Mirror’s Edge PS3, Xbox 360
Welcome, to a future where all information is monitored, rigorously. So rigorously that the only way to transfer said information securely is to use free runners as glorified postmen to deliver it. Running across city skylines, the “runners” (as they are so lovingly dubbed) must not only face the cold bleak deadly environments they are tasked with navigating, but also avoid the police looking to plaster their innards across it. This is a world where no one dares step out of line, let alone jump right over it. You take on the role of Faith, a runner who will play a key part in changing the world. It’s a first person game in a dystopian setting alright, but not as we know it!
The first thing you will notice is the severe lack of emphasis on guns; with Mirror’s Edge it’s all about the human body. Your body is your weapon and your getaway vehicle. Encountering an enemy can be tackled in two ways; you could simply beat the living stuffing out of him or coolly disarm him of his own gun and shoot him with it. The timing for the latter is a little tricky so the developers have included an obligatory bullet time button for close encounters of the cop kind. You’ll soon learn however that gunplay in Mirror’s Edge isn’t particularly enjoyable in the slightest, which is just strange considering this is from the same team that makes the excellent Battlefield series. There is also a third option: run for it! Make like the opening scene of The Matrix and just run the hell away (in style). Very few games have been able to capture the thrill, the rush, of a chase but Mirror’s Edge demonstrates its mastery with every sprint, jump and swing over massive concrete chasms. Despite their simplicity the controls are incredibly tight and you rarely feel like they are responsible for your death; more often than not it comes down to bad timing or the computer thinking you wanted to jump somewhere else. When you die (which can happen a lot if you lose “the flow”) the loading times to re-spawn you are forgivingly short, however a few deaths in quick succession will leave you cursing them.
The main folly of running away in games is that the user never has a good inclination of where to go. If you throw in a pathway or a guiding arrow then it feels too linear. Mirror’s Edge combats this through a clever play on its unique art styled dubbed “runner vision”. “Runner vision” changes the colour of any object which can be used to escape your pursuers to bright red. Given the stylistic colouring of the game’s environments these stick out like sore thumbs, making your chosen pathways clear but without that horrible sense of a guiding hand at play. The beauty of this is that you are being led! As such it allows the developers to throw some truly breathtaking moments at you, such as sliding down a glass building (similar to Jackie Chan in “Who Am I”) while being shot at by a police helicopter. If this sounds awesome just reading it, playing it will blow you away. These sections are hampered by irritating indoor sections that can be particularly complicated to navigate as “runner vision” seems to just simply switch off, leaving you fumbling away from a group of cops with very big guns. This is when those loading times really start to get on your nerves.
It’s a shame then that the game’s story is nowhere near as bright as its scenery and doesn’t have any real high points. The plot centers around the murder of a liberal mayoral candidate who seeks to bring change to the city which is currently under a totalitarian regime. Faith’s sister is being framed for the murder and it’s up to Faith to find out what the hell is going on. What then ensues is a patronizing plot that overplays the importance of these “runners” and follows a predictable progression. These are all presented by cut scenes done in a visual style completely alien to the actual game’s visuals. Judging by fan reaction you will either love this flash cartoon style or hate it. I personally hated it and couldn’t understand why you would break up the flow of the game with these when you could simply have all these events take place through Faith’s eyes (ala Half Life 2). This is all rounded off with some amateur hour voice acting that feels forced and unnatural.
The story mode will only last you a few hours – I completed it in two sittings. This is the game’s Achilles’ heel as it makes the game feel like an expanded tech demo. Your only solace will come in the form of achievements and trophies which are prevalent in both versions of the game (and to good implementation too), and from time trials that the score addicts out there will certainly get a kick out of (I know I did). The included ghost functionality allows you to really commit to shaving seconds off of your times and is a greatly appreciated inclusion. Even so, at the end of the day there are only so many time trials you can do before you’re left asking the question, “Where’s my meat to go with these potatoes?”.
There will be many out there who will trade in Mirror’s Edge after completion and look back on it with nothing more than a few fond memories, but there are also those who will understand what it is trying to do to a tired genre. It’s safe to say that despite its short (and irritating) story mode, repetitive gameplay and terrible indoor sections, Mirror’s Edge is a real kick up the collective arse for the first person genre. It is immersive in all the ways a first person shooter should be without constantly going through the horrible clichés that arise with your bog standard FPS. After a few minutes you will get “the flow” the tutorial mentions. You will understand how free runners look at the world. These are the things Mirror’s Edge does right and in this reviewer’s opinion it makes up for the lack of “meat”. A bit more time in the oven and this could have been something truly amazing; instead it’s good. Not great, just good, which is a crying shame for fans expecting more, but a bold-faced statement to the development community that there are people out there not content with Halo.
Feel free to add an extra digit to the final score if you love free running.