I remember watching trailers way back in 2008 and being blown away by the look of Mirror's Edge. Parkour, melee combat, shooting, and chase sequences all in one first person package. Not only did the gameplay show promise, but the look of the game was very intriguing. A dystopian world of pure white, with stunning red highlights announcing platforming possibilities. The game was fairly well received upon release, but somehow passed me by despite my keen interest. Recently the game became backwards compatible on Xbox One, and I decided to rectify this hole in my gaming history. The question I'm hoping to answer with this review is simple; "Does first person parkour platforming really work?" The answer, as with most things in life, is that it's complicated.
Playing Mirror's Edge can be both fun and frustrating, flip flopping with some regularity. The act of running across rooftops at breakneck speed while stringing together a series of parkour moves is really exhilarating. It's truly something I've never experienced in a game before, something wholly unique in the industry. When everything clicks into place, Mirror's Edge is hard to beat. The problem is that everything just doesn't click often enough. The frustration mainly lies in inconsistency. A few times throughout the campaign of the game I would be stopped dead in my tracks by a jump I just couldn't make. I looked like I should make it, but Faith just wouldn't grab the ledge when I bumped against it. Then, seemingly for no reason, I would make the jump on the umpteenth try. It's like some of these jumps expect precision beyond what can reasonably be achieved. Outside of the platforming there is some light combat to be had, but it's more something to avoid then to engage with. If you do have to fight, you have a simple on button system to fall back on with punches and kicks being thrown contextually based on what you're doing. There's also a disarm button with a fairly generous time constraint. If you hit it right you can take an enemy out and steal his gun in the process. The shooting mechanics are pretty bare bones and feel like shit, but it's an effective way to end combat in a hurry.
Outside of the handful of jumps that require you to hit a magic pixel to proceed, the level design itself is problematic. The runner's vision, a red highlight of intractable objects, is a big help but it doesn't do enough to lead the player in the moment. Despite the linearity of the levels themselves, you'll hit spots that don't have an immediately obvious path forward. It's never hard to figure out what to do, but your flow is constantly broken by the design of levels themselves. It's a real shame because when you do nail a sequence on the first shot it feels so damn good. When you hit the third and forth try however, it becomes obnoxious real quick. Compounding this is the oddly placed checkpoints. Sometimes when you die you barely lose any progress, other times you have to re-do an entire sequence.
The narrative elements in Mirror's Edge are so totally tropey that I found it hard to really give a shit about. The entire story revolves around Faith trying to save her sister after shes framed for the murder of a prominent politician. You have your typical mentor character, your friendly rival, the former ally turned pseudo antagonist, and totally over the top bad guy government types. Halfway through a mysterious assassin starts to haunt Faith, and I find it hard to believe that anyone playing this game didn't figure out who this assassin was the moment they were introduced. The only saving grace is the background world building you pick up in bits and pieces as you explore the environment. These bits have some interesting implications for the overall lore of the series, but they are too few and far between to really make much of an impact.
Mirror's Edge is still a stunning game, even near a decade after it's release. The bright white color scheme with high contrast reds is never not a sight to behold. Sure the enemy models and take down animations aren't great, but the environment is a real treat to behold. I'd like to especially highlight the amazing "slamming into doors" animation. It's so absolutely perfect that every time I ran through a door I couldn't help but take note of it. It's not really a big thing, but the amount of shake and the associated thud is absolutely spot on. Cutscenes transition into a sort of low budget cartoon style a la Samurai Jack, which is a little jarring when compared to the in game graphics but otherwise inoffensive. The music is made up mostly of ambient pieces that blend into the the background, but occasionally a piece of driving music plays and it's always a welcome sound.
In the end, I can safely say I had a good time with Mirror's Edge. It had plenty of frustrating moments and an unsatisfying story, but the act of playing it was generally enjoyable. The idea's the game puts forth are definitely worthy of being explored, but they just aren't nailed down tight enough to be consistently fun. Maybe one day I'll get around to playing the sequel, but then again maybe I won't. This experience hasn't influenced me one way or another, and that might be an indictment all it's own.