Mirror's Edge Review

Author: Lydia Sung
Editor: Howard Ha
Publish Date: Tuesday, November 11th, 2008
Originally Published on Neoseeker (http://www.neoseeker.com)
Article Link: http://www.neoseeker.com/Articles/Hardware/s/mirrors_edge/
Copyright Neo Era Media, Inc. - please do not redistribute or use for commercial purposes.

Few people can truly say they are not interested in Mirror's Edge, even if it's just a mild curiosity being tickled by the game's growing fanbase.  After the demo was released weeks ago, anticipation only rose as LIVE and PSN members were blown away by what appeared to be an innovation in next-gen gaming.  Sure, it only ran about 15 minutes, but we were still plenty impressed and left wanting more.

Mirror's Edge is set in an immaculate city ripped right from the pages of Orwell's 1984.  The government now controls every aspect of daily life, and the city's residents have long since given in to the comfortable yet stifled way of living.  As such, people known as Runners have found their niche by transporting documents and packages.  These fashion-attuned courriers navigate a complex system of conduits and runways comprised of city skyscrapers to industrial storm drains.  While their business is technically illegal, authorities have always turned a blind eye rather than go through the trouble of tracking Runners.  Well, all that is about to change.

We are introduced to Faith as the game opens, the spunky protagonist with an axe to grind.  Speaking to the player is ex-Runner Mercury, and soon we run into the flamboyant yet cynical Celeste.  For those who played the demo, the prologue should look familiar.  You start off guiding Faith through a training course, followed by the first real objective in which you must retrieve the yellow Runner's bag and pass it to Celeste.  Unfortunately, a news helicoptor spots Faith, and she is promptly besieged by the city's police force, referred to by Runners as "blues".  They're playing rough, as the game notes, and when Faith manages to relay the package and escape, Mercury instructs her to haul ass while he does some digging into the problem.  That's right, we have a controversy in the works.

I had assumed Mirror's Edge would involve missions where I actually be a Runner and deliver things to awaiting clientele or other Runners, which is most definitely not the case despite all the trailers explaining what Runners do and how they work.  Instead, you are immediately absorbed into a sticky situation when Faith's twin sister, Kate, is framed for murder.  Faith is seen leaving the crime scene, and now she's got even more angry blues trying to pump her full of lead.  This is when the real flavor of Mirror's Edge emerges, and we can begin to judge the game.

Underneath the glamour, Mirror's Edge is all about movement, fast reactions, trial and error, and attention to surroundings.  The word "innovative" is frequently used when describing this Swedish masterpiece, but does it fulfill expectations gracefully?

First off, DICE got the controls down pat, even though they may take some getting used to at first.  Because this is a parkour action game, Faith isn't constantly armed, meaning the left and right bumper and trigger buttons have been freed to do other things.  The two left buttons dictate jump and crouch, or up and down, and the right side lets Faith do a quick spin and throw punches or kicks.  The rest of the controls are used for interaction with surroundings, disarming or using a weapon, Hint, and Reaction Time.  If you're quick enough, you can pull off impressive chains of movement, seamlessly somersaulting over railings or pulling off extended wall runs before leaping to a pole and flipping into a smooth landing.  It's all very satisfying when things go as planned, but I soon discovered that in Mirror's Edge, nothing ever does.

The game takes you through the edge of the city, whether it be rooftops or underground pathways, and the Hint option is meant to guide players as Faith tries to achieve her objectives.  The Hint feature is quite nice in open spaces like the outdoors or wherever Faith doesn't actually need to go inside.  Pressing B will point the first-person view to where you need to go, but when inside a building, the Hint feature will often guide you to your final destination, not the steps required to accomplish it.  So if you're wedged against a wall, hitting Hint might just have you staring at that same wall, the floor, or some other surface in the room because the game is telling you to get onto the other side.  Out in the open, Hint usually works much better and will direct the player to the next jump or climb rather than the end location.  Don't be afraid to use it indoors anyway because you never know where it may lead you.

As Mirror's Edge progresses, we begin to see more of what we know, and the game's innovations have been seen before in other titles given an identical compliment when they were first released: innovative.  The atmosphere can be likened that of Portal, by Valve, as Faith maneuvers through a city absent of civilians, giving the the game a feeling of isolation -- one that Chell must have experienced -- even with the flood of police and SWAT on her tail.  There's no real violence involved, though Mirror's Edge lacks the dark wit Portal possesses.  Interestingly enough, it shows us what happens when Portal and Ubisoft's Assassin's Creed were melted into a single concoction.  While missing Portal's simplistic yet intriguing story, the Mirror's Edge narrative does the job serving as a the glue keeping various in-game events together into a fairly cohesive plot. 

