Review by EBwizDX
On the edge of perfection
Its arguable that immersion is the single quality that can make a game that takes place in first person perspective and make it gold. It makes sense, after all, since you literally take on the eyes and ears of the character you are playing, whether it be a cybernetically charged anti terrorist agent, a heavily armored super solider or a MIT educated scientist specializing in theoretical quantum physics. With the right AI and level design, players may be able to forgive some oversights such as control issues or even just the repetition thats inherent to the shooter genre. EAs own DiCE Studios now looks to reinvent the perspective by working the immersion into the actual game as much as they can with their new title, Mirrors Edge.
Players assume the role of Faith in a dystopian future where... well, Ill be honest by saying Im not entirely sure whats so bad about the world they live in. At the beginning of the game, we see that there are people who are none to happy with their government, inciting riots in the streets before being slaughtered by the police force of the totalitarian government without really explaining why they were rioting in the first place. Mirrors Edge never goes out of its way to explain to you why Faith chose the position of a Runner, someone who delivers communication to members of the ambiguous rebellion at drop off points, other than a sense of familial duty that comes out half way through the plot.
By the second level of the game, things spiral downward as Faiths sister, working on the right side of the law, is framed for murder of a high ranking public official while the runners are being hunted down much fiercer by the police than ever before. The combination of Orwellian style futuristic setting mixed with a politically charged murder mystery/fugitive story is truly a breath of fresh air for video game narrative that its kind of a shame that by the end of the game, it doesnt really go anywhere. We learn just enough about the characters back stories that we may sympathize with them during key plot moments, but not enough to really grasp a sense of purpose in the broad scheme of things. On the flip side though, this is Faiths story in what DiCE is obviously hoping they can turn into a major franchise. Were given just enough information (As well as a tad bit more with certain fliers, news tickers and computer screens around the game) to be drawn into the world, which will ensure that we buy the inevitable novel series should the sequel be a big hit.
In order to clear her sisters name, Faith is required to use her natural abilities as a runner in order to infiltrate buildings and defend herself against the police. This means running, jumping and swinging on walls, bars, and any kind of stable environment that could possibly traversed. This sounds like a nightmare in the first person environment, but it works surprisingly well for the most part. After a few runs of the training level, players will find themselves incredibly comfortable through the first level, a fairly simple mail delivery job, performing tricks that would make the Prince of the Prince of Persia series jealous.
This initial period is where we see all the work DiCE put in to make the immersion hit home. With all of the smooth maneuvers come equally smooth animation. Make a large leap, Faiths hands will spring forward. Hop over a fence, Faith will lean forward to grab the object, vaulting over it. Turning a tight corner, Faith will catch the wall in order to maintain momentum. Its simple animation thats repeated over and over, but it feels as natural as it would be for your own body to react that way from decades of training. In the moments where youre having a perfect run, nailing every jump and platform without fail, youll easily become lost into the world, no longer seeing your own living room, just feeling the wind hit your face. Unfortunately, this is a fairly rare occasion.
You see, at its core Mirrors Edge is a platforming game. I dont mean a 3D, collect all the objects to open up more worlds platformer either. I mean a strict, get from one end of the level to the other, precise timing required platformer that existed in the days of the NES and SNES. This means that upon your first play through of the game, you wont be a gazelle in the wild. You will fumble jumps, hit walls at the wrong angle, fall short, and any other number of embarrassing failures as you slowly feel out each level until you have it memorized to a science. Because of that, it wont be uncommon to reload from one of the games (admittedly generous) checkpoints up to as many as a dozen or so times until you figure out how to get over a particular hurdle, breaking the aforementioned immersion. Fans of similar old school action games such as Mega Man or Ninja Gaiden will feel back at home, but its understandable that new or spoiled gamers of current, more forgiving games may be turned off fast.
Also a long the lines of the games from the past, Mirrors Edge level design and controls arent as tight as the game sometimes requires it to be. At its best, the game has you running in a straight line, with a clearly laid out path with the occasional branch point that you run through with grace, much like Sonic the Hedgehog. At its worst, Mirrors Edge forces you to stop and think about where youre going in a large, open area like Prince of Persia. Theres a button that lets you see where you need to reach, but not telling you how to get there. At first, youll run around the room, aimless and lost. Youll think, thanks to the branching paths, that maybe theres more than one way to reach your objective. Youll think maybe the runners vision, an ability that colors the pathway you need to take in red, will kick in, regardless of the fact that everything in the room is red. Then, youll figure out where youre supposed to go, generally involving some tricky bunny hops, climbing, wall running and pole swinging. Then the controls begin to fall apart at slow speeds. Youll jump around tall walls, Faiths arms scratching away until she finally grabs the edge at the angle youve tried nearly 15 times. Youll run to jump over a hole when the jump button responds, bringing you back to the beginning. Even the context sensitivity will suddenly stop working, vaulting over objects that you should be able to leap frog into the air.
Then theres the combat. At the beginning of the game, youre instructed to just run away from combat, only fighting just enough to push the enemy out of its way or disarming them by running up on the enemy and pressing the right button at the right time. Later on, the game will literally throw many enemies at you, who youll have to defeat if you want a chance at say, pressing a button or releasing a pressure lock. The game offers many ways, some even hidden, at taking down your foes, but it poorly explains how to actually use those abilities. At first, you may think to take them out one by one in a straight line, but Faith can only take so many bullets to the head before she falls hard. In reality, youre supposed to play the game as you had been playing it all a long. There are certain paths to take to help isolate the enemies so that you fight them with no interference. Once you have figured this out, the games strong and weak points come back into play. Youll replay segments over and over, trying to discern the best way to approach combat for the particular room, until youve memorized the best path and then breeze through it on subsequent play throughs.
Mirrors Edge is a unique game thats surrounded in a sea of buts. The story is unique in the realm of video games, but its not as compelling as it could be. The level design is interesting, but not as tight as it could be. The controls handle well, but need to be more responsive. The most important but of all, though is but why should you care? Despite controller breaking frustration, it offers a new and exciting way of taking old school game design philosophy and presenting it in a 3D space. With a slick presentation, and much replay value for the savants of the design by doing speed runs of the levels and time trial courses, Only the most trigger happy of gamers who know nothing of the gaming sphere outside of Gears of War and Madden will want to stay away, but anyone else should find something to enjoy in Mirrors Edge.
Rating: 4.0 - Great
Product Release: Mirror's Edge (US, 11/11/08)
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