Mirror's Edge PC Review
The rift between console and PC gaming has always been a strange one, but it's gotten really strange in recent years. Time and time again we've seen successful console games get ported to the PC with a minimum of effort or testing, and every time the PC crowd rejects the game, even if it has a few merits, because it seems almost an insult to the hardcore gamers who didn't want a port of a console game in the first place. As a serious gamer on all the current platforms, I have a hard time choosing a side, but the PC crowd really just demands more from the game they're playing from a technical perspective. It's rare nowadays when a console-to-PC port comes along and winds up looking and playing better than the original version - at this point, most of us are just happy to see ports that can get the damn controls right, much less anything else.
So it's nice to see that one of EA's new franchises, Mirror's Edge, doesn't suck on PC. It does have a few advantages over some other PC ports in recent memory (Saints Row 2 and its horrid performance come to mind) - it's got a first person perspective, which PC gamers seem to gravitate towards, and the hard lines and clean graphics translate well to a high-powered PC with all of a video card's features, like antialiasing, in use. It's also nice to see such an original and unique game make it to the PC, and while its high-flying jumps and striking visuals may not immediately win over gamers who have gotten used to wielding M4s, chainguns, and rocket launchers, it's certainly worth a shot.
That being said, Mirror's Edge is not for everyone. It's strictly a single player experience that's not particularly long, and the game focuses much more on movement than on combat, something diehard shooter fans will be disappointed in. But its atmosphere and art style are hard to resist, at least at first, so the game does an excellent job of pulling you in - even if the PC version doesn't seem to be getting a demo anytime soon. The premise is that you play as Faith, a hip Asian chick who is a rooftop "runner" - a Parkour-practicing acrobat who delivers important messages through less-than-official channels while avoiding the authorities. Faith gets caught up in a major conspiracy in the midst of this oppressive, futuristic city, and will spend most of the game running from the cops while trying to get to the bottom of the whole thing.
The visual style of Mirror's Edge is a study in color, where things default to dull or shimmering white with intense color appearing in major bursts. Faith will see the next object she needs to vault off of or swing from as glowing red, while bright colors will assault your eyes from nearby buildings or interior environments. It's a fantastic effect, overall, one that really tickles your eyes in a way that big explosions and super-high texture quality, something most action games are striving for visually, simply don't even try to create.
Combat is something that the developers have clearly had much debate over, as there is an interesting fighting system with combos, counterattacks, disarms, slow motion, actual first-person shooting, and acrobatic moves, but don't think you'll be reproducing the lobby scene from The Matrix just yet. In practice, most fights are intended to be avoided rather than taken head on, and the few times you are forced to take down the cops, you wind up doing pretty much the same thing: hit slow motion, run up to the cop, wait for him to try to melee you, hit your disarm key to take his gun and knock him out, and then shoot everyone left standing. Sure, you can try to do fancy things like triangle-jump-kicks or slick sliding attacks, and the few times you'll get to boot a guy off a ledge are fantastic, but it's easier to stick with the safer attacks. So while you may have this interesting arsenal of moves, the combat winds up being rather monotonous and feels like something to be endured rather than enjoyed.
As you trudge through Mirror's Edge, you'll find that much of what made the game so interesting at first wears out its welcome within a couple of hours. The developers have tried to keep you progressing by letting you hold a key to force Faith to look at where you need to go next, and in many cases it will get you unstuck, but other times it only serves to confuse even more. Throw in some cops shooting at you and a checkpoint that's forcing you to replay the same 30 seconds of jumping, climbing, and shimmying action just to get stuck then killed by the cops repeatedly, and it makes you want to mash Alt-F4 pretty fast. The game's not particularly difficult overall, but it does ramp up the frustration level quickly in those times you do get hung up on one spot.
Mirror's Edge is wonderful when everything's firing on all cylinders, though. You'll be dodging police helicopters, making great time with smooth vaults, slides, and big landings, and then, with a running start, hit a massive jump that will take your breath away. It's too bad that the game doesn't have more of this; instead, you'll spend a large chunk of time indoors, trying to reach a ledge or running through yet another boring maintenance hallway. In the end, beating Mirror's Edge is worth it if you can put up with its unique brand of challenge, and I have nothing but optimism for what the developers at EA and DICE can do with the inevitable sequels. But once this ride is over, for most it'll hardly be worth picking up again - the time trials mode isn't particularly great unless you really dive into the game's running and movement system. And while you could replay the game on a higher difficulty, it only makes the combat tougher and doesn't really affect the running, which is the best part of the game.
Technically, Mirror's Edge is sound, with a solid technology behind it (Unreal Engine 3) and good support for mice and keyboards as well as gamepads. It's relatively bug-free, although I had to disable PhysX in the game to stop it from slowing down heavily in the second chapter. And the Steam copy comes with no additional DRM beyond just Steam itself, something I'm appreciating after running out of Ubisoft's Far Cry 2 activations (on Steam, mind you) because of some PC reformat issues and some time spent playing with the Windows 7 beta. Either way, this is a fine port from console to PC, one that brings everything from the original experience and fits it nicely into a PC gamer's hands. The actual game might be frustrating and tedious at times, but it's worth it if you've got the cash to pick it up.