Like Assassin's Creed, we see a protagonist creating ripples in the ocean by questioning and defying order.  The story progression between these two games is similar, and both appear to be struggling for a common goal by pushing the norms of popular gaming.  Assassin's Creed can also be called a parkour action game, even as its cramped medieval cities contrast the polished dead space of Mirror's Edge, because it gives players a choice and doesn't reward excessive violence, smug sense of self-satisfaction not withstanding.  While both games can be criticized for the same reasons, Assassin's Creed feels like it came closer to achieving that sense of free flowing freedom in a pulsing environment.  Perhaps Faith's stark surroundings is meant to contrast the fire burning within her, that driving force pushing her to fight the establishment.  With Altair, we are given insight into his mind through dialogue dispersed throughout the game, but in Mirror's Edge, we are only given brief insights via flat graphic animations that remind us of an ambitious project done on Flash.  The dialogue here has about as much depth as the game's cinematic style, and the result is an equally flat character we have no empathy for.  Faith becomes a mere avatar, and we are given little reason beyond her sleek design to love her.

In both games, movement can be incredibly easy or difficult in the blink of an eye.  One minute, you're feeling confident and leaping before you look, and the game is forgiving enough to make up for the inevitable margin of error so that neither Altair nor Faith plummet to their deaths.  On a whim, the AI renders your acrobatics moot, making the most basic jumps seem nigh impossible -- usually while fleeing from soldiers.  This double standard is terribly more noticeable in Mirror's Edge, which is annoying when the police force is firing bullets instead of arrows.

When given a moment to breathe, it's easy to see where the brunt of DICE's efforts went.  The cityscape of Mirror's Edge is every bit a feast for the eyes with its contemporary minimalist design, and we suddenly find ourselves immersed in a Mondrian painting without the black lines.  While the look and feel of Mirror's Edge is about as far from Assassin's Creed as one can get, both Ubisoft and DICE crafted an amazing environment that is constantly tempting you off course.  The sharp blow of reality hits when there are no more buildings within landing distance or red doors to look behind.

Mirror's Edge is a paradox, full of contradictions that make the game what it is.  As mentioned on the previous page, there are times when you can feel on top of the world as you pull of seemingly superhuman jumps but have that all taken away on a whim.  In the trailers, we were given the impression that Faith was some prodigy of a Runner who could outrun gunfire while weaving about the city with her street smarts as a guide.

In the game, this is much harder to pull off, and DICE appears to have taken this inconsistency into account.  There are times when it slows down, giving the player ample time to figure out its Portal-esque situations using Faith's agility in place of an Aperture Science gun. 

The only pressure here is an internal sense of urgency and the need to escape whatever enclosed space you've been tossed into.  Even as Mercury continues warning you of pursuers through Faith's earpiece, they never actually show up until you've cleared the increasingly claustrophobic area.  It's too bad DICE didn't think to give this much freedom of time in the nicer looking stages of Mirror's Edge.  When Faith reemerges from the dank ratholes, snipers, police, armored SWAT units, and helicopters are never far behind, ruining any plans of taking a leisurely walk across the monochromatic horizon to enjoy the pristine blue sky.  At this point, trying to run in a straight line begins to feel like a major pain, and if you take too long planning your next course of action, Faith will be dead on the floor in seconds.  When running from officers, there is no time for exploration and barely any margin for error.  At least Assassin's Creed had a hiding option with its numerous NPCs; Mirror's Edge, on the other hand, can only offer a really good pair of running shoes and occasional advice from Mercury.

That leads to my next point.  Faith is obviously not a COG soldier -- hell, she doesn't even wear armor.  So it makes sense that she can't take too many hits before going down for the count.  Different enemies can vary in strength, and it's pretty easy to tell them apart based on their uniforms.  The heavily armored Special Ops type can take Faith out with two strikes from the butt of their rifles while security guards need to get in three to four hits before our favorite Runner drops.  Oh, and Faith can neither outrun gunfire nor withstand too many shots, so players really need to use the environment to their advantage and isolate enemies when possible.  This is one of the tips you'll see on the loading screens, but sometimes blues are joined at the hip and refuse to seperate no matter how many loops you run or how long you wait behind a pillar.

