Presently, the game industry doesn’t spawn too many innovative concepts. That happens largely because producers are betting their money on sequels, add-ons or expansion packs. Obviously, these are safer from a financial point of view than the creation of a new IP, but last year, Electronic Arts and DICE tried their luck with the release of Mirror’s Edge. A game with a new concept and quite large potential: parkour seen from the perspective of the runner, or if you prefer, a first-person platformer.
Just have a little … Faith
The story takes place in a metropolis from the near future, where the government controls everything, including any form of electronic communication. This is where Faith, the protagonist, comes into play, her job being to carry messages from one part of town to the other for customers who don’t want their conversations to be heard by the government. She avoids the police using the roofs as her playground, supported by an entire network of such couriers, called “Runners”.
Robert Pope is running for the mayor’s office and hopes to make radical changes should he be elected, but instead ends up with a bullet in his head. Faith’s sister, Kate, is framed for the murder and the task of finding the truth and helping her twin sister is Faith’s mission. On the way, she will be helped by Celeste, another messenger, and Merc, who is basically the dispatch.
To obtain the necessary information, Faith will make several incursions in different offices, will meet with various people, but the game will not take any unexpected turn, the story being there just to drive the game forward. All you need to know is that in a level you must get from Point A to Point B regardless of what happens.
What amazed me was that not even after the story ended we did not learn why everything is kept under surveillance or where the bags go to. But most importantly, I don’t know what messages are so important that they’re worth the police sending helicopters, SWAT troops and entire squads after. But answering that sort of questions is what sequels are for, right?
Even more annoying is how the story is presented. After you finish a mission, the usual cut scene appears. Unfortunately, they are made in the form of cartoons, which for me at least indicates laziness to do something more professional. I understand that the cartoonish graphics are something fancy, but either the whole game is made that way, or you give up on that kind of insertions. It’s true that on the way there are some cut scenes from Faith’s point of view, which helps you get into the character, but these moments are rare and short.
It is obvious even from the first minutes that the gameplay is mostly based on running. And as strange as it may seem, I love it. Faith has a varied repertoire of movements that can be performed depending on what obstacles she’s passing. She knows how to jump, vault over walls, climb them, , in other words, any obstacle can be overcome in one or more ways. Also, after running for several seconds, Faith will begin to sprint, which emphasizes the need to preserve momentum.
Running through a level without stopping gives you a unique sense of satisfaction and a feeling that you did everything as you should have. Fortunately (or unfortunately, depending on how you look at it) Mirror’s Edge is quite difficult sometimes and because of the first-person view, Faith will often miss an edge or a pole, so death will occur quite often during your rush to the finish line.
In these moments you feel responsible and you start thinking that you had to sync your moves better or that you jumped too early. But they can easily become incredibly annoying when trying to pass the same jump for the 20th time and failing. Add ten cops that have you in their crosshairs to that and you have the recipe for disaster.
Your help comes in the form of "Reaction Time", a sort of bullet time that helps you execute some difficult leaps, or disarm enemies. Reaction Time is recharged by running. Another helpful asset is the "Runner Vision", which shows the player how a "runner" sees the world and recognizes the best travel routes.
This is done through a red paintover of the objects that Faith has to get to in order to advance through the level. Towards the end of the game only the final objective will be shown, the way by which you get there being determined by player. This aid disappears completely on the most advanced level of difficulty, so you will need to find your own way if you get lost.
Final Round … Fight!
Another obstacle to the main character is made up by the enemies, who are very strong compared to the frail Faith. So you have to fight them, as Merc puts it, “one at a time. And rightly so, you will hardly be able to beat two enemies at the same time, especially if they are armed. So Faith has two options to fighting the enemy: she can disarm them or leave them unconscious.
Disarming requires you to press a button („Y" for the Xbox 360 version) when the enemies’ gun becomes red. Although it may seem easy, the weapon turns red only for an extremely short amount of time, so any successful disarm is a reason for joy. When Faith manages the maneuver she will get the opponent’s gun, but unfortunately it has few bullets in it and once they’re gone you no longer have use for the weapon.
