Review: Mirror’s Edge

“Exhilarating”

Depending on your athletic (gaming) prowess and deductive ability, Mirror’s Edge could be either a two-hour run or a six-hour jog. No matter how quickly you move, Mirror’s Edge is among the first truly outstanding platformers of this generation and borders on being art.

The story, as well as its dominant theme, is survival. Your character is a runner, an old-school messenger who transports documents by foot in order to circumvent government/big business “monitoring” (read: spying) across a surprisingly beautiful Orwellian landscape. Although running is frowned upon by the government, police, etc, runners themselves are generally left alone. This all changes when a suspicious amount of attention is paid to a package that Faith, the protagonist, is carrying. Although an issue or two remains unclear, the story is solid and sticks very closely to the overall theme of the game (albeit the characters use the word, “survive”, far too often).

Gameplay can be very fast and frantic at times when you have a general idea of where you’re going and especially when you’re being chased by guys with guns. Although there is a combat system, it’s generally worth avoiding since it’s usually easier to just find ways around your opponents. The play occasionally falls apart in the very wide-open areas where you’re left to figure out your next objective; generally your course and/or objects that can be used to progress further will show in red when you’re close enough (aka “Runner’s Vision”, which you can turn off in the options menu; you can also remove the targeting reticule). However, most objects that look like they could be a stepstool can help you catapult yourself up when running, you can run along many walls, and it’s fairly easy to find your direction most of the time. The only really difficult parts are some areas where it’s possible to clear the same obstacle three or four ways, but the easiest method isn’t always apparent. The other major downfalls is the use of elevators, which painfully slow down gameplay (probably as a means of loading the next area), and many building interiors which, for various reasons, don’t offer you the same speed as when moving on the streets or rooftops.

The controls are solid for the most part. Depending on how you time certain actions while running you can achieve different effects. By jumping right before a box or fence, you can clear it without touching it. However, by jumping right about when you hit the fence you instead hop the fence while using one hand for leverage. Small variations such as these are a very nice touch and can even shave a fraction of a second off your time. The basic moves are a jump and a baseball slide. In addition, you can wall run, wall run then jump, scramble up a wall (by holding the jump button), scramble up then turn around to jump to an opposite wall, all kinds of ledge tricks, etc. There’s an incredible amount of variety but, unfortunately, a few of the moves are trickier than others. Wall jumping can be particularly hard, as you need to be scrambling when you turn around so you can jump. It might be possible to combine wall jumps like that, but the timing is so hard that I don’t think I’ve ever been able to do it. Depending on how you approach the wall you might not be able to get a decent wall run going. In addition, wall run dismounts are tough as a jump will occasionally overshoot your target and a drop might not get you far enough. However, the baseball slide is almost outright useless (although you do need to crouch through certain areas), as it breaks your momentum so when you start running again you’ll have to build up for a few seconds before reaching full speed.

The combat controls are incredibly clunky. You can disarm an opponent if you tries to hit you with his weapon by hitting X when the weapon turns red while he swings, but it seems almost pointlessly difficult. You can also use your opponent’s guns, but there’s no ammo meter and you can’t reload their weapons by picking up other guns for spare ammo. Holding anything other than a pistol prevents you from running and climbing, not to mention it replaces your default attack button which you use to open doors or smash windows (a bullet doesn’t clear a path as cleanly as your forearm). Beyond that, the gun controls are as good as in any other title. In addition, you can punch and perform variations of a kick (the coolest one being a wall run-jump-kick). Combat is probably intentionally difficult in order to encourage players to opt for flight over fight. The majority of encounters can easily be bypassed anyway, although you’ll occasionally want to strike an officer standing too close to your escape route just to stun him.

Graphically speaking, it’s a great looking game. While running across rooftops, you’re given the impression of wide open spaces despite a lot of the area actually being unreachable. In many instances, you’re really being herded along a path without being immediately aware of it just thanks to the roof design. As soon as you get into a building, things are different: usually it’s a visibly cramped environment and very sparsely decorated. It’s a really weird design choice, especially if you’ve ever worked in an actual office and know that they’re never this clean. Likewise, the subway areas, etc, are surprisingly clean although such design choices might simply reflect the whole sterile image of the city. The cut-scenes are all very comic-bookish and at times feel like the developers were trying to take a shortcut although, given the generally high quality of everything else, they do lend a different look to the game. The only major complaints players might have is the lack of variety, given that the game rigidly sticks to certain color themes (predominantly whites and reds; a different, slightly brighter, shade of red designates areas you should move to).

It’s probably worth mentioning that there really aren’t any boss fights. The closest you get are a few short scuffles with one enemy and a one-trigger cutscene somewhere else. Given that the game’s dominant element is speed and free movement, I suppose it makes sense from a logistical standpoint. You’re also involved in a few chase scenes, both where you’re chasing somebody and others are chasing you, which play more towards the actual gameplay and help keep pacing. And, other than the elevators and some interiors, the game manages to stay remarkably on target . Even the conclusion (which players might feel cheated during) fits into the whole theme.

The replay value is fairly high. There are numerous time trials available (usually three variants for each segment), including timed runs of each stage. About half the trophies are available through story mode, while the rest are either from or require the time trials. Purchasable DLC is available for additional tracks. The DLC maps are more abstract (not to mention more colorful) and involve flee-floating courses in an empty space.

All in all, Mirror’s Edge is a very solid title and easily among the best that this generation has to offer. However, given individual tastes, it might make a better rent than a buy since it lacks PvP (although it has scoreboards for time trials) and has a fairly short story/campaign mode.

Reviewer’s Score: 9/10

Game Release: Mirror’s Edge – PS3 (US, 11/11/08)

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