It’s hard just walking or – for the sake of this review – running away from trouble. It seems at times that some deep seeded male need to flaunt ego-soothing bravado on the surface, plays first chair in favour of vigilance and self-preservation. Not engaging ‘the enemy’ is even harder in videogames because for the most part, players are given more methods by which to obliterate another living being than a small army. In fact, most games actively encourage ruthless aggression and if you’re not unloading clip after clip into foe after foe, you’re usually doing it wrong.
This, refreshingly enough, is not the case in Mirror’s Edge where running with your tail between your legs is very much the name of the game. And the narrative makes this patently clear: you play a female called Faith and she is a Runner. What that entails is pretty self-explanatory and the reason why Faith and a network of other Runners do this is to communicate messages between people, in a society where its inhabitants have chosen a controlled, safe lifestyle at the expense of freedom. The story is most definitely not the game’s biggest draw; the majority of cut-scenes are Flash animated and while clean and pretty to look at, they don’t fit in at all with the overall tone Mirror’s Edge leans towards. They’re also incredibly uninteresting and players can easily enjoy the bulk of the game for what it’s worth without having to follow proceedings when not in full control of Faith.
“Ultimately, the tails-between-legs approach already mentioned really is the only viable way to play, and most importantly, enjoy Mirror’s Edge“And what the bulk of Mirror’s Edge involves, is running from place to place in all manner of ways that can only be described as Parkour meets Prince of Persia and The Matrix, stuck in the first 15 minutes of Half Life 2, (mid-level loading included). Most of the time, players will be busy navigating rooftops but occasionally Faith will find herself curbed by the limits of walls and air vents as well. But wherever you are at any given point, the level design in Mirror’s Edge is always intended to make Runners’ lives easier, but at times, you may start to feel that it’s nothing more than good intentions. All too often, I found myself getting shot at from all angles with no idea where to go. The game is kind enough to point you in the direction with the press of a button, however, it’s more of a general direction and when you’ve got humps, bumps, rails, and what-not blocking your field of vision – it’s nothing but a superfluous feature. The game can also feel like it will decide when it’s damn well ready if you effectively grab onto an edge or not, for instance. The margin for error is extremely inconsistent between chapters (of which there are 9), resulting in a tentative, pussyfooted approach in a game that’s all about thinking on your feet. And for a free-running game of all things to leave a player not wanting to take risks or leaps of faiths – that’s deeply alarming.
But while failure is a very real and probable possibility in your brief stint with the single player campaign – getting it right, and getting it right one pipe/ledge/windowsill/bar, flawlessly and consistently after the other in one smooth motion is nothing short of breathtaking. A large part of this feeling of ecstasy is the way the first person perspective is handled. Players literally see the world through the eyes of Faith; the screen will shake violently when you take a massive leap of faith from one building to another, rolling to avoid a painful impact. There’s a very satisfying whack when you barge open a door, and Faith’s arms pump up and down swiftly when in full sprint. It’s this engagement that gives real meaning and intensity to the chase scenes, and why successfully eluding your would-be captors-turned-killers is far more gratifying than doing a Butch Cassidy and Sundance Kid.
Nevertheless, it’s not like you can’t fight fire with fire, or bullet with bullet (plainly speaking). If you can disarm an enemy of his weapon (there’s a bullet-time button to aid you in this), then filling your foes with hot lead is an option although admittedly not the recommended one. Gunplay is unwieldy and brings the frenetic action to a standstill, where shootouts resemble something like the ‘gentlemanly’ duels of 19th century America. You get the impression that this is almost a design choice by DICE only there to give trigger-happy players their bottle – but it is ironic that DICE of all people have messed up the shooting mechanics here, and towards the end of the game it becomes nigh-on impossible to free-style your way past the guards. Ultimately, the tails-between-legs approach already mentioned really is the only viable way to play, and most importantly, enjoy Mirror’s Edge.
“For every bit as brilliant Mirror’s Edge is, it’s also equally as frustrating”As well as its unique take on the first person perspective, it is the game’s highly distinctive visual style that embers in the brain from the very first second of play, long after you’ve hung up your running shoes for the quiet life. The utopian society (or dystopian, depending on your point of view) that contrasts Faith and her friends’ rebellious deposition is wonderfully realised. The dominating, sterile white with its blotches of red, blue, green and yellow here-and-there is very reminiscent of Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey. The character models on the other hand don’t fare as well and vocally they don’t light up the screen with any memorable performances. Just like 2001, they come across as totally devoid of any emotion; seemingly plastic in substance, which is a problem for a game centred on these characters making it hard to care or relate to any of them.
How much value you feel you get out of Mirror’s Edge depends largely on your willingness to better yourself as a Runner. It is a very short game and an average player will probably get through the story mode in roughly 5-7 hours. There is the option of completing it again on hard mode but it simply alters the difficulty of combat and not the platforming, so it’s not a very appealing prospect at all unless gathering achievement points is an activity high on the agenda. DICE has also given players the opportunity to go through courses and levels again in Speed Run and Time Trials, which is incredibly addictive (especially the latter) because there are a variety of ways to get about – so finding routes to shave precious seconds off your run-time becomes an endeavour bordering on obsession. Especially when you’re falling over your two left feet as a friend’s ghost scampers off into the distance.
But for every bit as brilliant Mirror’s Edge is, it’s also equally as frustrating. For every time you exclaim in joyful accomplishment by nailing a series of jumps and lifts, you’ll lament missing a ledge by the width of a fingernail for what feels like the hundredth time, just as much. It’s a game that comes agonisingly close to reaching true greatness, but miss-times its final step by just an inch. Nonetheless, it shouldn’t deter you from at least giving this a chance; and for the fleeting moments spent with Mirror’s Edge, it delivers a sometimes thrilling single player experience and its high points just about make the painful landings worthwhile.