It’s been a long time since I had a stab at reviewing a game, and with a lack of content for posts here I thought it was about time I gave it a go again. I haven’t actually finished the game yet, but I’m not far off. Maybe I’ll write an addendum at a later date.
Apologies if it reads a little strangely, I’ve not written anything in the first person for a long time.
Format: Xbox 360
I’ll confess that I knew nothing about this game up until about a month ago. I’d seen some artwork, seen the name in various articles, but had no idea what sort of game it was. EA and DICE have taken a brave step in creating something out of the ordinary, and when you consider that EA are undisputed kings of the ordinary, that’s quite a statement. EA churn out movie tie-ins and sports franchise sequels with robot-like efficiency and predictability, and unfortunately a lot of the time they can feel like they were actually developed by robots too, devoid of atmosphere, charm and originality. But this latest partnership with DICE is proof positive that anything can happen. In a world where ‘safe’ games dominate the charts, it took some real balls on the part of the people who make decisions and sign contracts high up in EA’s Ivory towers to get Mirror’s Edge into production, and I for one am immensely pleased that they grew a pair.
The game’s set in a supposed Utopian future where crime is essentially eradicated, thanks to ’1984′-esque tracking and monitoring of information. Of course, as with any future paradise there will be those who want freedom and to stand and fight ‘The Man’, and Mirror’s Edge is no different. Due to the stringent monitoring of information, the only way to communicate in secret is with the use of ‘Runners’. The runners are hi-rise couriers, staying away from the streets of the city and preferring the vertigo-inducing rooftops of the buildings to carry their messages. I guess you’d call them glorified carrier pigeons. Quite why pigeons aren’t used in the future I don’t know; maybe there was a mass pigeon cull to stop them crapping everywhere and messing up the pristine metropolis. You might not think the rooftops would be the ideal way of getting around the city, and for me and you this might be true, but for the Runners it’s a different matter. They get around using the urban sports of Parkour and Free Running, where using a variety of wall-running, climbing, vaulting and sliding, nothing is out of reach and no obstacle is too insurmountable. You won’t be surprised to learn that something far from the norm is starting to happen, and you’ve landed smack-bang in the middle of it.
Before when I referred to the city as pristine, I really meant it. Despite using a very capable graphics engine in the Unreal 3 one, the whole game is given a very clean, slightly over-saturated look. It’s obviously a combination of a design decision – a very welcome one after seeing so many games trying to make the most realistic browns and greys for so many years now – and a necessity. If the game-world were too cluttered, too gritty and too realistic it simply wouldn’t work as well. The game revolves around moving through the world as quickly and smoothly as possible, and when you get it right, it’s an absolute joy. Clutter and mess would make finding a path confusing and frustrating. Control of the running itself is beautifully simple; LB controls upward movement, LT is for downwards. The game does a brilliant job of realising what it is you’re trying to achieve, and making sure it happens. I think I’ve only fallen once when it mistook my wall-run intention for a normal jump. Once you get the hang of bouncing over and through buildings, it soon becomes enormously rewarding. ‘Runner Vision’ helps you find your way by colouring things bright red when they may be of importance, in order to progress. Sometimes it might be necessary, for example in the case of the only door which will open when bashed, but other times it’s highly likely you can find another route if you’re creative enough, and it’s this freedom of movement which really makes the game.
There’s a pretty decent story tying the game together, and the cartoons between each chapter help to draw you in and keep you guessing. ‘Merc’, who acts as the voice in your ear and your guardian angel from afar, does a great job of building tension and pointing you in the right direction without being too blatant. One particularly good moment saw me running through streets, malls and subways with my guide in my ear shouting things like ‘Run, just run, don’t turn around, you don’t want to see what’s behind you’, and I remember thinking ‘my heart is pounding!’. It’s been a long time since a game has done that to me. The music must be pretty good, because other than the main title theme (which is excellent), I can’t really remember any of it and generally the only time I really notice in-game music is when it’s terrible or repetitive. Most of the audible treats are the sounds of Faith (your character) panting, grunting and running. The first-person perspective really deserves a mention as it’s so well implemented. Using the right thumbstick it’s easy to view your own body, and the focus changes based on what you’re looking at. Although there’s a lot of head-bob, whatever’s central in your field of vision remains steady, which goes a long way toward simulating a ‘real’ experience and immersing you further.
On top of the main story there’s a very polished time trial mode which should keep people busy for a long time after the game’s complete. Racing against your ghost in time-honoured Mario Kart fashion is addictive, as is seeing just how good your friends and the world’s best are. There’s an option in the main menus for Downloadable Content so I’m hoping to see something added at a later date to keep my interest fresh. As a package, there’s very little to find fault with. Mirror’s Edge plays wonderfully, looks great, sounds good and has a decent story to tie it all together. The whole game feels like a real labour of love and it’s absolutely oozing polish and finesse.
To me, the hallmark of a great game is that it stays with you when you aren’t playing it, and that’s exactly what Mirror’s Edge does right. It’s very easy to find yourself looking for ways on to rooftops while you’re out shopping, or eyeing up a wallrun past the Big Issue seller. Don’t do it though, save yourself the pain and humiliation and pick up a copy of the game instead.