Moreover, the shooting part is horrible and I don’t know why they even bothered to include it in the game; the weapons are hard to control, they’re inefficient and the sensation you feel when you’re shooting is far from what it should be.
On the other hand, if you prefer direct combat, arm yourself with patience, because you will die quite a lot in your efforts to take down an enemy. Especially if he is part of the SWAT troops; he has a gun, wearing armor and he’s surrounded by three other teammates. This is a major problem of the game from my point of view. If in the first chapters you were running from the average police officer and occasionally had to fight opponents, but in the last chapters you have to go through whole platoons of special forces because they stand in the way of your finishing the level. Combined with the poorly implemented shooting and the protagonist’s fragility, the last levels are very annoying, even on the easiest difficulty.
3 … 2 … 1 … Go!
After completing the Story Mode on one of the two initial difficulties (Easy, Normal) you unlock a number of things: the Hard difficulty and two game modes: Time Trial and Speed Run. In Speed Run Mode you must finish any of the nine chapters of the game in less time than the producers’ par time. The times are rather light and you can do almost every mission the first time around.
But the real challenge is the Time Trial, which is an alternative form of multiplayer. There are 23 "maps" that have routes made up of different checkpoints and your objective is to pass through all the checkpoints and reach the finish line. Depending on the time obtained, you will receive 1, 2 or 3 stars, so if you manage to collect 69 stars (23 maps x 3 stars) then you can consider the game over.
To ease out your chore you can download "ghosts" of the best times from the online Leaderboard, which help you enormously by indicating the ideal route and help you discover shortcuts; that is if you can keep up with them. Time Trial is very interesting and routes are very well designed, each requiring you to know a pretty good range of maneuvers, thus making time-trial a very time-consuming piece of this game.
Those modes are welcome because they increase the life of the game and its replay value. Especially if we think that the single-player can be finished on any difficulty in 7-8 hours maximum.
From an artistic point of view, Mirror’s Edge looks exceptional. The city is colored in a spotless white that constantly shines and is very clean. In addition to white a few colors paint parts of the world but never two at the same time, so the city will always be colored in two shades: white + blue / orange / red / green. To complete the general picture of the city the lighting system renders an affectionate natural chrome, which is one of the best I’ve seen so far.
Since I saw the first screenshots and artwork I was amazed by the beauty of such a city. And that special feeling it gives you when you watch the scenery from the top of a skyscraper can only truly be felt by watching some screenshots. Unfortunately, this can be considered a facade because you will spend enough time in the sewers or other confined places and although they are clean, they’re also dark and don’t have the same visual impact as the city itself.
Getting back to the graphics, textures are very good and the characters are very well outlined. Animations are also well rigged; everything has a fluidity that I’ve seen only in Assassin’s Creed. All the movements are so natural and the transition between one another is so flawless that at one point it begins to contrast with the nature of the city. Even disarming seen in first-person helps the immersion and contributes to putting you in the protagonist’s skin. The only thing that bothered me is that Faith has no reflection in windows, although a she stands at a few inches behind them.
The soundtrack is also great. The pieces are not many, but they do their job with honors. The main theme (Still Alive – not to be confused with the homonymous song from Portal) is excellent and I cannot imagine a piece that is more appropriate for this concept. In the time spent running around town the music does not make its presence felt too often, but it is omnipresent at the beginning and end of the cut scenes featured. Also, the same song “hits” you when you enter the menu, which helps you enter get into the atmosphere of the game.
Unfortunately, there are some minor technical issues (clipping of some objects in the background), but they can be easily ignored. More annoying is the fact that some loading screens appear mid-level that can sabotage the tempo of the game.
Mirror’s Edge is a game with an innovative approach, but unfortunately it is rough around the edges, and with a little more work on it would have been an amazing title. However, the rush to launch the game during the holidays has said its word.
But as plans for a Mirror’s Edge trilogy have already been confirmed, one can only hope that the problems will be fixed and then we could have a proper candidate for the Game of the Year award.