PAX 08: Mirror’s Edge hands-on

As I explained in my contribution to this week’s Destructoid Discusses!, hanging out with Dtoiders wasn’t my sole objective at PAX — I was definitely there to play the games, too! One of the titles at the top of my “must-play” list was EA DICE’s first-person parkour game, Mirror’s Edge. I’d been extremely excited for the game since it first appeared on my radar, which is why I put it on the list of the ten PS3 games of 2008 that I was looking forward to the most.

That was back in May, and hearing what Rev and Tiff had to say regarding their time with the game at E3 only served to whet my appetite further. So I was understandably eager to get my own hands on the game at PAX (the first showing of Mirror’s Edge to the general public, mind you). Luckily, the lines weren’t too bad on Friday afternoon, so I only had to wait about 15 or 20 minutes before getting a shot at the level they were demoing — it’s the one we’re all familiar with by now, the same one that Tiff and Rev played at E3: the white rooftops of the Financial District.

Hit the jump to read my thoughts on the bit of Mirror’s Edge that I played.

Mirror’s Edge is pure bliss. There’s simply no other way I can describe the game. From the time I picked up the DualShock 3 controller to the time I completed the last jump at the end of the demo level, I just remember blithely grinning from ear to ear. Not even the two deaths I suffered could wipe said grin off my face. That’s the kind of joy that Mirror’s Edge can bring — once you know what you’re doing.

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Since I was waiting for a short while to play the game, I had the opportunity to watch three or four individuals take their turns ahead of me. They seemed to have trouble grasping the game’s unbelievably simple control scheme, as well as the fact that you have to take running starts for long jumps if you intend to actually make said jumps safely. But one common thread through everyone’s trials and tribulations was their facial expression: they always looked like they were having a ton of fun. Eventually, the guy in front of me made the final jump to the news helicopter, and at last, it was my turn!

The EA PR rep, Aaron, was very helpful in explaining the controls and basic gameplay. What’s so amazing about this game is that you can do so much with so little (control-wise). As Rev explained, all the parkour-style movement is controlled by two buttons — L1 functions as “up,” while L2 is the “down” button. In this case, “up” means jumping and climbing, while “down” means sliding and rolling. R2 is the “attack” button, which is used for punching when your hands are empty and firing a gun when you’re holding one. Triangle disarms an enemy and then takes his weapon, which is an awesomely bad-ass animation: Faith will grab the guy’s head and drive it face-first into her knee.

That’s essentially all you need to know. There’s a door about halfway through the level, and Aaron was telling me that he can get up to it using just L1, L2, and the left analog stick (that’s right — not even the right analog stick to move the field of vision)! Speaking of doors, Faith doesn’t deign to use doorknobs; if you’re standing still, R2 will punch a door open, and hitting R2 while on the run will have Faith perform a running kick to fly through the door. On PS3, Mirror’s Edge will support SIXAXIS controls for balancing sequences, like walking across pipes — but don’t worry; they’re completely optional (if you have them turned off, the left stick is used for balancing).

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Before I talk about the gameplay itself, let me first dispel some myths that I’ve heard. First off, Mirror’s Edge is absolutely not on-rails. When the level begins, you’re just standing there, and you’re free to jump in place and prance around the starting rooftop. You’re fully in control of Faith at all times. In addition, Mirror’s Edge is not an open-world game. As Aaron described it, the game is “completely linear, but with open paths.” In other words, you always have to head in one particular direction, but there may be numerous ways — some blatantly obvious, others obscured — to get where you’re going.

The true beauty of Mirror’s Edge lies in its visuals. The graphics themselves are top-notch, to be sure, but more importantly, I’ve never seen a more realistic first-person viewpoint in a videogame. For example, you’ll see your limbs flailing wildly when you’re in mid-air, and the screen bobs up and down as you gain speed during a sprint. When you roll, there’s a flash of the ground before you’re upright and are looking ahead again. DICE has absolutely nailed the first-person perspective. It also helps that there is no HUD at all in the game, even when you’re in possession of a firearm (your ammo runs out relatively quickly, and Faith just tosses the gun aside when that happens).

Mirror’s Edge in motion is really a treat for the eyes — it’s just so damn fluid! Once you get the controls down pat, and you’re flying through the level like the person behind the game’s trailers, you’ll realize the brilliance of Mirror’s Edge. Essentially, you shouldn’t ever have to stop moving while playing, because a sample of gameplay will go something like this: sprint, jump, sprint, climb up, balance across pipe, hop off pipe, sprint towards wall, wall jump, sprint, etc. — this, of course, is facilitated by Faith’s Runner Vision (DICE’s explanation for brightly colored pipes and such). And if you’re ever confused as to where you should go next, hit circle for a “hint” to point you in the right direction.

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As has already been reported, the PS3 is the lead development platform for Mirror’s Edge — in fact, EA has yet to show the 360 build of the game at all. However, I was assured that development was running parallel on all three platforms, since the game will launch on the same day for PS3, 360, and PC. I was also told that the PS3 version will feature Trophies and DualShock 3 support (and we already know that it will be getting exclusive downloadable content). Many of the Trophies will be time-based — in addition to the regular story mode, there will be timed challenges as well (as Aaron said, “It’s going to be all about shaving milliseconds off your time”).

I can’t wait to work on my speedruns and leaps of Faith (*rimshot*) when the game finally ships this holiday season. I played more than a few games at PAX, but Mirror’s Edge was definitely my favorite one of them all. Here’s hoping the full game holds up to the splendid sliver that I played at PAX.

Samit Sarkar