To give all the platforming and free-running some context, the game is set in a totalitarian society, where information is controlled and sterility is an idealistic and aesthetic preference. The government is oppressive, and the people conform. There isn’t much leeway for going against the grain. So, to circumvent Big Brother’s watchful eye, runners are tasked with transporting sensitive information by vaulting over rooftop over rooftop, sending information when needed. You’re one of them, as you take up the role of Faith.
There’s a lot of potential with a setting like this, but it’s squandered. The game’s plot is largely concerned with a murder mystery involving Faith’s sister, Kate, as she is framed for a murder she didn’t commit. One uninteresting lead leads to another just as uninteresting, all culminating into an ending that doesn’t tie up any loose ends. A bigger, grander story arc does arise around the half-way point, but it’s just as uninteresting. Plot twists are easy to identify, the characters are flat and even calling them one-dimensional is a stretch. Even worse is how the story is presented; most of the game’s cut-scenes use what seems to be Flash. There are clear limitations when using Flash as a visual medium, like animation, and Mirror’s Edge’s cut-scenes suffer from this. If this was a stylistic choice, then I think it was a mistake. On the bright side, the in-game cut-scenes are a lot better. Ultimately, the game’s story acts as a vehicle to get you to the next level, but lacks the motivation to make you want learn more about the game’s character and story.
As you know, we play games to, well, play them, and Mirror’s Edge is truly unique. In the most simple and general terms, it’s like Prince of Persia, except it’s less automated, a little more plausible as far as laws of physics go, and entirely in first-person. Wall-running, pole vaulting and even a tumble or a roll will be seen exclusively through Faith’s eyes. Surprisingly, I didn’t find any of it be disorienting. It just felt right.
And that’s the greatest pro first-person brings to Mirror’s Edge. I felt every motion, jump, fall, maneuver and every face-first death. The sensation is slightly euphoric, extremely exciting, and immeasurably entertaining. That’s Mirror’s Edge at its best: When you’re jumping from rooftop to rooftop and cheating death with every leap as bullets wing and zing past you. The perspective makes it work; it makes Mirror’s Edge unique.
There are huge drawbacks with using first-person for a platformer, too, and DICE unfortunately does nothing to alleviate those issues. Seeing everything through Faith’s eyes is severely limiting; there are times when you have to rebound off a wall, and you’re going to be jumping blind doing it. Trial and error becomes an issue and there’s a lot of guesswork involved with some of the more dangerous and daring sections of the game. It’s not really a matter of timing; without the situational awareness a third-person platformer provides, it’s kind of impossible. Just hope you guessed the timing of your jump correctly the first time or expect to do it over and over again.
Level design also presents an issue. For every rooftop escapade, a cramped interior level shows up. There’s nothing wrong with these levels, but they are not nearly as fun as the exterior ones. They’re a lot more methodical, and you have to really look for stuff you can grab onto. Faith’s runner vision – platforming objects turn red – does keep these areas from being a complete 180 to the game’s pacing, but it just seems to spit in the face of what Mirror’s Edge does best. Again, these corridors are still fun, but the game would’ve benefited from more outdoor spaces.
What is undoubtedly the weakest element of the gameplay is the combat. Disarming the fuzz is satisfying enough; right-click when their gun glows red, and Faith will follow that up with a sweet disarm. Once I actually fired the gun, it felt really clunky and extremely unsatisfying, which is just confounding, considering DICE has been making Battlefied games for over half a decade. There’s also hand-to-hand, which is incredibly basic and completely useless when you’re outnumbered. Generally, most of the combat can be skipped by simply running past all the boys in the blue, but the later sections of the game do force gunplay on you. So, to reiterate: The combat is not good.
Graphically, it’s basically impossible to tell that Mirror’s Edge uses Unreal 3.0 to render the game’s world. Maybe it’s the lack of brown and grays. Whatever the case, Mirror’s Edge has a great art style. Its minimalist, simple color scheme and the clean, sterile look makes for areas that look oddly attractive, kind of like Portal. A lot of visual effects, like depth of field and how everything on the edges of the screen blurs, put me in Faith’s shoes that much more. The game has a tendency to get crazy bright, blindingly bright even, with excessive and overdone use of lighting, but it has a great look nevertheless.
Mirror’s Edge also implements PhysX, which, as the capital “X” implies, provides some extreme physics. Banners tear and rip from bullets, glass shards remain in the game world, and smoke and steam move and sway when you run past. They do nothing to add to the gameplay, but they sure are distracting, because of how impressive it all looks in action. The game can seize up when a lot of extreme physics go on at any given time, but if you’ve got the horsepower, then definitely go for it. Don’t forget to install the latest patch for the game and PhysX drivers. They’ll definitely give you a boost in performance and stability. They did for me.
Audio is, well, I found the audio to be flawless. Perhaps it’s because I have a major bias toward electronic music, but Mirror’s Edge delightfully tickled my auditory senses. The music is simply awesome. If you like ambient electronica, if you like Aphex Twin, if you like Amon Tobin and Kelly Bailey (okay, last one might be a bit of stretch) you’re going to love the music in Mirror’s Edge. Guaranteed. Sound effects are fantastic. The wind rushing past Faith, her breath getting heavier with each successive step and all the little things, like the rustling sound of her clothes do a lot to add to the intrinsic entertainment of running and jumping. This is just fantastic audio work.
Mirror’s Edge is short. 5 hours short. It’s brief, but it’s packed with a ton of exhilarating moments with the odd combat or lull in pacing to put things out of joint for a short while. There’s some nice artwork you can unlock, as well time trials. Pick a level, try your best and then put your times up on leaderboards. You can even get ghosts of people better than you, so you can hopefully get better than them. While not a substitute for a full-on multi-player mode that has you racing against other players in open-ended levels (NOT SO SUBTLE HINT TO DICE), it did make me spend a couple hours trying to better myself. Also, new DLC levels are planned for the end of this month, so Mirror’s Edge has some legs.
Mirror’s Edge is supposedly the first of a trilogy, and as much I don’t like how developers segment their games like this, I want a sequel. DICE has laid out a solid foundation for their new franchise. Spruce up the platforming mechanics, keep with the first-person perspective, either get rid of the combat or improve it, and hire a good writer. Regardless, what we get right here and now is absolutely worth playing.