, you slow down and start mashing the left mouse key in order to hit the closest guy. You then grab his weapon and, slowed by the weight of the gun, make it to cover and then peak out once in a while in order to take out the remaining guys. Notice how much the last part sticks out from the earlier? This rings true for the entire game, as soon as enemies are sighted and you are forced to attack them, the game becomes a chore.
The combat is not fun for a number of reasons, the biggest being how it simply doesn’t mesh well with the otherwise fast-paced gameplay. The other reason is that the combat mechanics don’t work particularity well. Faith has a simply punch, kick and disarm-attack, but non of them feel any good to use as it all boils down to mashing a mouse key until the enemy falls. As mentioned, you can also pick up weapons that enemies drop. The weapons are pretty easy to use, except lacking an iron sights, but also feel out of place. You can’t run with weapons, something that forces you to take a lot of shelter and peek out to hit your enemies. As you can see, the problems with the hand-to-hand combat can also be found in the gun play, it doesn’t feel like it belongs in a game such as Mirror’s Edge and is in and of itself not that satisfying to use.
But since this game is about running at fast speeds, maybe you could simply outrun your enemies and avoid combat entirely? Well, you can do that sometimes. In the more open areas you can run away from enemies and it is exhilarating to hear the bullets being fired behind you. But in some cases it simply is impossible as some rooms are locked. You open them by turning a slow wheel, making you an easy target. Other times there simply are too many enemies in an open area, also making it impossible for you to run away without being shot down. Your instructor sometimes says that you need to stop and fight, making it clear that DICE wants you to fight at times. The combat seems to be the biggest criticism with the game and from what I can see from the sequel, DICE seems to have improved the combat substantially. Hopefully none of these issues will have to be brought up in my review for that game.
Then there are some small flaws with the game, and since this is a game about precision and speed, become really irritating. I think the worst thing is that you objective isn’t always clear, making you slow down and trying to figure out how to continue. This is sometimes due to unclear level design, sometimes your camera-indicator is bugged and sometimes the game simply offers unclear instructions. At one point I had to make it out of a mall and I tried over and over to get out of a certain spot not understanding what to do. Finally, by mistake, I punched one of the windows, breaking it and making my escape through it. The problem is, the game never told me that I could punch glass and all glass before couldn’t be punched. As far as I could tell, no glass could be broken after it as well, that is plain bad design.
Final negative, the story as mentioned before isn’t that spectacular, it is an interesting world, but the main plot is clichéd and pretty forgettable. This sadly creates problems in the level design, as some stages doesn’t add anything to the story making them feel like padding. They can’t include very interesting things in the level-design since it all has to fit in their story. If the plot barely moves along between a few chapters, then the levels can’t have many exiting set pieces. It would make no sense for Faith to scale some interesting landmark if she has to rush to some meeting during two of the middle chapters. Simply, there are only 9 levels and a few to many are to unremarkable.
I really appreciate Mirror’s Edge. It was a creative risk for DICE, as it was an entirely new IP and featured a different genre than what their core audience likes to play. Mirror’s Edge is the first real first-person platforming game that I can remember playing and it’s gameplay is both creative and wonderfully realized. It is so much fun to simply run around and try to progress through the level with creative parkour. The level design is excellent and lends very well to this style of platforming. The art style is amazing and despite being 8 years old, the game still looks fantastic. The music is also very fitting and energetic. But Mirror’s Edge does have some pretty big issues. Firstly, the combat does not fit well at all with the game, making it a chore to play during these numerous sections. The mechanics of the combat are also very unfulfilling, making this at times a huge issue. Then there also are some problems with a lacking story and a few moments of irritation sprinkled throughout. I applaud DICE for taking a shot at this creative idea and make something entirely unique. Sure, it is by no means perfect and does have some major issues but is at it’s core a really fun game to play and certainly worth your time. Except for the combat sections, get someone else to play them for you.
Cover image source: coolvibe.com