Movies like Banlieue 13, Yamakasi or Casino Royale brought a relatively unconventional urban sport under mainstream scrutiny: Parkour. On paper, the idea is simple: get from point A to point B as fast as you can, using the shortest possible route. If we were talking about a straight line, we could call it athletics. But nay, anyone who’s seen a French guy jumping from one pipe to another at a height of 200 meters knows that’s often not the case. The routes contain spectacular leaps, wall running, barrel rolls, slides, everything without a coffee break, cough or pause for a smoke.
On another, completely unrelated plane, we’ve got cybernetic tricks that are only comparable to parkour when you look at the basic concept. I’m reffering to the speed running community on Speed Demos Archive, whose purpose is to finish games in the shortest time possible. Using exploits (no cheats however), “clever use of game mechanics” and applying all their knowledge on how a game’s world is built and rigged, the members of said community succeeded in establishing many impressive records. Obviously, most games aren’t about how fast you get to the end… but the tricks and their flawless execution are often more spectacular than going through a game in the “normal” way.
So here we’ve got a product which, intentionally or not, brings the sport from the first paragraph to our monitors and serves as a portal for regular people to step into the world of e1337ism. A first-person platformer conceived and executed from a new angle, with minor shooter elements.
Mirror mirror on the wall, who’s the fastest of them all?
Enter Faith, crème de la crème of Runners, rebel FedEx people in a not-so-distant future in which it seems that the populace completely lost its trust in more traditional postage means. It’s not exactly clear what’s so totalitarian or extremist in the depicted world, perhaps it’s just paranoia in regards to the government control over communication and maybe delivery services. Anyway, these acrobatic couriers are often hunted down by cops (and private security companies) with a fervor that borders fanaticism.
The story isn’t remotely complex or new, revolving around a pretty thin conspiracy, with a few clichés here and there, but on the other hand it doesn’t seem to try, either. Every investigation, clue and announcement that we get from the cut scenes are basically excuses for going on to the parkour itself and having fun. Sure, there are a few bits that give some volume to the backstory, like announcements and articles scrolling down on elevator monitors, but not in all of them, not always and many of them aren’t tied to the main plot.
The cut scenes between levels look like Flash animations made by people who are pretty good at commercial art, but I for one love them. Others complained that they somewhat break the immersion, but let’s be honest, it’s a game split in levels; it’s not a continuous, dynamic storyline, so one way or the other it pauses at times. If you don’t like cartoons, you most likely won’t enjoy the cut scenes, but it’s a risk that Electronic Arts took. One which, knowing how an animation is made, I can only say was worth it.
If at first you’re only chased by the soggy and imprecise Blues, the second part of the game takes the cops completely out of the picture. It would have been ridiculous to always be hunted down by armies and choppers, so as the conspiracy unveils, law enforcement is replaced by a private security agency. Like I said, the story is a pretext to tie levels together, but I was so busy running around that I started ignoring the clichés that build it.
What makes the storyline even more insipid is the length of the game, which for a veteran with a bit of intuition will last about 4 hours, and even newbies won’t have a problem with getting to the end in less than 8 hours. And I’m not all that bothered by the game’s length as uch I am by the way it somehow doesn’t have time to draw and tie up a clear intrigue together – Portal did, at a far gentler price tag, with half of Mirror’s Edge length. Those two hours of first contact told a story about romance and betrayal da capo al fine, while Mirror’s Edge is much more superficial when it comes to the narrative.
There are, to be honest, plenty of moments that are filled with tension, some even outright spectacular, like a sequence in which, after jumping from one train to another, you have to sprint and kick your way through a door before a train coming from behind crushes you. And there’s this other sequence in which you have to chase another runner. Examples are plenty, but they are far more interesting to live on your own, and even so they can’t replace a more solid and mature story.