Mirror's Edge Review
It’s amusingly ironic that Electronic Art’s Swedish development house DICE is responsible for bringing us the practically anti-gun, ambitious first-person action/adventure Mirror’s Edge; the same folks that have us free-running our butts off as Faith, an acrobatic messenger hoofing it through a futuristic big brother-like society, spent years perfecting their gun-porn love in the Battlefield franchise. Credit is due to the team for boldly trading in their guns and grenades for a pair of split-toe running shoes and an extremely agile young lady as the hero. And while their experiment in tweaking the first-person genre isn’t perfect, it’s certainly an admirable effort--and one that displays boundless promise for the inevitable sequel—you’ll want to check out this holiday season.
The strict focus on running over gunning is immediately introduced as players are taken through an intuitive training mission. Here, all the basics—jumping, diving, vaulting, wall-running, ducking, sliding—are quickly learned. Before you know it, you’re tackling Faith’s first mission, utilizing most of the moves you've just learned. The game wastes no time in getting your adrenaline pumping as you work your gymnastic magic through a variety of rooftop obstacles, while keeping several steps ahead of the trigger-happy “Man.” Mastering moves, conveniently mapped primarily to the left bumper for upward motions (jumping, vaulting), and the left trigger for downward moves (diving, sliding), is an absolute blast that’ll quickly have you falling in love with Mirror’s Edge. Things get even cooler as more maneuvers open up to you; soon you’ll be combining the more basic techniques with pole-swinging, ledge-teetering, wall-running, and other inventive acrobatics that make Lara Croft’s agility-fueled exploits look like after-school gymnastics.
When you’re seamlessly stringing all of Faith’s super-slick moves together, the game’s at its absolute heart-racing best. It does an outstanding job of actually making you feel like you’re running, and the sense of speed is intoxicating. In fact, it pulls off the cinematic free-running vibe better than any other game, including the recently released Quantum of Solace which contains a dedicated free-running level based on Casino Royale’s construction site chase. Faith’s amazing move set is further charged by some fantastic smaller touches, like throwing up an arm to barrel through a closed door without missing a breathless beat. Disarming enemies by cracking them in the back of the head and grabbing their guns is also cool, especially when the stylish animation of Faith efficiently removing the ammo clip and dropping the firearm plays.
As cool as all the action-movie flare is, the game occasionally stumbles in a few significant, fun-sapping ways. For one, taking down some tougher enemies is frustrating and pace breaking. You’ll be enjoying a momentum-building romp—leaping from ledges, diving under ducts, vaulting barbed wire fences—only to be halted by an awkward combat moment. Even worse, the frenetic pace is also destroyed by some aggravating trial and error moments. Seeing as the title is basically a first-person platformer, you can expect to be attempting lots of well-timed jumps. And like many traditional platformers, you’ll quickly discover, upon leaping to your death several times in a row, your timing needs a little work. There were moments in Mirror’s Edge that sadly reminded me of those old school frustration-inducing platformers; you know, the ones containing seemingly impossible jumping puzzles that roadblock your progression far longer than your patience can tolerate. Extending the pace-breaking buzzkill are moments where you simply don’t know where to go next. Much of the game offers color-coded hints (head where you see red), but there were still a number of missions that left me stalled, wondering where to jump, climb, or shimmy next.
In addition to the colorful hints, Mirror’s Edge offers a hand-holding system that’s supposed to point you in the right direction; simply hit the B button, and the reticule will target the correct path. It doesn’t work perfectly, but it did save me from spending several minutes scratching my head on a few rooftops. There’s also a slo-mo effect—built with momentum—that helps a bit with the more chaotic combat moments. The inclusion of both these helpful, but ultimately unrefined, mechanics shows DICE knew their game needed to direct and assist the player a bit. And with some polish, these features could have gone a longer way in easing the game’s more frustrating moments.
Despite its obvious shortcomings, though, Mirror’s Edge packs in some truly amazing moments. When you’re in the zone, momentum building and adrenaline pumping at full throttle, you’ll find few interactive experiences this rewarding. Additionally, the game is extremely easy on the eyes. The almost monochromatic artistic approach impressively frames a futuristic antiseptic society. And while the title’s marketing has focused on the beautiful skyline bathed missions, there’s plenty more to see, including some slick office interiors and underground areas that allow Faith to strut her stuff through catwalks, sewage pipes and building foundations. The anime-inspired custscenes are also a refreshing change from the usual in-engine cinematics with their bad lip synching and unnatural animations. The story, supported by a new female protagonist that easily proves she deserves a franchise as much as Lara Croft or Joanna Dark, is a decent yarn that any fan of the Orwellian genre will appreciate.
I absolutely recommend running in Faith’s shoes, as the game offers something refreshingly different from the many shooters cluttering retail shelves this time of year. When it works, it’s brilliant. And when it doesn’t, it only disappoints because you can see its brimming potential trying to breakthrough. I’d love to see a sequel that evenly balances the polished free-running gameplay with the refined shooting mechanics’ of a dedicated FPS. The promise of Halo caliber firefights, combined with Faith’s fleet-footedness, has me pining for the ultimate first-person experience. But until Master Chief learns to move like the Prince of Persia, I’ll happily help Faith run, jump, climb, dive, swing, shimmy, and fight through her totalitarian future.