Historically, Big Brother governments and freewill don't mix very well. When personal information is smothered, monitored or becomes a catalyst for political action, how can people expect to live private lives? DICE's Mirror's Edge uses this not-so-fictional premise to propel a game where civil liberties have been suppressed by a government that favors social ignorance over self-expression. By using the art of movement, Le Parkour, and a completely first-person perspective, this EA published title takes the linear, corridor shooter, and adds a degree of freedom with an element of verticality. Though a first-person action game, the attention here isn't about badass weaponry or gadgets—and that's what makes Mirror's Edge one of most refreshing games of this generation, so far.
Let's get one thing straight from the start: Yes, Mirror's Edge does offer gunplay action, and the opportunity to dispatch enemies with a shotgun blast at point-blank range, but the way you'll get the most out of the game is by refraining from using any trigger-happy tendencies left over from years of twitch-shooters. Instead, what's offered in the Swedish developer's latest game is the chance to do what the protagonist, Faith, your character, does best: run.
...And run Faith does—a lot. Mirror's Edge is set in a future where crime is all but extinct. Though, this peace has come at a cost: Information, communication, actions, and general exchanges are subject to the city's authorities and agenda. Such vigilance and hard-lined policies have created a future where personality and different ideas are viewed as rebellious and anarchic. This reality is best developed in the relationship between the Blues (cops and other security figures) and the Runners (those who bypass policed channels with packages of information as highly-skilled couriers); where the Blues represent reform and enforce docility through subjugation, the Runners embody free-form action by way of deviance.
Yet, it seems, even dissent lives in this state, as an up-and-coming politician, who opposes the status-quo, is murdered in his office. This assassination, however, brings Faith into the mix, because it is her sister who is implicated in the murder, who is a Blue herself. The plot, however, is used as a way to involve the Runners in general through Faith's relationship with her sister. Although the Runners have survived under the radar for the time leading up to Pope's death, this setup creates a tension where Runners are legitimated as dangerous villains propagating violence, and a threat that must be stopped with a new kind of security force.
Though the story only scratches the real-life debate of privacy and expressionism versus national security and anti-crime efforts, the game does well in developing the two themes. Yet, the story really boils down to little more than uncovering the mystery of who killed Pope, and who set up her sister, and consequently, the Runners. With help from Faith's father-figure and mentor, Merc, the free-running story has a few choppy elements, but gradual revelations make Faith's sleuthing feel more believable as you become more suspect of a corrupt, distrustful government that wants to snuff your kind out.
Through Esurance commercial-style cutscenes, in-game advertisements and updates from Merc, Mirror's Edge caters to both a contemporary critique of law and society, as well as creating a believable context for some amazing gameplay.
In a generation where first-person gaming seems to be all about big guns and shooting things, it seems that DICE has asked, “Is it possible to make an engaging first-person action game, without falling back on Doom-style precedent?” The answer, is “yes,” and Mirror's Edge embodies such a philosophy. Even though Faith is able to disarm weapons from attackers in graceful movements, and shoot them while they're disoriented, you're constantly reminded from Merc and your experiences that Faith is no Marcus Fenix.
Like other first-person games out there, if Faith takes too much damage, color will fade from the screen as things become little more than shades of gray. In this setting, the mechanic makes finding key objects harder to spot, due to their red color disappearing from them in Faith's Runner Vision; it also alerts you to the fact that you're not meant to fight, you're meant to run. The emphasis on flight is what makes the game feel like a novel addition to the genre, but the biggest let-down here are sections where you're required to slow down and fight enemies who overpower you with armor and automatic weaponry. While you can opt to beat them down, steal their guns and use up the rest of the ammo in the clip, doing so burdens Faith with extra weight and an inability to grab on to ledges. However, the true burden is in the clunky combat.
With only a handful of attacks, the simplicity of combat is a boring alternative to fleeing. Every movement and action requires little deviation from the shoulder buttons of the controller. Yet, no matter how simple or mundane a few button sequences may be while traversing roof-tops, ventilation ducts or insides of buildings, they're varied and challenging enough to keep you excited—no matter how much trial and error factors into it. On the other hand, combat feels boring, unexciting and forced in comparison. Requiring you to separate groups of enemies into single opponents fits with the theme of staying in motion and using your wits instead of your brawn, but once you manage to corner a Blue, beating him down looks and feels awkward with punches that don't seem to connect.
Instead, the real excitement of the game comes from the sections where you're either infiltrating a building or running from pursuers; not when you're on the offensive. While the story is relatively short—running for around 8 to 10 hours will get you to the end of the mystery—Time Trials and Speed Runs of single-player levels creates the most competitive aspects of Mirror's Edge. Both alternative options pits you against the clock and Leaderboards, with Time Trials creating checkpoint races and Speed Runs timing how fast you can complete a full in-story level. While the Speed Run hiccups with the same combat requirements of the story portion, Time Trials really allow you to tap into the Parkour philosophy where momentum, timing and agility play the biggest part in completing circuits within a target time. The best part is, after you record a fast time, your performance can be uploaded online as a ghost to share with and compete against others.
Downloading ghosts may point out some new tricks for your own runs, but DICE are known for quality multiplayer experiences, and it's hard not to point to a missed opportunity. With such a first-person experience—one that actually makes you feel like you're fighting gravity and other physics as you jump across gaps and onto speeding trains—it's sad not see some inventive online options. Something simple like Tag would do the trick; or, an expansion from one of the single-player moments where you're dodging laser-sighted sniper fire could have created a multiplayer setup that takes the novelty of exploring environments through Free Running and utilizes it for a game mode where a whole host of players could trash-talk each other in. As it is, Leaderboards are fine, but not an adequate substitution for community involvement.
In a generation where first-person gaming is becoming more and more popular, it's refreshing to play a title where your goal isn't to shoot or blow up things to complete your object; instead, all you need do is run, time out your movements and think creatively to traverse your environment. Though hung up on iffy combat sequences, Mirror's Edge highlights the ability to have a fun game where jumping supersedes pulling a trigger. Lively contrasts of reds and blues against sterile, bright whites create a thrilling environment to runabout in. A different kink of “Still Alive” headlines a strong techno-based soundtrack and relatively good voice-acting.
On the whole, Mirror's Edge is the type of first-person experience we need more of, spotting the ever-growing landscape of shooters out there.
Moves Altair would be jealous of
Realistic execution of conserving momentum and necessity of speed
Time Trial courses that require precise movement and calculations
Oh, hell no:
Punch, punch, kick, repeat combat
No equally-as-interesting multiplayer