DICE has had a very productive year. This past summer they released the explosive first-person shooter Battlefield: Bad Company and now their latest title, Mirror’s Edge, is hitting store shelves. Both games are viewed from first-person perspectives but that’s where the similarities end. Bad Company was a combat-intensive experience, whereas Mirror’s Edge is a little more artistic as it presents a Parkour-inspired adventure. It’s a departure for DICE to be sure and is easily one of more unique offerings on the market this holiday season, but is that reason enough to take a leap of faith with Mirror’s Edge?
Mirror’s Edge is set in a utopian city ruled by a totalitarian government, a regime that regulates nearly every aspect of public and private life. In a world where information is monitored, messengers called Runners are the only way to communicate freely. Enter Faith, the female protagonist and one such Runner. When Faith’s sister Kate is framed for the murder of a mayoral candidate that people thought would bring change to the government, Faith sets out to locate the real killer and quickly finds herself on the run from the law after uncovering a corrupt plot that not only threatens her existence, but that of every Runner in the city. The story is interesting and well written, and hints, through the credits, of something further beyond the game’s conclusion.
Let’s get one thing out of the way: Mirror’s Edge is not a first-person shooter. It’s a first-person action game that stresses the use of Parkour to get around the cityscape and ultimately avoid combat whenever possible. You’ll jump, slide, vault, springboard, wall climb, wall run, balance walk and skillroll - as well as use objects within the environment like ziplines, pipes, vents and ladders - to traverse the landscape to your destination. To help guide players, Faith has Runner Vision that highlights conduits and pathways in red against the otherwise pale environment. It’s also important to build and keep momentum as it affects how far you can jump and wall run, and how high you can wall climb.
It really is an exhilarating rush when you string together a series of acrobatic moves to get where you want to go, but it can be equally frustrating when momentum gives way to trial and error. Mirror’s Edge is at its best when you’re situated in vast outdoor areas, but it can be quite limiting and linear within the confines of indoor environments, as large as they may seem. For every highlight, such as an intense chase sequence along the rooftops as Faith flees from a group of super-human mercenary agents, there exists a tedious platform puzzle-solving indoor section, or a sniper sequence in which you have to stop a convoy as it passes by.
Combat is present in the game, though it’s best to avoid it when possible. Faith wears no armor and so it only takes a few bullets to kill her, or a couple of good whacks from the butt end of a gun. You don’t start the game with a weapon and the only way to acquire one is to disarm an officer and use theirs. You can easily disarm enemies from behind otherwise you’ll have a small window of opportunity to do so face-to-face, which unfolds much like a quick-time event. If you’ve built up momentum prior to the confrontation you can activate reaction time, which slows down time making it easier to perform the disarming action. Even then, any weapon you manage to procure only has whatever ammunition is left in it, so you have to make your shots count. You can actually go through the entire game without killing a single enemy though, by simply knocking guards out along the way. Since it’s not the main emphasis of gameplay combat can seem a little underdeveloped, and that’s okay, but I was both surprised and a little disappointed to find that the game’s climax was more about the art of gun play rather than the art of movement.
The controls are amazingly simplistic considering the sheer number of acrobatic moves at Faith’s disposal. The left shoulder buttons are the only two buttons you’ll require to pull off most of the actions, with the right bumper subbing in for a few of the more advanced moves. The right trigger is used for melee actions and the face buttons are there for actions like disarming guards, interacting with the game world and activating reaction time. The first-person perspective is effective in driving home the physicality of the various acrobatic maneuvers, though it would have been nice to have access to a third-person camera at times, if only for action replays.
The single player campaign clocks in at around 7 hours total, after which you can try to Speed Run through entire levels or jump into the Time Trial mode, both of which feature leaderboards. The Time Trial mode is arguably the best part of Mirror’s Edge as it ditches the linear level design in place of open obstacles courses. The goal is to pass through each of the checkpoints and reach the end of the course as fast as possible. The key here is you don’t have Runner Vision so you can take whatever path you believe is the quickest, as long as you run through the checkpoints. These Time Trials offer a sense of freedom that is inherent to the concept of the game but doesn’t always come through in the Story mode due to the linear nature of the levels. Hopefully we’ll get more of these Time Trials as downloadable content post-release.
Mirror’s Edge is quite interesting from an artistic standpoint. It takes place in a city governed by a totalitarian regime so the environments are sterile, often offering but a single primary color against an otherwise pale landscape. When you’re outdoors it’s not as noticeable but when you’re indoors, the world appears downright unlived in. Doesn’t anyone reside in this city other than police officers? You can’t help but ask yourself that question as you run through deserted malls, office complexes and subway terminals. Could you imagine if you had to perform Parkour in these locales while avoiding civilians? Or maybe they’d just get in the way. The story is primarily told through cutscenes between missions that are presented in a sort of 2D flash animation. They’re well made and well acted but when these scenes lead into in-game, real-world looking levels, the transition can be a little disjointing. No complaints about the soundtrack though, which features one of the best original theme songs this year, along with several great remixes.
First Dead Space and now Mirror’s Edge. Kudos to EA for continuing to diversify their portfolio with more original intellectual properties, and hats off to DICE for showing tremendous ambition in creating this Parkour-inspired action game. Rumor has it we can expect Mirror’s Edge to become a trilogy. If that’s the case, perhaps in the next installment they’ll even out the peaks of exhilaration and valleys of frustration, and nail that sense of freedom in the Time Trials that’s somewhat lacking in the Story mode. As it stands, even though it doesn’t stick the landing every time Mirror’s Edge is a leap in the right direction.