Mirror’s Edge is set in a rather sterile-looking nanny state sometime in the near future, where crime is minimal, but so are its citizens’ social and civil rights. Those that speak against the government are cast to the edge of society; their social liberties taken away, their phones tapped, and always under the watchful eye of the totalitarian authorities. These outcasts are therefore forced to rely on more primitive forms of communication to stay under the radar.
That is where Faith, the game’s lead character, comes in. Faith is a courier, or a runner as they are referred to in the game, whose parents were persecuted for rebelling against the government and whose sister is framed for murdering a mayoral candidate, a crime for which Faith too is under suspicion.
While in most games a premise like this would set the tone for vengeful gunfights and exaggerated boss battles, in Mirror’s Edge, the story is where similarities with every other game end. Running is what Faith does best, and a lot of the game involves her evading the authorities rather than confronting them. In fact, you very often have an option to do either, and the beauty of the game is that, most of the time, giving your pursuer the slip is a lot more exhilarating than two shots to the dome.
Mirror’s Edge is heavy on platforming, and while we’ve seen some innovative takes on the genre this year with games like LittleBigPlanet and Braid, Mirror’s Edge flips the script entirely by putting the player in a first-person perspective. And it isn’t the floaty, man with no legs FPS perspective either. The game has what the developers call full body awareness, which means that if you look down, you will see her feet, at full sprint you will see her pumped fists, and in mid-air you will see her legs stretch to propel herself forward.
And if simply platforming in first-person wasn’t enough innovation, you also have a wonderful set of camera animations to bring in a real sense of realism and immersion into a simple thing like running. The faster you run, the more your head will bob around. Landing from big jumps into a parachute roll also triggers a very believable camera animation, which, however, may prove disorienting for some. Even just standing in an elevator after an intense chase, the camera will bob gently as Faith breathes heavily.
There have been fears that, owing to the camera animations and dizzying roof-top gameplay segments, the game could cause simulation sickness leading to disorientation or nausea. DICE, the game’s developers, have studied this issue at length and to address this, they have added a small reticule near the centre of the screen which acts as a focal point, reducing the chances of simulation sickness. I personally wasn’t bothered much while playing the game, but I did start to feel a bit nauseous after playing for five hours straight. So like any other game, taking a break every hour or so may be a good idea. And if you’re the queasy type, keep that reticule on.
Since there’s so much of running involved, momentum also plays a major role. You start slow and you will need 5-6 strides before you start to gather enough steam and momentum. Momentum is especially important when making big jumps and when faced with several enemies. And being a rather diminutive figure, Faith will also be slowed down considerably when carrying a weapon. It’s fight or flight; either stand your ground and take out the hostiles or drop the gun and make a run for it.
You also have melee attacks at your disposal as well as disarming abilities, which is, in fact, the only way to get your hands on a gun. There are no guns and ammo stashes lying around for you to pick up. And if you do decide to shoot, you only have as many rounds as are already in the gun. After that, you better just drop it and start moving.
The hand combat works reasonably well but the AI does seem dull at times and you can very often simply run past an approaching cop and not have him even turn around and shoot you down. It’s also very strange that while Faith can take 3-4 bullets at a time, two melee attacks will kill her. A rather jarring oversight is the death animation. Every time Faith dies, she will fall on her side with her hand in front of her face, but strangely if you get shot dead in the middle of a jump, that animation will play out the same way, which means she’ll fall on her side and die in mid-air. Unpardonable.
Disarming an enemy can be difficult because only for a brief instance during the enemy’s melee animation can you pull off a disarm. To make this a little easier, you have reaction time. Hitting the SQUARE button will slow down time, allowing you to time your disarm move better. You can also use reaction time to find your way around when you’re at full speed, but you’d much rather not; it’s a lot more fun that way.
Being a skilled exponent of Parkour, Faith also possesses skills such as wall-running and can combine wall-runs and jumps together to get to hard-to-reach places. These combinations are the key, and you’ll want to figure them out early on in the game. Wall-runs can also be used effectively during melee combat and while a regular melee attack won’t do much damage, an attack off a wall-run will disorient the enemy long enough for you to disarm him.
At full steam, Faith can gather up a considerable amount of pace, and combined with the camera animations, finding your way around could get tricky. . . if this was any other game. To make things easier to find, DICE have come up with a truly unique and refreshing art style. Where most games build their environments around greys and browns, Mirror’s Edge does it with white.
The entire city is whitewashed with only splatterings of bright primary colours, which do more than just break the monotony of white. In order to guide the player even at full speed, the game uses a system known as runner vision, whereby objects that Faith can interact with glow in red when she is in the vicinity. While these are often the most direct and obvious paths forward, brightly coloured walls, stair cases, etc are often alternate paths that can be taken. Many of these alternate paths are quicker, but not necessarily straightforward.
Even at full speed, these bright objects stand out from the softer white environments, reducing the chances of the player losing his/her way. That’s not to say that you will always find yourself where you need to be. While holding the CIRCLE button on the PS3 controller will guide you towards your destination, the levels do get a little hard to negotiate, and very often you will need to stop and look around to find your way when you would much rather be screaming through it like David Belle. As a player, you don’t like to be spoon-fed, but some sort of subtle indicator integrated into the environment would’ve been handy. It would have let the player stop worrying about getting lost, and enjoy the free-running aspect, the hallmark of the game, a little more.
Some sections of certain levels, particularly on the rooftops, did seem to be lifted directly from previous levels. But on the whole, the levels are quite well designed and include various environments like rooftops, storm drains, subways, malls, office interiors, etc, with each having a distinctive feel to them. Then, of course, there are the elevators. If there’s one thing I would like to see disappear from the inevitable sequel, it would have to be the elevator sections. At least twice in each chapter (there are 9 chapters) you will find a chase rudely interrupted by an elevator ride just when you were starting to have some fun. These rides last about half a minute and unless they serve a technical purpose like mid-level loading, the game is better off without them.
The story of Mirror’s Edge is just about okay. Overthrowing the government, finding the killer, rescuing a loved one framed for murder; it’s all been done to death in games, film and TV. Mirror’s Edge throws the same at you without much of a twist. And while key plot elements are meant to be shocking and surprising, you will have seen them coming long before they actually do.
Not helping matters are the 2D cutscenes. Considering the fact that you don’t see Faith at all throughout the game, the cutscenes should ideally have been the medium through which the player learns about Faith; her nature, her mannerisms, etc. Instead, what you get is expressionless animations and drab voice acting, making it hard to really identify with Faith or the predicament she is in. The game ends in a sort of anti-climax with the battle won, but the war far from over, setting up part two of the planned three-part series.
Mirror’s Edge is a brilliant technical achievement. DICE deserves much praise for being daring enough to incorporate an innovative gameplay mechanic, a brand new camera animation system and an unconventional art style all into one new IP. And they come together well enough to make first-person platforming an enjoyable experience. This is a game that everyone must try because nothing like this has been done before, and it is surely something that will inspire future games. But while the core gameplay mechanic works extremely well and is way ahead of its time, the devs weren’t quite able to keep up with it in terms of story and, to an extent, level design. To add to that, the story mode is rather short, with only speed run and time trials adding some replay value, making it a little hard to justify a purchase.
(+) Free running is a joy
(+) First-person platforming works
(+) Refreshing art style
(-) Underwhelming story
(-) Short story mode; no multiplayer modes
IndianVideoGamer Verdict: 7/10 (Borrow)