Attempting to successfully deliver brand new gaming concepts in an industry filled with me-too copycats, sequels, and tired gameplay mechanics is always risky business for developers. Thankfully, EA Digital Illusions CE (DICE) has taken that leap of faith and crafted Mirror’s Edge, a unique and invigorating first-person platform/action/adventure/shooter.
As noted in our preview of the game, Mirror’s Edge takes place in a near-future dystopian metropolis; a sterile, geometric, and homogeneous cityscape whose government holds the reins tightly and authoritatively on its population in an effort to maintain an Orwellian society of surveillance, control, obedience, and ignorance.
The city itself appears to have had structures from real-world locations inserted into its skyline, from Seattle’s Space Needle to Chicago’s Sears Tower to any number of other contemporary edifices. The composition of this whitewashed urban jungle carries the message that Mirror’s Edge could potentially be set anywhere in the world. Absent, however, is anything old or impure. Each building stands as an impersonal and uninviting column of steel and glass; any predating the current regime — any with character — has been torn down and forgotten, just like the culture they aim to dissolve. There is nothing historic about this place. Gone, too, are the usual grays and browns of a worn, living city. Nearly every surface is white, from the roofs and walls right down to the sidewalk. Even the office plants and the trees in Centurion Plaza are devoid of color. It is reminiscent of a hospital, detention facility, or psychiatric ward.
Runners like Faith, the game’s heroine, oppose this way of life and work to deliver packages and correspondence between the pockets of citizens who hold onto the old ways. Because of this disobedience, government agents hunt them like rats, forcing them underground and onto the rooftops to deliver their assumed messages of revolution.
To the player, this means controlling Faith as she runs from point A to point B, avoiding armed officials and performing feats of acrobatics and urban running normally reserved for parkour traceurs. What separates Mirror’s Edge from other games of this nature is its perspective. This is a first-person game, but unlike most first-person shooters players are made very aware of Faith’s physical presence, from head to toe. The camera bobs, tilts, and tumbles as Faith traverses the rooftops, and her arms and legs often find their way into the field of view as she runs, jumps, and climbs over various objects. Players are meant to feel as though they’re literally looking through Faith’s eyes, and the lack of any on-screen health or ammo information serves to reinforce that feeling.
As Faith, players use a simple "up movement" and "down movement" control scheme to leap from building to building, vault over and slide under obstacles, run along walls, grab ledges, climb pipes and ladders, springboard off of small objects, and more. Momentum is very important, and can mean the difference between a cleared gap and a fatal fall to the streets below. This modern Princess of Persia is encouraged to move as quickly as possible not only to overcome obstacles, but also to avoid the pursuers who trail her nearly every step of the way. While she is more than capable of wielding firearms, Mirror’s Edge emphasizes the fact that one person is no match for a squad of trained law enforcement officers, and attempting to combat them is a fast track to the morgue. Instead, special "runner vision" highlights certain parts of the environment, indicating viable pathways to what the player can only hope will be a moment of respite. Color is the key to safety in Faith’s World. The environment is predominantly achromatic, but certain aspects stand out like beacons in bright primary and secondary colors. Red, blue, yellow, and orange objects represent the way forward, away from danger, and even without runner vision players can spot these guiding lights from a great distance.
Of course, there are times when Faith is forced to fight. In these instances, pressing the X button will engage Reaction Time, a slow-motion effect that gives her the upper hand on her opponents, allowing her to step in and incapacitate them, unharmed. A well-timed tap of the Y button strips an attacker of his weapon and puts it in Faith’s hands, or for a more direct approach, she can simply punch and kick her enemies into unconsciousness. Stringing these strikes together with parkour techniques increases their effectiveness and creates new types of attacks. In fact, players needn’t kill a single person throughout the entire game. Holding onto weapons actually limits Faith’s mobility, so it’s really a matter of "fight or flight" at many points in the game.
If either option should fail, Faith is quickly resurrected at the most recent spawn point, which are plentiful throughout the game. There is only a short load time here, as opposed to the relatively long waits players are forced to endure prior to each chapter. Even mid-stream, there are a few jarring level loads that freeze the action in place (similar to those in Half-Life 2), as well as a few patience-trying elevator sequences that attempt to disguise the data-retrieval. The elevators do tie into the theme of government media regulation, however, with articles and news briefs almost always scrolling on the walls of these confined spaces. The propaganda is shoved down citizen’s throats right where they can’t escape from it.
Faith can escape the oppression of the game’s story via Time Trial mode. There, checkpoints strewn across the rooftops create individual courses that players must rush through as quickly as possible, earning higher rankings and unlocking new areas as their performance improves. Ghosts of prior trials, Xbox LIVE friends, and worldwide leaders can be set to run each course, acting as a sort of goal or guide. It can be very enlightening to see what tricks others have used to clear these rooftop playgrounds with record speed, and very addicting trying to better your own times. And if you can’t quite let go of the Story mode, but still have the need for speed, Mirror’s Edge also has a Speed Run section that keeps track of players’ best times through each of the game’s 9 chapters.
EA DICE is to be commended for their work on Mirror’s Edge. They have taken an existing gameplay concept and applied it in a brand new way, creating a thrilling game whose biggest flaw is that there simply isn’t enough of it. Load times bog down the game’s flow at times, and the gunplay isn’t tweaked to perfection, but the overall experience is interesting, exciting, and stylish from beginning to end.