Clearly late for work again, Andrew Bryant is spotted leaping from rooftop to rooftop in a hurry.
The first thing that greets you when you load Mirror’s Edge is the shear beauty of it. The menu screens are crisp, clear and simple – a theme that transposes itself into the meat of the game almost instantly. This is not your typical futuristic autocratic dictatorship. To call any filmic parallels, the only that spring to mind are Equilibrium and V for Vendetta (both for starkly different reasons).
As a game, it wears its typical EA (read = high) production values on its sleeves and could easily stand out as a flagship for the ‘Games as Art’ brigade. Technically, the Unreal 3 engine is looking wonderful and running wonderfully – gone are the plastic-looking beefcake action men of anything Epic have done with it, too be replaced by the aforementioned clean lines, right-angled architecture and sensibly proportioned bodies.
Strangely, this realistic graphics style doesn’t extend to the cutscenes, which are presented in as cel-shaded anime. Whilst there’s nothing wrong with them, the disparity between them and the ingame graphics gives the game a sort-of schizophrenic feel, as the majority of plot is set-up in the breaks between the levels but most of the resolution takes place in the gameplay.
Talking about the plot, once you get past the distinct and original setting, it’s your typical distopian thriller. As a ‘Runner’, the protagonist Faith and her compadre’s have highly developed senses and athletic abilities designed to aid their movement across the gleaming rooftops and ziplines that connect the city as they transfer messages and other confidential messages to one another, thereby avoiding the typical communications channels that are heavily monitored by the authoritarian big brother government.
Penned by Rhianna Pratchett (yes, daughter of Sir Terry), Mirror’s Edge specifically chronicles Faith’s quest to prove her sisters innocence following the generic murder set-up. For such a promising new I.P., the plot plays out in a very predictable way and ends way too early, with the game reaching its end after 5-6 hours on Normal difficulty. But at least throughout those few hours you’re going to have a lot of fun!
The reason for the primary-coloured art style is to assist the gameplay, which is easily one of the best parkour simulators out there. Firstly, it’s entirely first-person and there are very little hand-holds or automated hand-holding last seen in Assassin’s Creed and the latest Prince of Persia game. Colour is used to signify location and direction, with red used to suggest the optimum direction of travel, orange (and similarly hot colours) to represent dangerous areas and cool colours (blues & greens) to signify safe areas where the player can rest following the frequent frantic chases that ensue as the plot develops.
Controls are simple, contextual and logical but at no point do you feel the game is playing itself – there’s an ‘up’ and ‘down’ button which performs actions based on your speed, position and location but Faith is responsive and at no point do you get frustrated with her leaping off a building… unless you meant her too. Word has it the controls have been tightened up for the PC release following feedback from the earlier console release, so maybe it wasn’t quite as responsive there, but being of the opinion first-person games don’t work without a mouse, I’ll leave that debate right there.
Combat is as clever as the rest of the controls, although DICE make is quite clear throughout the game that not only is it unnecessary, but it’s tantamount to suicide at points. Foes are both armoured & armed, as opposed to Faith, who is protected by nothing more than a t-shirt, a repertoire of martial-arts moves and, luckily, a form of bullet-time cunningly written into the storyline. The game relishes the concept of throwing relatively few but heavily armed foes at you in a highly kinetic environment, requiring you to use Faiths acrobatic abilities to best them, one by one.
Should things get hairy, Faith need but pick up a gun to even the score and the game does a good job of imbuing you with a feeling of power as you cut down a line of S.W.A.T. with the heavy machine gun, but as your manoeuvrability is significantly reduced with any weapon (coupled with your bizarre inability to reload even a standard pistol) you are required to discard any and proceed un-armed once the current action bubble is done with. Whilst seemingly forced at first, you can see why such a design decision was made and it fits in with Faith’s character.
One of the most disappointing parts of Mirror’s Edge, after the brevity of the whole experience, is the way DICE have built the entire concept of the rooftop runners and then abandoned it after the first level. More could have been made of it (possibly even fitting more ‘jobs’ in to extend the game length) but I guess you can view the game as a manifestation of quality over quantity.
Electronic Arts have made it clear that they have plans to make a trilogy out of the Mirror’s Edge i.p. (a plan made all the more dubious by the poor sales the game attained on its pre-Christmas console launch), but too have such a luscious, unique and well-defined universe die off due to corporate targets and perceived risk would be a crime.
Mirror’s Edge is easily the pinnacle of EA’s experiment of developing new properties and bringing them to market. Yes, it’s woefully short for a full price release, disappointing in places and in need of a more coherent form of story-telling, but nothing else out there can touch it for level design, quality and a fluid fulfilling gameplay model.