TGR was lucky enough to get invited to EA’s EA3 last month. We saw lots of great and promising upcoming games from EA, including Dead Space, Rock Band 2, and Left 4 Dead. One of the most promising and talked about game at EA3 was Mirror’s Edge, being developed by Swedish developers DICE, better known for the Battlefield series.
With everyone set, a member of the Mirror’s Edge team walked us through an early level within in the game. There were two things that DICE wanted to let us know before they got onto showing us the game. First is the essence of speed: picking up speed and gaining momentum is one of the major factors to consider while playing the game. They also focused on keeping the controls very simple, making the game’s speed as accessible as possible.
By using the L1 and L2, you are able to control some of the movements of the character, L1 for upwards motion and L2 for downwards. By running up to a ledge and by pressing L1, you can jump over it. L2 is used to crouch or a crawl, but it can also be used as a power slide if you have enough momentum and speed behind you. By combining the two, you are able jump over a ledge, and instead of having a heavy fall and breaking your momentum, by pressing the L2 button at the right time, you can roll when the character lands that would keep you’re speed an momentum going. DICE explained that individual moves are kept as simple as possible, but that the real skill lies within stringing together series of moves to keep your speed and momentum up.
A feature that was shown early on during the walkthrough is called Running Vision. While in game, it turns objects red that could be targets, or used as escape routes if the going gets tough. We were told that the feature could be turned off at the beginning of the game for the players that want a challenge, but having a simple, visual cue for the player to use makes sense: the character would have a better sense of their capabilities than the player could ever hope to learn in a few hours of gameplay.
Next, we were shown one of the many sewers that are in the city. Modeled after real tsunami sewers in Tokyo, DICE thought it would be a great idea to have these drains in the city as they provide great spaces to have fun and to provide difficult obstacles to overcome. Our guide mentioned that there are multiple ways to get through most situations. After been chased down into the sewers by a helicopter, a sniper team appeared, and there were two options that could be taken: pick up a sniper rifle yourself and take them out from a distance, or move you forward and take them out close range. He decided to try and get close to them, but eventually got shot by one of them.
This actually showed us how the game manages health. Like many modern games, there is no pretty gauge or row of hearts: the world gets desaturated and blurry, and the more distorted your vision is, the closer to death you are. Also like many modern games, health regenerates when not in combat.
DICE really wants the player to choose if and when they need a weapon in Mirror’s Edge. Having a weapon really slows down the player, and many maneuvers are unavailable with weapon in hand. Weapons are meant as a last resort, but using martial arts is a good way to go. DICE explained to us that “combat is basically like Gears of War: the combat is all about duck and cover and in our game, it is about isolating and disarming.” In one example, there were four enemies on the screen, all with machine guns, and were you to go head first, you would fail.
“You have to use your moves to slip them up and then take them out one at a time,” we were told. Watching our guide pull off disarming moves and finish them off one by one felt a lot more intense and personal than just running in, guns blazing.
So why first-person? DICE explained to us that they wanted to do this action adventure game in first-person because there are enough third-person action adventure games out there already, and it wouldn’t be anything new. “We felt that first-person is giving us something different and new. We felt that first person is more a immediately visceral experience than third person. There is actually a difference between watching and actually moving, actually being in that action and being an action hero. Watching the chase sequence and actually being in it. So we wanted to bring something new to this genre.” They weren’t kidding: every movement you make (jump, fall, land, run, attack) forces the camera to respond like you’re right there. We did ask if the player would feel disorientated while playing the game. Our guide pointed out a red box at the center of the screen, and explained that it helped the player to keep their eyes focused on one spot, much like a figure skater would when spinning. "You need that red cue in the center of the game. We found that when you take it away, you get motion sickness because a flat screen isn’t what your brain is used to seeing. In the end, it doesn’t know what to look at so it looks at everything. So we needed that box for you to focus and control your eyes as what you are supposed to be looking at.”
Mirror’s Edge is shaping up something amazing. It’s such a beauty to look at: bright, clean, and vibrant colors really separate it from all the other big games that seem to want to use different shades of gray. The game has been in development for two years now, and we saw from this walkthrough that every day has been a job well done, as this could be the most exciting, original, and imaginative title of the year. EA and DICE have something very special here.