It’s been a while, but I’m actually very excited by the prospect of a new game being released. I was browsing the new demo releases on Xbox Live one evening last week and noticed a name on there that I’ve seen around, but have no idea about: Mirror’s Edge. It was only a 1GB download so I set it going, just to see what it was. When I say I had no idea what it was, I’m not joking either, I literally didn’t even know what style of game it was, let alone if it was likely to be a good example of the genre. It turns out that even if I did know I couldn’t really have had any preconceptions, as it’s effectively a new genre – 1st Person Free Running / Parkour. I know there was a Free Running game released on the PS2, but given the poor reviews I’m not really including that.
I have to come clean and say that the snob in me reared its ugly head at first when I loaded it and saw that it was an EA game. I’m guilty of a little prejudice when it comes to games, but in my defence it’s usually with good cause. EA have, in the past, been guilty of churning out some mass-market pap, the sort of stuff to get consistent 70% reviews across the board. Ok, it’s not always bad software, but they’re not usually the sort of thing I’d be spending forty quid on either. These days however you can’t really afford to judge a game on a publisher any more. Gone are the days of loads of small publishers with a few different dev teams producing games for them, this generation sees the Super Publishers, with the likes of Ubisoft and EA “borging” all and sundry. The developers of Mirror’s Edge are long-time EA stalwarts Digital Illusions (DICE), a name that fans of the Battlefield series of games should be instantly familiar with, and reassuringly a name with a good First-Person pedigree.
Anyway, back to the game. As soon as the demo loaded I was really impressed with the clean, artistic style. Too many games these days go for gritty realism, it’s so refreshing to see a big name release with stylised visuals. Everything’s very “blue and white” which gives a really nice clean look. Judging by the video at the end of the demo, the whole game isn’t bright and airy, but it does keep the nice clean lines, not something I expected from an Unreal 3 Engine powered game. The first thing it reminded me of was a cross between Jet Grind/Set Radio and the more recent Suda 51 titles like Killer 7 and No More Heroes. The game breaks you in easily with a nice tutorial teaching you the basics, and I was very quickly in love with it. Running across the city rooftops actually feels really good, and the first-person viewpoint does a great job of connecting you with the character because the head bob is perfect and you can see ‘your’ limbs as you jump, vault and slide around. The camera even rolls 360 when you roll out of a big drop. I’m amazed mostly how well it flows and works though, there was a danger of it feeling really clunky.
The controls are very instinctive and don’t take long to learn. LB is for upwards movement, so jumping, clambering up, vaulting etc. The left trigger takes care of downwards actions which include crouching, sliding and rolling, while the right trigger handles combat. Combat ranges from simple punches to jump and slide kicks, and thankfully seems to make up a minority of the action. Your first goal should be getting the hell out of there if there are enemies. If that’s not an option though, there are loads of really well worked disarm and self-defence type scenarios handled with the Y button. Add in the RB button for doing instant turns and you’ve got all the tools you need to get going. DICE have included something they dub “Runner Vision” which daubs important things red for you. These red things might be certain places to launch from or land on, or indicate an enemy in your way who’ll need dealing with. The sense of freedom is what makes the game though. If you have to get somewhere, it’s entirely up to you how you handle it. Ok, so you could hit that running jump, roll out of it, slide under the pipe and scoot past the enemy, but what about a wall-run, kicking out into a vault, swing under a pipe into another wall-run into jump-kick? If the demo is anything to go by, it could really be a great playground.
I’m so enamoured by the demo that I’ve gone ahead and pre-ordered the full game, and I can’t remember the last time I did that. There’s a bonus time trial mode in the demo which needs unlocking with a pre-order code, so I’m eagerly waiting for that to turn up. I implore anyone with a 360 or a PS3 to download the demo and try out the most refreshing first-person game in years. I love having a winter game to play on the run-up to Christmas, and some recent years have been really memorable. Last year was Mario Galaxy (awesome!), other years have been Call Of Duty 4, Project Gotham 3; there’s always something each year. This year I’ve still got Fable II which I’m plugging through steadily, but I reckon Mirror’s Edge is going to eat into my time like nothing else.