17 Aug, 2009
Usually I prefer to see developers stick to whatever genre they’ve proven to be successful in. A studio that pours resources into a project that doesn’t have many ties to previous successful projects tends to be taking quite a risk, as history has shown that the results of such projects tend to vary tremendously. Therefore, when EA announced that their Swedish subsidiary DICE would be developing a first-person Action / Adventure that focused on running from the cops across rooftops, rather than just blowing stuff up, I was quite hesitant to try out the result. Still, after having lost myself to Mirror’s Edge, I can do little more than congratulate DICE on delivering such an incredible piece of art.
The idea behind Mirror’s Edge is incredibly simple. The objective in each level is pretty much to move to a location several blocks away, and involves you running across rooftops, through buildings and tunnels while trying to stay away from the authorities. While this concept would seem to lend itself perfectly for an open-world game, the path you take through the levels is rather linear. In fact, there usually is no choice in how to move through a level, only different manners of how to proceed to the next door or rooftop. And though this type of linearity appears to be outdated for Action/Adventure games, DICE has managed to make the game unique in almost every sense of the word by adding ‘flow’ to the game.
Though it is hard to explain exactly how this ‘flow’ works, it is obvious that without it, the game would be almost impossible to play. Everywhere you go the levels are filled with tiny subliminal messages that point you in the right direction. Paintings on the walls that contain small lines that all point in a certain direction, screensavers on inactive computers that have arrows on them and just colour schemes on the wall guide your view in a certain direction. It’s all very subtle, which is all you need when you rush through unfamiliar surroundings and have no idea where you are actually supposed to go. Somehow, following the subliminal hints will always point you in the correct direction so that you can either see your next objective or another hint that guides you around the corner. Optional in the game is ‘runner vision’, which colour codes specific objects on the main path through the level, such as jumping boards or swing-bars. With ‘runner vision’ turned on, these objects will always flare up red when you approach, and hostiles will always have a blue glow around so you can spot them from far away.
Because of all these hints, you are practically pushed through the unfamiliar environments and you will rarely have to stop and look around to see where you need to go. The mere fact that you can just keep sprinting through offices, out the door, jump to another building and then keep going while being chased down by ‘the blues’ makes Mirror’s Edge an experience that puts as much adrenaline in your veins as a Call of Duty or Gears of War. Unfortunately, this is also where the game has a severe issue. Seeing as the enjoyment is so dependent of this ‘flow’, the game becomes agonizingly frustrating when the ‘flow’ suddenly breaks. Some jumps appear to require timing that is reminiscent of the first few installments in the Tomb Raider series. Regularly you appear to be close enough to grab onto a ledge or pipe, only to find yourself decorating the pavement below. The moments where you have to look around to find the correct path through a room or are forced to re-do a failed jump are in such contrast with the other moments in which you soar across rooftops that it sometimes becomes frustrating just to stand still. Luckily, after having figured out the correct paths through a level this problem is eliminated, making replays a definite recommendation, but the dodgy jump-timing remains unfortunately remains to some degree.
The second major flaw in the game concerns the combat with the police or SWAT teams. Faith is a runner, and therefore does not wear armour or weapons. She is still able to deal out quite a punch and can disarm enemies by means of a correctly-timed button press during a melee attack. However, the combat is far from easy, and even on the lowest difficulty setting can prove to be a challenge. Combat in general is therefore inadvisable, but there are certain points in the story line in which it is impossible to continue without taking out several opponents. Not only does this mean you have to abandon your general plan of running through the levels at top speed resulting in the loss ‘flow’ and therefore fun, but some engagements are once again frustratingly hard.
The game spans a total of ten levels, which combined will take you several hours to get through on the first try. After having completed the story mode, you unlock a speed run mode which challenges you to find a way through the level that is fast enough to beat a target time. Somewhat ironically, this means the game challenges you to finish all levels below a combined time of 75 minutes. Though the game is obviously not that lengthy, these speed runs are so much fun, as to complete them you will need to maintain ‘flow’ throughout the entire level. And seeing as the game truly shines when you are in the ‘flow’, these challenges will probably leave you with so much adrenaline coursing through your veins that after finally completing a challenge, you’ll instantly reload the map and do it again, again and again.
The game also includes separate time trials. In these maps, which have 3 different times to beat for bronze, silver or gold rewards, there are no hints as to which direction you should take. These maps are incredibly challenging, as it requires you to find the absolute fastest path through the level and make not a single mistake, to beat the gold time. They also require you to find creative solutions to get around or across obstacles, and are therefore most suited to those who have done everything in the story-mode, and beat every speed run challenge.
Overall, Mirror’s Edge is a rather hard game to judge. The game is pretty hard for new players (as they might find it hard to keep the ‘flow’ going), but becomes incredibly much fun as you get better and learn the path through each level, and therefore manage to maintain the ‘flow’. The controls are intuitive enough for anybody to try it out, so gameplay-wise there is little to complain about. The length of the game leaves much to be desired, but luckily, there is enough replayability to the content to keep you going. As a rental, you might not fully manage to appreciate the game, but I would strongly advise against purchasing it at full price. If you think the game might appeal to you, just pick it up from a budget bin or get it second hand.
It is a shame that this game, which by many is considered art, was not as successful as it perhaps deserved to be, but if anything, I believe DICE has proved that they are capable of far more than making Rally racing titles or Battlefield-installments.