Review: Mirror’s Edge

Welcome, readers, to another installment of “Laevatein finally got a good PC so he’s going through his PC backlog!”  This week, I’ll be reviewing Mirror’s Edge, a game that’s surprisingly antithetical to EA’s standard philosophy, modus operandi, whatever you want to call it. No excessive DLC, no excessive pre-order bonuses, an entirely solo experience, a strong and unique aesthetic style, colors, and unique gameplay.  It’s like that episode of DuckTales where Scrooge McDuck gets amnesia and thinks what he did prior was absurdly wrong, and protests his business practices.  That’s far besides the point, however.  Mirror’s Edge is a very unique game, and while I’d like to hand it a good score and see it off right here and now, I still have a job to do.

Mirror’s Edge is a game about parkour.  In fact, it’s probably the best game out there about parkour, unless I didn’t get the “best game about parkour” memo, and it wound up nominating another game.  Mirror’s Edge, being developed by DICE, also employs a first person viewpoint.  This is a very dangerous combination, as first person perspectives don’t exactly make platforming very easy.  However, DICE is insanely good at their craft, as they managed to combine first person perspectives and parkour almost seamlessly.

Though I’m not exactly sure how Mirror’s Edge does it, I believe Mirror’s Edge makes just about everything very context sensitive.  While that can be a bad thing in many circumstances, it works out quite well for Mirror’s Edge’s.  Some buttons are admittedly used quite a bit, but it’s very hard to use the button in the wrong context, unless you’re trying to take advantage of crazy speedrunning shenanigans or something.  However, every object in the environment that can be used has some degree of proper context sensitivity, which makes it very hard to unintentionally screw up.

I should give proper praise to the controls, as well.  The controls are very simple and intuitive.  Essentially, you don’t need a whole lot more than your standard WASD/mouse look.  Space is used to jump, shift is used to duck/slide/help you recover from particularly high drops.  Basically, space goes up, and shift goes down.  Mouse 1 is used for melee, opening doors (by shoving into them, no less), and mouse 2 is used for grabbing enemies.  Oh yeah, and if you have a gun, mouse 1 is used to shoot,  and mouse 2 is used to drop your weapon.  That’s it, save for a couple of other keys.  Simple and intuitive, yes?  The controls go a long way to making Mirror’s Edge a very fluid, thrilling experience.

It’s surprising how such simple controls can make awesome gameplay elements work well.

And there’s one of three problems with Mirror’s Edge.  The game may be an awesome parkour experience, but it’s just that: an experience.  You’re never given much freedom to get from starting point to ending point, never allowed to do things your way.  Essentially, the path you need has been laid out for you, but at the same time, almost no other paths exist.  “But linear games aren’t inherently bad, they’re just design choices!”, you may say. And you’re entirely right.  I have nothing against linear experiences.

However, I feel as if parkour lends itself to more nonlinear gameplay.  Correct me if I’m wrong, because I’m totally going to be talking out of my ass right now, but I imagine half of what makes up parkour is planning and picking routes.  Essentially, I can’t exactly plan or pick a route that’s already been laid out for me.  However, I’m under the impression that an open-world or nonlinear parkour game would not be feasible due to hardware limitations.  A linear experience is probably the only type of parkour experience of this sort we’ll have for quite a while, so I can’t very well fault Mirror’s Edge for it.

I can and will fault Mirror’s Edge for including guns, or more specifically, shooting sections.  Now, DICE is rather experienced when it comes to games about shooting people.  So when Mirror’s Edge’s shooting mechanics are horribly subpar, it’s obvious that’s more of a design choice than a deficiency on their part.  I believe what they were trying to do was portray how terrible someone who has no experience firing a gun can be at firing a gun.

As a result, I know I never fired a single bullet (or at least, never killed someone with a gun).  I’m led to believe that I probably should have, though.  You see, I may not have thought using a gun was appropriate, but Mirror’s Edge sure doesn’t make it easy when it drops you into enclosed rooms with SWAT teams looking to use you as moving target practice.  Fortunately, hand-to-hand mechanics are pretty solid, and knocking out an entire squad can be (unrealistically) satisfying.  Still, I think DICE could’ve removed most, if not all, instances of combat from Mirror’s Edge, and the game would not suffer from it.

