Mirror’s Edge Review
Parkour, you remember it. It was once the craze that had idiots running around town centres jumping on bins and swinging from bus stops. Well now you too can enjoy the wonderment of risking life and limb atop a roof and all from the comfort of your armchair thanks to DICE, the creators of the hit series of Battlefield games. Despite the Mirrors Edge taking place from the same first person perspective used by Battlefield, it represents something of a huge departure from DICE’s normal offerings, as you will come to see.
The most immediately striking thing about Mirrors Edge is its ultra clean, almost cel-shaded aesthetic. The phosphorus whites of buildings burn into the over saturated blue of the sky. Neon lighting, impossibly clean glass and grids of gleaming pipe work are liberally sprinkled throughout. In a world where games are famously either brown or dark brown it is refreshing to play something that makes use of the primary colours, and with such style to boot. You play Faith a youthful free runner whose job would appear to be that of a courier, navigating from rooftop to rooftop dodging ‘blues’. You see, the world of Mirrors Edge is far from the modern utopia you might imagine, oh no. CCTV Cameras line the streets and people are ruthlessly kept in check by a big nasty totalitarian regime. Suffice to say that you become embroiled in a game of cat and mouse with the cops after your sister if framed for a murder. The plot, as a whole, sits loosely atop the game, and allows you to follow it or not, and you probably won’t. It’s not that it’s bad, it just not great.
With the graphics and script taken care of its time to turn your attention to the games other big pull: the gameplay. Mirrors Edge does away with the usual FPS mechanic of loading you up to the nines with guns and tasking you with the destruction of a whole town, and instead asks that you nimbly leap from point A to B, all whilst trying to avoid enemies. Should you be forced into a situation where you cannot escape said bad guys, you will find a number of disarming manoeuvres at your disposal. These allow you to take weapons from enemies, and even use them. To do so though will surely leave you feeling somewhat empty inside, knowing that you’ve failed as a free runner. You see, gunplay is not encouraged, as it removes you from the flow of the game. That and its downright mean to shoot people. The emphasis on fleeing rather than fighting is stressed even more so by the controls. Leap from a building edge and Faith will grab and clamber up. It’s possible to spring up off objects, vault over electric fences or onto zip lines. You can wall run, jump onto ladders, swing from monkey bars, and everything in between. For the most part the controls actually work very well, allowing you to build up incredible momentum as you run and jump across and over obstacles. True appreciation of the game comes when you manage to link together a number of these moves. In fact, every level presents you with a rhythm of sorts that must be adhered to. Hit your jump and crouch buttons with the right timing and you’ll be rewarded with a genuine sense of achievement, as you pick up speed and out run the enemy with ease. Break the rhythm and the momentum is lost, forcing you to take a breath, get your bearings and carry on.
Thankfully for Mirrors Edge, it gets more right than it does wrong. The control scheme works, which is saying something as it truly does sail into uncharted waters. The sense of speed can be exhilarating and the set pieces (unless you are forced to play them over and over due to their difficulty) are, in general, great.
Now for the obligatory negative comments. The combat system feels unfinished. Dice were faced with a difficult balance to try and maintain; a balance between encouraging the player to run or fight dependant on the situation. The game is obviously skewed into encouraging you to run, and the combat system is indicative of this. Disarm moves feel clunky to perform and the bullet time effect that is available feels needless. Gunplay also doesn’t feel right, but again, this is probably due to the fact that you really aren’t supposed to use them. Trial and error can also be the order of the day for many of the games set pieces. In fact, often is the case where you will find yourself dropped into a level with no real clue as to where you are supposed to be heading. Nothing breaks the games cool styling’s more than it forcing you to curelessly run and jump from various rooftops in a bid to find the correct path. Runner’s ‘vision’ helps to alleviate some of this frustration, with key paths showing up red. This only seems to work around 90% of the time however; the rest of which you will spend hurling yourself onto the pavements below, wondering where you went wrong.
To chastise Mirrors Edge over its negatives too much would feel unfair. It’s a game that sets out to do so much more than the majority of run-of-the mill FPS games today. For this it should be rewarded. It is fun and the sense of movement, energy and sheer style it communicates are unparalleled.