Being innovative in a video game is something of a tight rope. You can either get it gracefully right, or very, very wrong. Mirror’s Edge is a brand new-IP from EA based around free running, hoping to add a fresh take on the FPS genre. The vibrant presentation and minimal controls seem creative enough, but this doesn’t necessarily make it an enjoyable romp from start to finish.
The opening cut scene introduces us to Faith, a ‘runner’ who is attempting to liberate a lifeless city bound by authoritarian government. She explains the idea of ‘flow’, the ability to see rooftops as pathways and ladders as a means of escape from the police. We’re also given glimpses of Faith’s childhood, but there is never an explanation for why the city is so tightly controlled. The themes of rebellion and underground protest constantly arise in the story and you’ll quickly begin to feel like a part of this movement as the game progresses.
Rather than assigning every command to a different face button, Mirror’s Edge gets its control scheme right by mostly using just two bumpers (LB/RB or L1/R1). One is for ‘up’ movements, such as jumping, vaulting fences and pulling Faith up ledges. The other is for crouching, sliding and anything else associated with going ‘down’. It’s deceptively simple, but works well once you’ve got to grips with the absolutely vital tutorial.
The city is made up of ridiculously clean, white buildings, contrasted with the stark red of objects you can use to your advantage. This setting feels instantly refreshing and a hundred miles away from the mud colour palette that haunts most next-gen shooters. The engine does a good job at making the city feel like a sandbox ready to explore, but the truth is far from it. Your route through each chapter is surprisingly funnelled and linear, encouraging you to always keep going and build your momentum. It needs to be, as straying from the path for a bit of exploration nearly always breaks the illusion of a life-or-death chase.
Mirror’s Edge is at its best when you’re running at top speed, watching Faith’s arms and legs pump back and forth as she hurtles towards the next checkpoint. Being able to see parts of her body from a first person perspective (when appropriate) goes a long way in portraying the game’s sense of urgency. She’ll throw the weight of her shoulder into a door to open it, slide down a ladder without using any of the rungs and skid under a closing garage door. As long as you don’t falter your momentum keeps increasing, rewarding you with speedier times and an addictive screen blur.
Unfortunately your not always going to get the level right first time. Sometimes the solutions needed to survive a SWAT team or access the next area are unnecessarily prescriptive, forcing you to redo a sequence again and again until you get it right. If you’ve just been hurtling through a subway system on the euphoria of instinct and quick reactions the experience comes crashing down when you’re forced to stop dead like this.
This game should be commended for making players feel they shouldn’t get involved with combat. Faith is exceptionally fragile and weak, often losing fist fights if she’s outnumbered by more than two foes. You can use punches and kicks, or attempt to disarm enemies with a very tricky reactive button press. Weapons are available but rather cumbersome, slowing you down until you ditch them on the floor. After the first couple of hours gamers will quickly learn that the best bet is to avoid them altogether, taking much more enjoyment from sprinting past their confused faces. However, there are times when your forced to take on the ‘feds and its these moments that actually make up the low points in the campaign.
Where Mirror’s Edge really shines is in it’s more elaborate set pieces. A subway escape has you jumping from roof to roof of speeding trains, while another has you jumping from a building to the safety of a moving helicopter. These scattered moments lift the game higher and tease gamers at just how monumental this title could have been. Or how, if given the chance, Dice could make a sequel even better.
The cartoony cut scenes are poor and could have been improved by sticking with the first person perspective for all of the narrative. The soundtrack is superb though, conveying an ambience and personality only equalled by the high end visuals.
Unfortunately there’s no multiplayer mode, apart from a time trial leader board that lets you download various ghosts to race against. The DLC pack includes eight hyper stylised maps, brimming with colour and the opportunity to set speed run records.
I always want to praise a game that strives for innovation, but for everything Mirror’s Edge gets right there’s an annoying irritation. I love the concept and setting, but the narrative needed to be told better. The gameplay is generally fantastic, but could have been even better with its combat and repetitive structure ironed out. This is a recommended rental, if only to show support for what could be a phenomenal sequel.