Scratch that, you are required to use a gun at one point.

Mirror’s Edge tells the story of Faith Connors, a Runner (think of it as someone who uses parkour to be a courier).  Her sister, Kate, is a police officer who’s been framed for the murder of an important official.  So Faith must use her parkour skills to clear her name.  The story is my third major complaint with the game.  It often presents itself as complex and deep, but there wasn’t nearly enough time to develop it.  There are two ways to look at the plot of Mirror’s Edge.  The first way, looking at the surface-level plot elements, reveals a story that essentially delivered what it promised, but in the process attempted to bite off much more than it could chew.  The plot is pretty much about saving Kate, but it never ceases to preach about how terrible the totalitarian government can be.  What’s worse is that all the preaching amounts to absolutely nothing.  Meanwhile, some plot elements (which turned out to be pretty major revelations, apparently) never actually go anywhere, and characterization is inconsistent, at best.

“It’s so pretty and colorful, how can we be totalitarian?” is probably the only counterpoint the game ever presents.

Going back to totalitarianism leads to problems on the thematic level.  The game showcases a city that, through appearing very bright and pristine, seems like a very safe and secure city to live in.  As mentioned, however, the totalitarian state is constantly described as terrible.  So terrible, you’re left wondering why people would even want to live there.  In fact, I can’t think of any point where they actually described people how people lived in the city, save for maybe Faith.

So here’s the crux of the matter; the game set out to question the idea of sacrificing freedom for added security, but the effect is diminished if the game seeks to constantly beat you over the head with the idea that you’re an idiot if you choose security over freedom.  I almost felt as if the game was telling me I’m dumb for even considering the question in the first place.  Fortunately, as mentioned, the game’s story is ironically not developed enough to make this a critical issue.

I have to admit though, DICE sure knows how to make their technical aspects pretty sweet.  Mirror’s Edge has an aesthetic sense that, as mentioned before, can only be described as not only pristine, but highly stylized as well. In a genre where “You must be this gray and brown to be made” seems to be the norm, Mirror’s Edge ignored all that and went for a very shiny, white overtone, with tons of color all over the place.  Mirror’s Edge is very visually appealing in that regard.

There are moments where the game presents some plot through animated cutscenes, and for the most part, they aren’t too shabby, and are often pretty well-animated, but they certainly lose the game’s unique aesthetics.  Sound is pretty great, too.  I have no complaints with the voice acting, as it’s as convincing as it could be.  The soundtrack is mostly electronic, and often fits the thrill of jumping and sliding around quite well.  I’m pretty fond of the ending song, too.  Overall, like graphics, it’s hard not to be impressed by Mirror’s Edge’s sound.

Why’s it so dark all of a sudden?

Overall, Mirror’s Edge is a short, but highly exciting game about parkour, of all things, with some awesome aesthetics, too.  I only wish the small enclosures with squads of armed enemies standing in your way and basically the insultingly disappointing plot didn’t make it into the game.  And though the game can be pretty linear, Mirror’s Edge has some fantastic and exhilarating gameplay that I would like to see DICE return to someday.

Pros:

–Parkour translated to videogame form pretty well

–Simple and intuitive controls complement the gameplay perfectly

–The aesthetics are very visually pleasing

–Sound greatly complements the game’s strengths

Cons:

–The levels can be pretty linear for

–The game could do without shooting sections of any kind

–The insulting plot also needs to go

Rating: 4/5

rating40

Miscellaneous details:
Developer: DICE
Publisher: EA
Available on: Xbox 360, PS3, PC
Genre: First person adventure, Parkour, Platforming
Rating: T
Release date: January 13, 2009
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A mad scientist who's so cool!

Laevatein

A mad scientist who's so cool!

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