Tuesday, 31 July 2012

Monday Review: Mirror's Edge

Mirror's Edge has been on my radar for a while. Steam put it on sale last week for a ridiculous price so I decided to finally buy it; I do not regret that decision. It's an interesting first-person platformer with qualities that are hit and miss for me.

In Mirror's edge you play as Faith, an astonishingly athletic runner that vaults across rooftops to deliver information between underground resistance groups. The story is set a little after a decade since the government started oppressing its people. I felt as though the police-state could have been explored more. It's never explained why there's cameras everywhere and the police shoot first and ask questions never. Rather, the story focuses entirely on Faith's struggle to prove her sister innocent of a murder she didn't commit.

Before I write anything else, you should know that Mirror's Edge is fun. Performing a perfect chain of moves to leap off a building at top speed gave me an adrenaline rush that I haven't had in a while. The game equips Faith with an arsenal of manoeuvres that she performs to navigate the urban landscape. She can jump, climb, slide, roll, run across walls and turn 180 degrees. If she does all these actions uninterrupted, she builds momentum and increases in running speed to make, sometimes superhuman, leaps of faith. The game helps Faith find the best route by highlighting key objects and obstacles in a vibrant red color, referred to as 'runner's vision'.  Runner's vision did fail me a few times in the game. I was forced to stop, find my bearings and figure out the next manoeuvre. However, for the most part, I progressed through each chapter at a comfortable speed.

The game does a great job of making you feel like you're running, despite controlling Faith through a first person perspective. The camera shakes as if your head is moving up and down, and this intensifies as you gain speed. Your legs and arms appear in your vision as you're running, climbing, sliding and performing other actions that would require your limbs. It was odd the first time I made Faith tumble forwards into the concrete and the entire world rotated upside down and all I could see was Faith's legs, before rotating right-side up again. It's also more than satisfying reaching top running speed and noticing the corners of your vision blur, as the world whistles past your head. Mirror's edge makes you feel like you are embodying a human being.

The plot of Mirror's Edge follows a fairly standard cycle: Each chapter begins as Faith investigates a lead. This almost always requires her to infiltrate a building and look for a specific person, overhear a conversation or just look around for evidence. Halfway through the chapter, Faith discovers a new piece of information to follow and she has to escape because the police are closing in on her location. I wouldn't say that Mirror's Edge is predictable because there are some twists in the story; I just didn't care about them. The character's motivations are simple and completely unexplored. The interactions between the characters were awkward because the dialogue felt unnatural and forced. Most of these interactions take place in cartoon-ish cut scenes that interrupt and detract from the beautiful environments that you play through. Despite all these negative attributes, the plot is solid. Mirror's Edge presents you with a government, organisations and people that all fulfil a purpose that guides Faith. I found the journey down the rabbit hole to be effective enough to not make me cringe.

The combat in Mirror's Edge was another weak element. The loading screens between each chapter show a silhouetted Faith acrobatically beat down silhouetted policemen. My experience with take downs - punching and kicking policemen that all look the same - was far from acrobatic. You are given the option to hit the people that are shooting at you while standing still, jumping or sliding; the latter are slightly more effective. If you get up close to an enemy, they swing the butt of their gun at you, as their gun turns red, you can counter and then take their weapon in a quicktime event by just clicking one button. This is great in theory, but the window of opportunity is so small that most of the time I just found myself standing still as policemen beat me into the ground, as I desperately grabbed for empty space. If I finally managed to get hold of a gun, it's not that impressive. The controls are sluggish and the shooting is disappointing; the police just stand still shooting at you as you fire shotgun shells into their chests. If you're anything like me, you'll be happy to know that you can avoid most of the fighting in Mirror's Edge just by running past the people shooting at you.

It's fortunate that this game shines, literally and metaphorically, with its visuals. The city landscape that Faith sprints across is stunningly white. On Faith's journey to free her sister, she runs mostly on the tops of daunting skyscrapers, but also sprints through train stations, office buildings, sewers and even the long corridors of a ship. You'll also notice that vibrant primary colours contrast the environment. It's a unique way to portray a city that's controlled by corrupt politicians and an oppressive government, but it works. It feels as though every corner of this city is clean, structured and maintained, along with the routine of everyday life that Faith is resisting against.

This game really confused me. I could write so much about what makes the game frustrating, but I still want to play this game again and again. Mirror's Edge's brief campaign was so enjoyable that I played through it about five times, each play-through becoming more engaging than the last. Mirror's Edge isn't for everyone, but it's definitely for me.


  1. Nice review! I definitely agree on how amazing the visuals are. However, I'm surprised at your opinion on the combat, as I thoroughly enjoyed it.
    Keep up the nice work.