With Faith being so squishy and the law enforcement so trigger happy, one of the biggest annoyances in Mirror's Edge is its save system.  When starting up for the first time, the game does tell you that it will automatically save on your hard drive.  It's when the game chooses to save that can get incredibly irritating.  There's really no short cut in Mirror's Edge, meaning trial-and-error is about the only way to learn the ropes (unless you're some kind of gaming genius).  I found myself stuck on more than one occasion, usually in a stage teeming with armed guards, thus resulting in death after death (after death) for poor Faith.  Indeed, while Faith continued charging into combat, trying to get a feel for the area as visibility deteriorated with every hit taken, I was ripping my hair out and swearing bloody revenge on DICE.  On top of that, checkpoints that you respawn at may not always be actual save points.  When you exit to the main menu, these checkpoints count as unsaved progress, and you're rolled back to the actual save spot, wherever that may be.  Even the checkpoints aren't consistent.  The final level, sorry to say, suffers from an obvious shortage.  I seriously tried to lay out the pros and cons of having save-anywhere for Mirror's Edge, and I couldn't come up with any good arguments against it.  Most games these days no longer have that option, but most games have more checkpoints that actually count as saves too.  The trouble here is that Mirror's Edge gets progressively tougher, and there's no way to escape the dying, rinsing, and repeating.  Perseverance will be the player's greatest asset.

Speaking of police brutality, the blues in Mirror's Edge can really start wearing you out.  Less than midway through the game, I was already beginning to notice that nearly all stages involved zealous city authorities.  Before I got to play the full version, I expected Mirror's Edge to be free world full of possibilities, unfettered by the boundaries of conventional gaming formulae.  This turned out to be wishful thinking.  More often than not, you're being hunted by cops and helicopters, and since Faith isn't exactly a tank, there's really no time for sightseeing.  We got to see Ubisoft do something similar in Assassin's Creed, and I thought DICE would pick up where Ubisoft left off.  Well, they didn't, and that's fine too because Mirror's Edge still comes across as remarkably unique.

Perhaps more attention could have been placed on the story.  As mentioned previously, Mirror's Edge does have a decent backstory, but it feels stagnant given how little we hear it mentioned.  The simplistic paper cut out style of the cinematics feel as cold as the city, and the voice acting isn't winning any awards.  When Faith talks about how her family fell apart during the riots, I could barely detect any emotion, and Celeste's sympathy is difficult to make out.  Most of it is pretty predictable, which is a shame because the trailers painted an enticing picture.  Mirror's Edge started with a pretty firm base, so even though DICE failed to capitalize on all that potential, it doesn't really hurt the game either.  The story is what it is, essentially.  The studio's choice in animation is as unique as the game itself, but not everyone may like the art nouveau look.

Mirror's Edge is on the shorter side, as some of you have no doubt already heard.  For savvy gamers, it'll last about a day in total, but I certainly wouldn't recommend playing this one nonstop; take a break every couple hours, especially later in the game.  All this trouble is assuming you try playing through without firing a gun at anyone.  Honestly, this isn't one of those games that should last for weeks, and DICE must have realized as much while working on their latest project. 

As I stated before, there are no rewards for excessive violence, but going through Mirror's Edge without shooting back will unlock several Achievements.  It's a challenging and often frustrating undertaking, but Faith's propensity for nut shots (exactly what it sounds like) provides a theraputic outlet.  Aside from rewards for pacifism, story progression also unlocks goodies like different stages for Time Trial mode, which should make up for the story's unexpected brevity.

Overall, DICE proved successful in creating a memorable gaming experience.  Despite any likeness it may bear to other games, Mirror's Edge carries its own weight.  It isn't an Assassin's Creed or Portal clone, to be certain, and I make comparisons for the sake of explanation.  Sure, the game stumbles in certain areas, but no video game is perfect.  The bottom line is that Mirror's Edge does not disappoint despite all the hype that we've been bombarded with, even if it didn't turn out to be what I imagined.  DICE follows closely in the footsteps of other video game studios who are taking a risk with new ideas and play style, bracing for whatever criticism might go their way.  Despite whatever harsh words I may have for Mirror's Edge, I enjoyed it immensely and intend to take full advantage of the chapter selection.  Profanities were uttered, but I'm still inexplicably drawn to Faith and her world.  The one thing that didn't surprise me was the stunning visuals, and as I've stated multiple times, there are moments when the fast-paced gameplay doesn't do the beautiful scenery much justice.

Those who already have an interest in this upcoming parkour action should still pick up a copy.  Gamers on the fence should try out the demo and at least consider a rental before dismissing it completely.  Mirror's Edge won't be converting any non-believers any time soon, but it's definitely got my vote.

Final Score:  7.6 / 10


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