It’s hard to not put “shooter” on the end of a genre falling into the first-person category. Nintendo tried to tell us that Metroid Prime wasn’t a first person shooter, but rather a first person adventure game. The gun was still in the forefront, and while it was a solid game, Metroid Prime still falls under most people’s “first-person shooter” category. So why not get rid of the gun (almost) altogether? The latest from DICE and EA attempts to do just that.
At first glance, Mirror’s Edge looks unlike what anybody has ever seen. Jumping from rooftop to rooftop, scaling building pipes and wallrunning right into a swift kick in the face for the po-po are regular occurrences in this game. It almost feels like it could be too good to be true. Upon deeper digging into the game, though, it’s very intuitive, and while it doesn’t feel like any other FPS, I definitely felt at home playing it.
The premise is this: The sterile, futuristic cityscape of an as-yet unnamed metropolis has fallen under the control of a totalitarian regime. Since the government monitors all communication, those who want to keep out of the eye of the fuzz have to employ “runners,” couriers who will use mad parkour skills to deliver the messages and packages. You control Faith, a runner on a mission for more than just secret parcel deliveries. She’s out to save her sister from being framed by a corrupt government. It’s a story that’s just good enough to set the game up. After that, the story fails to be too interesting. Of course, there are twists and turns, friends become foes and backstabbing is par for the course. But somewhere in a tale that tries to be as epic as it’s premise would suggest it is, it falls short. There’s a lack of character development, to say the least. I found myself not caring about all the different things going on. The game’s few heartfelt moments failed to keep me interested, much less jerk tears from my eyes.
But for how much the story lacks, it makes up for in gameplay ten-fold. The game subscribes to a “minimum input, maximum output” form of gameplay. The left bumper is used for all “up” actions: jumping, vaulting, pulling up from a climb, etc.” The left trigger is used for all “down” actions, including crouches, slides, rolls, and drops. Climbing and jumping almost feels like conducting a symphony. Perfect timing and quick wits are required to make this orchestra play. Much like conducting, one fail and the whole piece can quickly fall apart.
And fall apart they will. You will die in this game. You will die a lot. You will die so many times you’ll be paying out the nose in grim reaper fees. Trial and error is the name of the game, and Mirror’s Edge makes an emphasis on the error part. The good thing is, you never have to go back too far. Being unlimited in lives gives you unlimited chances to try things a different way. Generally speaking, there’s multiple ways to get from point A to point B, but only one is highlighted in what’s called “Runner Vision.” This is usually the easiest and most obvious way to get from place to place. It’s a welcome feature, especially earlier in the game when you’re not as used to finding an appropriate pathway. If ever you’re lost, pressing B will point Faith’s field of view into the correct direction. Overall, the control scheme and gameplay works, and does it very well.
Combat is where the gameplay collapses. While Faith is highly trained in the art of parkour, her skills in the martial arts are lacking. Of course you’re able to kick and punch. You’re also able to use your jumping and wallrunning skills to set yourself up for a large blow to an enemy. The problem comes when you put guns into the mix. Police generally have them, you generally don’t. This presents you with a feeling of hopelessness at some points in the game. You are able to disarm a foe with a well timed button press when their gun turns red (with a scripted but very nicely animated take down motion), but more often than not you’ll go fumble around, grasping at air while the police are readying a finishing blow for you. For the most part, you get one chance at this. That’s where the “Reaction Time” comes into play. Generated by sprinting, and activated by pressing X, this power can be used at any point in the game to slow time down a la F.E.A.R. This allows you ample time to disarm an enemy and use their gun on any of their cohorts. This weapon comes at the cost of mobility. Larger weapons hinder you more. You can only use the weapon until the clip is empty, as there’s no way of reloading a weapon.
The visuals don’t leave much to be desired. Outdoor areas are very bright. Almost too bright, until you figure out that it’s not the HDR lighting doing this, but the actual paint on the buildings isn’t the usual grey or light grey, but almost a pure white. Sometimes it’s a welcome departure from the usual browns and dark greys that have painted recent games, but other times it’s a blinding light that gets in your way. Once you make it indoors though, this all changes. Inside areas are bathed on brilliant colors that at once stick out at you and guide you on your way. Each room or section of a building tends to be color coded differently from the sections preceding it. This allows you to see all of the different colors and the way DICE’s custom lighting engine makes them shine. Character models don’t seem to have the same treatment, however. They look good, but they aren’t anything you’re going to remember once you’re finished with the game.
The cut-scenes are used sparingly, and only between chapters. They are presented in a beautiful 2D animation that feels like an E-Surance commercial. The in-game cut-scenes are completely first person, like in Half-Life, but unlike Valve’s game, the player doesn’t have any control over Faith. These are also well done, and help give you a sense of where to head next.
Aurally, the game is well done. Steps on the ground increase with intensity as Faith moves faster and faster. Grabbing and hitting different items make the appropriate sounds, and the ambience never feels out of place. The firing of guns leaves a bit to be desired, but this game is no Battlefield (though it does share the same developers), and guns and combat have really taken a backseat to everything else. The most interesting sound, however, is Faith’s breathing. It gets more labored as your start to pick up speed. As soon as you hit a full on dead sprint, her breathing is very loud and the sound of wind whizzing through her ears can easily be heard. It’s not Battlefield: Bad Company, but the sounds still get the job done with ease.
I won’t lie to you. I liked this game. A lot. But it ‘s not without its flaws. The story is as short as it is interesting. Though the levels are expansive and cover the territory of other games that could be compared to this one, the fact that you move so quickly through them makes the game’s length sub-par. A skilled gamer can finish it in 6-8 hours, while less experienced players may take about 10 hours to complete the storyline. This short length hardly justifies a $60 price tag. After that’s done, there isn’t much left. The speed run feature is nice, but once you’ve made it through a level there’s little incentive other than achievements to try and better your time. I’m sure there will be people out there who make it their life’s work to have the best score on this game, but for the average Joe there isn’t too much to be offered here. It would be nice if a free-running roam-the-city mode were incorporated. It would be a blast to just run around without having a goal bogging you down every step of the way.
This game is an impressive effort. It makes strides into the first-person perspective unlike any other game. The characters often talk about “The Flow,” an invisible force that drives the runners towards their goal. This feeling is quite apparent as you jump, swing, tuck, roll, and slide your way through the city. Though often frustrating to the point of property damage, when you finally knock out those police, or string together that combo, there’s quite a feeling of accomplishment. The game has a very good sense of progression, which is one of the reasons I was able to finish this game in about two sittings (that’s also because of the short length). This game is worth buying, if only to show the developers that we need more games like this: games that push the boundaries and define progression. No matter how you slice it, despite its flaws, this is a solid game. This is a game that will help put the industry on the edge: The Mirror’s Edge.
Rating: 8/10 for short length and combat problems.