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The humble beginnings of what we know as an action game can be traced back to the platformer. Mario Brothers and alike trained us in the simple rhythm based, left to right progression model: Start to finish in only one line. Control inputs were limited to simple jump, duck, run, with an additional ‘fire’ when earned. While the action game is older and technically matured (3D, polygons, etc.), there is a large contingency of gamers that still craves that simplicity. Mirror’s edge is that blend of the new cool with the old fun.
As a human avatar, Faith, your objective is to platform across tops of the buildings, in subways, and through construction yards, using jump, duck, run and the occasional fire buttons when you earn a gun. While having that nostalgic formula, the permutations of controls allows for deep, engaging gameplay.
Mirror’s Edge is a testament to the appeal of simplicity of game design. Fortunately, it may also be one of the best games you play this generation.
What I liked:
As a ‘runner’, your character must travel, on foot, through inconspicuous avenues to carry out the deeds of a repressed counterculture. While the story is pretty much the standard forecast of the future from the government-hating, conspiracy-theorist’s manifesto, it does provide a convenient excuse for the sense of complete isolation the player feels while traversing a playground of ledges, pipes and open vents. The immersive first person, HUDless perspective is enhanced with visual effects like motion blur and first person eyes that have to adapt to sudden shifts in light intensity. The sound design also helps in the experience by concentrating on transmitting ambient environmental noises rather than music.
The gameplay is intentionally designed to make you feel alone, totally vulnerable when introduced to enemies, and sometime predatory in your actions. Fortunately, the game does leave you alone a lot, which allows the player to understand Faith’s limits. This does, like it or not, lead to a lot of trial-and-error. Traversing the platforms using the environment is dependent on which combination of jumps and wall-crawling you can think up. Its in your best interest to try them all out, because when you do find an efficient method, the game cleverly rewards you by literally showing a sensory representation of maximum momentum. This freedom of control combined with the sensory expressing interface provides a truly impressive gameplay experience.
IGN’s Michael Thompsen (http://pc.ign.com/articles/941/941749p1.html) called this game sublime, and he pretty much nailed it. The white contrasted with bright colour scheme provides for a striking, surreal experience. The game runs on Epic’s Unreal Engine 3, which famously gives textures a greasy, shiny venire (see Gear of War character’s skins). This shiny style, however works extremely well with this game world because the narrative takes place in a hyper clean, spotless future. The game world is surrounded by an eerie aura of deliberate sterility wherein every square inch of concrete seems unmolested, while at the same time, begs to be manipulated by the character. The sky is always clear and the rooms are brightly lit and coloured, but of course, the appearance is meant to be ironically benevolent considering the heroine’s circumstances. Consistently striking colour choices with a solid complementary graphics engine make Mirror’s Edge is a masterpiece in art design.
What I didn’t like:
The concept behind Mirror’s Edge’s story is an interesting, albeit derivative, take on the future of an unregulated big brother. Considering the circumstances we face today, the themes are relatable. The problem lies in the presentation of the story. While the in-game first person cut scenes are effectively immersive, these are few and far between. The developers rather opted for horribly animated, cell-shaded, third person e-surrance ads to explain the convoluted, messy story. The fatal flaw in the presentation is the total disconnect wherein the player is constantly being pulled between engaging gameplay and laughably awkward animations, while having to somehow follow a poorly told story. In the end, I’m sure the game is just as fun if you skipped the cutscenes entirely. The story itself has interesting potential for a sequel and I hope it will be told with better consistency than this game.
"Pull trigger to fight":
Mirror’s edge has the perfect elements to be the anti-thesis to the macho, meat-grinding goregasms most mainstream titles strive for. As a young, female lead against armed soldiers, it would have been gratifying to be able to confront enemies not using a gun at all. While the game does give you the ability disarm an enemy, the last half of the game is flooded with useless gun combat. I know that it is possible to beat the game without having to use the gun, but to players like me, this task seemed needlessly hard to accomplish. It also doesn’t help that the hand-to-hand combat is clunky and inconsistent.
While this maybe just a testament to my skill, I did have to kill some enemies, but I really didn’t want to. I felt kind of guilty when I actually gunned down a police officer for the first time, but by the end it really didn’t bother me. What I don’t understand is why the game bottlenecked me into these situations? Where is the punishment this outlaw character deserves for killing a police officer? I wish this game had more options on top either disarming or killing. I hope to see some environmental manipulations, or stealth aspects in the next instalment of Mirror’s edge. I think more non-confrontational paths better fits the world, and would provide for a richer experience.
I could go on about how much I liked this game, but as I said before, the game is essentially an exercise of the senses; which means you just have to try it yourself. Its slick level design, simple controls and unforgiving trial-and-error gameplay harkens back to the halcyon glory days of 8-bit platformers. New dog, Old tricks.