Reviewed: December 8, 2008
Released: November 11, 2008
Most video games can either be classified as first-person or third-person with the main difference being whether or not you can see your on-screen character. It’s often the difference of playing a character or becoming that character, but there is also a third and seldom used variation of the first-person viewing mode. Those who played the cult-Xbox favorite, Breakdown back in 2004 will know exactly what I am talking about.
EA’s new acrophobic action game, Mirror’s Edge borrows on the VR-style camera used in Breakdown to actually put you in the role of the lead character in a way that most FPS titles seldom achieve, and it’s all done through some visionary camera work and enhanced with a cyberpunk-style storyline and a breathtaking skyline.
It’s nice to see EA actually release a game that isn’t a sequel or another franchise knockoff. Mirror’s Edge earns huge points for merely being different, fresh and exciting, but thankfully, it is also a fantastic game, both on the surface and even as we poke deeper into its core. The game borrows on multiple genres; puzzle, strategy, combat, shooter, and even racing to a certain degree. It blends all these elements into a highly original and stylized experience that will delight gamers and thrill seekers for as long as it lasts.
Mirror’s Edge is set in the near future where the oppressive government rules with an iron fist and the exchange of information is highly regulated. Thus, runners are born, fearless messengers who will transport just about anything they can carry across the rooftops of an amazing metropolis. We are quickly introduced to Faith, our main character, who gets us up to speed on the story before we embark on the tutorial that educates us on the rules of the game. For those who played the demo, welcome back.
The story quickly takes a backseat to the gameplay, and soon you won’t care who you are running from or where you are going. It’s all about the experience, and what an experience it is! Of course the first thing you’ll have to come to grips with are the unique controls that defy any sense of normalcy, but once you figure out how to run, jump, duck, and slide, the rest just becomes an elaborate puzzle as you follow a rather linear path through the city and the game.
In addition to a lot of running and jumping Faith will find herself in certain situations that involve combat. This can be of a hand-to-hand nature or you have the power to disarm cops and military personnel and turn their own weapons back on them. Depending on your style (and if you are going for the achievement that demands you don’t fire a weapon) you can approach these situations as you see fit. Personally, I found the entire combat mechanic rather glitchy and unsatisfying. To disarm you have to wait until the brief microsecond when their weapon changes color then make your move. Often, it was just easier to knock them down with a slide-kick and keep on moving, but sometimes their numbers are so great you at least have to thin them before moving on.
To help you get through these monochromatic levels Faith has Runner Vision, which highlights interactive environmental elements with a red color. You can also hold down a button and your view will shift to look toward your ultimate destination. Both of these tools won’t always point you toward the immediately path, but they are useful in navigating these huge levels that often look very much alike. And if you feel these tools are "too helpful" you can always turn them off and figure it all out for yourself.
There are nine chapters in Mirror’s Edge that mostly take place outdoors and at dizzying altitudes. Faith is fearless, more so than I, and the excellent camera work and unique perspective provided for some butt-clinching moments of queasiness as I found myself sliding down a sloped roof toward certain death or trying to balance as I did a rail grind down a crane mast used to build these towering skyscrapers.
From time to time Faith’s path will take you indoors for some simple yet futuristically elegant levels through offices, lobbies, or even sewage treatment plants. You’ll find yourself crawling through ventilation shafts or riding on the tops of elevator cars or making daring trapeze-style swings across horizontal poles. Faith and Lara Croft must certainly share the same vertigo-free DNA.
Most gamers can finish the relatively short story mode in 6-8 hours and once you do there is little reason to go back unless you want to play at a harder skill level or try for some of the more elusive achievements. My first trip through the story was gun-free as I was going for a specific achievement, but I look forward to replaying at the harder skill level and unloading a whole lot of high-caliber “whoop-ass” on those pesky Blues.
There is also a Time Trial mode that treats the levels as obstacle courses. You can play and replay these modes in hopes of achieving record times and even compete via Xbox Live leaderboards. It would have been nice to have some real-time competition with other humans or even the ability to download “ghosts” of record times so you had some visual incentive. Time Trials definitely extend the replay, but there is still some missed opportunity here.
Mirror’s Edge offers a visionary style and look to its original gameplay premise. While the gameplay world often approaches photo-realism the story is told through stylistic animated comic panels that you will either love or hate. Personally, I enjoyed the contrast of styles used to separate gameplay from narrative.
The entire game is played from a camera that is basically replacing the eyes of Faith. You see the world exactly as she sees it including all the dizzying vertigo effects. You’ll see her arms and legs flail around as she runs and flies through the air, her vision will blur around the edges as she sprints and focuses on her objectives. Mirror’s Edge achieves a VR style of gameplay we haven’t seen or experienced in years.
When it comes to running and racing, especially on foot, I hold all music up to the benchmark set by “Run Lola Run”. Mirror’s Edge easily stands up to that test with some of the best atmospheric, energetic, and emotional music ever heard in a video game. This is the stuff soundtrack CD’s were made for, and with plenty of remixes from popular DJ’s, you can hear the title song in numerous styles. Simply put, the music is as majestic as the skyline.
The rest of the sound experience is reserved for the pitter patter of running feet, the harsh gravelly sliding noises, the hand-over-hand climbing noises, the hollow metallic noises as you crawl through vents, or the painful groans when you forget to tumble after a fall. There is also a significant amount of dialogue; some heard through Faith’s earpiece during gameplay and a lot of speech in the story cutscenes. All of the voice acting is topnotch and totally believable.
To some degree Mirror’s Edge seems like a tech demo that got made into a game. It is so stylish and original that there is very little to compare it with, yet at the same time there isn’t a whole lot of content here. The ride is over far too fast; perhaps a testament to the amount of fun I had and the desire for it not to end, but the bottom line is that this game is short, and to some degree, even a bit repetitive at times.
The designers did a good job trying to mix things up with indoor and outdoor areas, and trying to blend some combat and puzzles into what would otherwise be a linear racing game. The puzzles weren’t all that challenging and the combat seems ill conceived, but even with its faults, Mirror’s Edge is an experience that every next-gen game needs to take part in.
Casual gamers can easily get by with a weekend rental, but for those who want to dominate the online leaderboards and uncover every last achievement; Mirror’s Edge is a worthy purchase and one helluva ride.