Creating something new and fresh in a world driven by sequels is no easy task. Most companies usually don’t have the money to lose on an unknown franchise. Thankfully the fine folks at EA have decided that 2008 is the year to usher in some new franchises and so far the results have been pleasantly surprising. Mirror’s Edge is the latest in this trend and it comes from the same folks responsible for the Battlefield franchise. The idea is relatively simple; create a platformer that moves at blazing speeds in first-person and throw in some spectacular acrobatics (based on the free-running phenomenon known as parkour) and a hint of combat. All of this results in one of the most innovative experiences on a console to date.
The story follows Faith, a runner whose job is to deliver information in an underground network. The catch to the story is that it takes place in a future where the government has removed a lot of the freedoms we take for granted creating a dull and unimaginative society. During the course of the game you quickly discover that Faith’s sister Kate has been framed for murder and it becomes your job to clear her name. The rest of the game has Kate using her slick running abilities to evade Blues (cops) and uncover the mystery behind why her sister was set up.
The story serves mostly as a catalyst to move you from chapter to chapter. While it sounds intriguing on paper it doesn’t translate very well into the game for a variety of reasons. The first being that none of the characters are ever fleshed out besides Kate, her sister and Merc, the man you hear in your headset the majority of the game. Everything else feels forced making the story the least important part of the game. The second issue is that while the game is presented in a gorgeous 3D world the cut scenes are told through blocky animated sequences that really pull you out of the experience. Honestly it would have benefited the game to simply tell the entire story through the first-person perspective the game is played in.
Pulling of this type of game entirely from a first-person perspective was certainly no easy task and I applaud what the team has done here. We have all experienced shooters from this point of view but when you imagine having to perform pinpoint jumps without the luxury of seeing your character the challenge quickly increases. Dice has done an excellent job of making the game accessible thanks to the simple button layout. Tapping the left bumper makes you jump while the left trigger is basically a duck button. You can combine these two actions in mid-air to lift your legs over dangerous obstacles or to just make that tricky jump.
The right bumper is used to a quick turn that spins Faith 180 degrees in the opposite direction. This can also be combined with other maneuvers such as wall running to reach other areas that you simply cannot jump to. The right trigger is your one and only attack button and it operates several different action depending on the context of the situation. For instance you can use your momentum of running, tap the duck button to slide and then pull the right trigger to make Faith kick an unsuspecting foe in the shins. You can then continue the combo once you reach your feet with the right trigger and perform a punch combo.
One thing you will have to discover early on is that Mirror’s Edge is based entirely on momentum. Making crucial jumps can be decided by how much speed you had coming into said jump. As you run through the game the longer you hold a continuous sprint the faster Faith will get. The faster she is moving the more distance she will get on jumps and the quicker she will pull herself up onto ledges. This can also lead to some untimely deaths because you will be breezing through any area and suddenly make a leap from a ledge only to realize that your angle was off as you plummet to your death.
The environments are all brightly colored locales that take place primarily on the rooftops. As you move throughout you will see certain objects highlighted in red as you approach them, this is called runner’s vision. Basically it means Faith sees something she can use to traverse such as a pipe, a ramp or even a stack of bricks to use for elevation. This feature can be turned off, but it does help with finding the fastest and most productive route through some of the environments, which is crucial when going for top times in the time trial mode.
Moving throughout each environment can be extremely satisfying when it works, but one of the biggest issues I found myself falling into was not being able to judge certain jumps and falling to my death over and over. The problem here is that when everything in the game gels it really works and when it doesn’t it becomes overly frustrating. Some of the monotony is broken up by encounters with the Blues. Most of the time you can run past them and it adds to the tension, but other times you are forced to deal with them.
Taking on more than one at a time is instant death, so it is best to single them out. Combat works well enough to get by, but when you are forced to use it things can get wearisome. Gunplay is not the game’s strongest point, so much in fact I rarely used firepower to solve my enemy woes. The hand-to-hand stuff works well, but you will quickly find yourself moving into one combo and sticking with it. Faith can also disarm enemies by tapping a button when the gun flashes red. This is easier when combined with the focus mode that slows down the action, but performing it on-the-fly in real time is extremely rewarding.
My biggest complaint about the game though is that it simply never ventures outside of the two core elements. There is one boss fight that combines the two, and was the highlight of the game for me, but for the brief stint the game lasts you will be treading familiar ground over and over. It is probably a good thing the game clocks in at roughly five hours, because anything more would have felt dragged out. Once you complete the single-player experience you can unlock an ample amount of time trials and try to best your scores in the online leaderboards, but outside of that there is little else to keep you coming back.
Visually the game is a nice blend of bright environments and light primary colors. The outdoor locales are especially impressive for the sheer amount of viewing distance; the levels are expansive and nicely detailed. The indoor environments feel a bit claustrophobic, especially from the perspective, but the transition from inside to out is worth mentioning because of the way your eyes have to adjust to the change in illumination. The cut scenes as I mentioned are the biggest downside as they don’t fit well into the universe, but everything else looks and feels unique and fresh. The voice acting is actually not bad, but the dialogue itself keeps you from investing too much into each character. The music is very mood setting, so much in fact you won’t even realize it is there most of the time until you stop to notice it.
Mirror’s Edge was a risky endeavor to take and for the most part it succeeded in creating a new and creative experience. Most of its technical flaws can be attributed to the perspective as opposed to the design and you can’t help but commend the work Dice has done with this first effort. The game length could easily be a deterrent for gamers not wanting to invest $60 for a mere five hours of game time, especially if they have no interest in participating in the time trial portion of the game, but I highly recommend everyone at least check out this inventive take on the genre.