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A Word About Mirror's Edge

So here's a game that I was pretty excited about the moment I first saw a video of it, which I think was released during some kind of video game convention a year or two ago. The idea of a game where combat was not necessarily encouraged and making some kind of daring escape by running away was something that sucked me (as well as many others) in. Most of the videos put out prior to the release of this game showcased the game's first person view of the player running and jumping over the top of a city. There was some small amount of focus on disarming guys and combat, but a decent amount of it seemed focused on platforming, which was pretty cool because I enjoy myself some awesome platforming.

Anyway the game came out and I held off buying a copy until after Christmas and was gifted with a copy for my birthday (or Christmas, I forget). Upon coming home from Christmas vacation I popped it in my XBox and played. So now here's a game that can be best described as a mix of amazing and infuriating. What the game does well, though perhaps not as well as it could have, but well enough that it's enjoyable, is the platforming aspect. It's pretty rewarding to pull off some combo of moves in order to climb something or to get to the next building or whatever you like.

Early in the game you are presented with some combat situations, but they're not too difficult to deal with. The enemies are also fairly slow (especially compared to you) and their weapons aren't too damaging. The game supports a no health kits system, so you just need to not get damaged for a certain amount of time to fully heal. However in spite of these seeming advantages, the game also has some shaky areas at the start that may make you wary. Early on there's the first of many "run for your fucking life" challenges where your path is not always necessarily 100% clear. Even with 'Runner Vision' on (which turns objects you can vault from, grab, climb etc. bright red) the way you go is not always entirely evident. When you have four or five guys shooting at you this usually leads to death.

Ah, but it gets worse. As you progress you are given more and more formidable foes. SWAT teams with shotguns, semi-automatics and even fully automatic machine guns stand in your way. A lot of the time the path between you and a goal is literally a straight line through a room blocked only by enemies. Generally there is lots of cover along the way, but only enough to block anyone beyond the closest enemy from shooting you. So essentially you are all but forced to fight at these points in the game (of which there are many). Also the further you progress, the more disjointed the sections of the game become. Where there previously may have been some combat/parkour combination areas, there are simply combat areas followed by parkour areas that are entirely free of enemies.

And therein lies the main problem. For a game that initially seemed to tout the ability to avoid combat and utilize escaping (and this is even noted in the loading screens and the game actually has multiple achievements rewarded for not using guns) you are not all but forced to fight. At times your goal will be simply climbing a ladder to the next floor of a building, but this task could be next to impossible due to a man with a machine gun and pinpoint accuracy. Now, generally this wouldn't be an issue since it's a game after all and you can just shoot a guy and be done with it, however combat in Mirror's Edge is not exactly what one would call fluid. Taking out a single enemy is usually a matter of a couple punches or kicks, though they will block repeated spam attempts so you need to keep it somewhat varied. There's also a disarm mechanic which will essentially take a weapon from an enemy and disable them entirely, but the method of activating it requires quick reflexes (their gun turns red for a split second) and often times doesn't trigger properly.

All of this adds up to some very frustrating combat. Given that you are often forced to use hand-to-hand combat (since the only weapons you get are the ones dropped, and there are no ammo pickups) the failure rate against some enemies can be very high. Add to that the fact that some can kill you from fairly far away and you may just be cursing at your screen a whole bunch.

Now lay on top of that the pretty well done platforming aspect. Now, platforming is not something everyone enjoys. In first person games they're usually referred to as 'jumping puzzles' and are very often universally hated. Ask anyone about the Xen levels of Half-Life for a prime example. They're not really puzzles in any sort of the traditional sense of the word though. 'Puzzle' would seem to imply you need to figure something out, whereas a jumping puzzle just involves you jumping from platform to platform without having to start over. Regardless this game is one massive set of jumping puzzles. Also I have never had a problem with jumping puzzles myself, and while continued failure to make a jump can also be frustrating, it's a much more manageable level than the combat aspect of the game. When you finally get past a combat-oriented area your first thought is something along the lines of "fucking finally!" whereas beating a platforming section gives you a sense of accomplishment.

That's not to say the platforming is perfect. Putting the game in first person was perhaps not the best decision. In first person it's often more difficult to judge how and where you're going to land, which is perhaps why you can see every part of your body if you know where to look. Being able to see your arms and legs gives you some sense of orientation and of course also keeps the game from looking like some kind of weird camera-based racing game, especially since often times you will be sliding along the ground or doing somersaults to cushion some of the longer falls. Still though, most of the moves and puzzles remind me a lot of Sands of Time (the first game in the second Prince of Person trilogy) which I also felt was a very strong platformer, and that's never a bad thing.

There are other things I could talk about as well. The story of the game is completely laughable and generic, even by video game standards. Dystopian city, you on one side of the law, your sister on the other side, she's been framed for murder, you need to get her back and get revenge on who did it. Blah blah blah. For some bizarre reason I don't quite understand all the story cutscenes (the ones that take place between levels rather than during) are done in a sort of Flash-style vector art that doesn't really fit in the the art style of the rest of the game. You can skip them once the level has loaded, or just sit through them like I did and weep at the generic dialogue as the fairly predictable story unfolds.

Interestingly enough in the future there will be a DLC release for this game which contains levels that, aside from being mostly abstract, have no enemies or 'run for your life' missions in them. They've taken out pretty much every frustrating or poorly done aspect of the game for the DLC and left only the purest and most fun elements. Granted it will probably be much more difficult platforming but I'm all for that since the main game never felt like it had any ultra-difficult moments in that regard. So I guess if nothing else I'm looking forward to that stuff.

Either way, Mirror's Edge is a pretty good example of a game with a good and even innovative idea that was simply executed poorly. I've heard Mirror's Edge 2 is in the cards in spite of mediocre sales for the first game, so hopefully DICE can refine and fix the mechanics and make a first person platformer that's as enjoyable as we all imagined. Or at least close enough.
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You used the same screenshot twice there.

Jan. 27, 2009 (9:55pm EST)

#2 - Mike Reply
I don't know what you're talking about!

Feb. 1, 2009 (10:10pm EST)