Mirror's Edge

BY Ed Kirchgessner  //  November 21, 2008

And now for something completely different.

C

alling all developers: consider this your wakeup call. Mirror's Edge, the newest creation from Swedish studio DICE, is as much a reworking of the first person rulebook as it is a paradigm shift for an industry. For too long, developers have mandated that the first person and shooting genres be joined at the hip — how could a player enjoy looking through the eye's of a character if there wasn't a handgun blocking a considerable portion of their field of view? Well, Mirror's Edge changes all that. While other first person experiences have tried to downplay the role of firearms (Portal comes to mind), none have succeeded like this — in Mirror's Edge, we find that guns, while not forbidden, are far from the solution to every problem.

L'ART DU DÉPLACEMENT

This is, after all, a game about running — of getting from here to there as efficiently and quickly as possible.Parkour is a philosophy of movement borne in France, and its tenets lie at the heart of what makes Mirror's Edge unique. This is, after all, a game about running — of getting from here to there as efficiently and quickly as possible. The buttons which would normally be dedicated to a firearm's functions (reload, fire mode select, etc.) have been remapped for other purposes: tumble, slide, kick and roll. There are many paths across the rooftops of the game's dystopic cityscape, and just as many ways to approach them. I must admit: I was first taken aback by the complexity and foreignness of this control scheme. After a short initiation, however, I was jumping between rooftops with abandon and experiencing a connection with a character unlike anything I'd ever felt before.

The PC game Wolfenstein 3D introduced me to a unique form of gaming in which I essentially "became" the protagonist. As jarring and eye opening as that experience was back in 1992, Mirror's Edge blows away my preconceptions no less dramatically. It's unusual enough for a first person title to show the player their character's feet, let alone legs and torso. From unique camera effects to subtle in-game feedback, Mirror's Edge goes closer to putting us "in the shoes" of a protagonist than any game that has come before.

THAT OTHER MAIN CHARACTER



Lighting that ranks with the best.
Faith, the woman through whom one experiences Mirror's Edge, is a pretty refreshing creation. Not since Beyond Good and Evil's Jade has a female lead impressed so much via her actions rather than her bust line. Still, even she takes second stage to the world that surrounds her. While the game's urban metropolis never receives a name, it bears a beautiful resemblance to a number of modern mega cities. Despite the antiseptic sheen of buildings' surfaces, this is a lived-in place: streets teem with pedestrian and motor traffic and the birds with whom Faith shares the rooftops often scatter as she nears.

Considering the amount of time spent on those rooftops, one might assume that the experience would grow old after awhile. Ingenious level design and a well balanced difficulty curve, however, prevent this from happening. Progressing through Mirror's Edge, one begins to discover new ways to travel through the environment — indeed, the color coded "lines" one follows through the city aren't always the only paths. Sometimes the most enjoyable (and fastest) routes stick out the least.

OLD SCHOOL ONLINE

While Faith can disarm and use the weapons of her opponents in the single player campaign, doing so is by no means a necessity. As such, a versus multiplayer mode whose goal is killing off one's opponents would be ridiculously unfitting. In place of this is a pair of time trial events. Speed Run is a leader board for the best completion times on each of the game's single player levels, while Time Trial begs players to complete shorter rooftop "playgrounds" under preset benchmarks.

The fact that players can download the "ghosts" of both their friends and strangers is uniquely beneficial. Puzzled as to how your arch nemesis bested your time by two minutes? Download his ghost and discover that shortcut through the level you'd overlooked. As a fan of more traditional arcade experiences, I found DICE's approach to this title's online to be both appropriate and highly addictive. "Fame" in Call of Duty 4 might last thirty seconds. In Mirror's Edge, it can last much longer thanks to persistent rankings and a true air of anonymous competition. It's like going to the arcade without ever leaving home.

IS THIS PERFECTION?

As good as Mirror's Edge is, it does stumble on occasion. The same controls which grant Faith her powerful assortment of moves are bound to be too difficult for some, and on occasion seem inconsistent — for instance, double jumps might be a cakewalk in one area, but nearly impossible in another. The game's story, while pretty good by video game standards, is far from topnotch. The visually simple cut scenes which popped up between levels, an essential narrative tool, seemed glaringly out of place considering the high degree of detail found in the actual game world. As for the world itself, it suffered a bit when lighting effects were removed: transitioning from outdoors to interiors tended to reveal flat walls and rather unexciting locations.

Still, this game didn't need to be perfect to be eye opening. It's going to be hard for me to go back to most traditional first person shooters having experienced Mirror's Edge and its unique (albeit obvious) solution to a common problem. In a market that's absolutely saturated with first person action titles, innovation should be something developers strive for at every opportunity. Oddly enough, the game which could end up saving the shooter genre is hardly a shooter at all.

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