Product Type: Electronic Arts Xbox 360 games
Newest Review: ... to guide you the way. Red doors can be burst through to enter the buildings themselves, and each interior feels different due to... more
On the edge of enjoyment and frustration
Mirror's Edge (Xbox 360)
Member Name: ReviewKing05
Mirror's Edge (Xbox 360)
Advantages: + Great idea + New look at the first-person genre + The parkour is sublime when pulled off
Disadvantages: - AI is awful at times - Combat is woeful - All too unforgiving
When I first saw the trailers of Mirror's Edge back in 2008, I was suitably gobsmacked. Never had I seen visuals so pristine or such an audacious game concept. Sure, we'd had platforming games for years, but translating this to a first-person perspective and making running - rather than gunning - the key element of a game? This was ambitious stuff from DICE and, not yet possessing a next-gen console, it made the power of the then-new consoles starkly clear to me. So, 3 years on and I find the game for 50p at a boot sale (though it's only £2 in-store at HMV at the moment of writing) and I don't hesitate. But how does it fare?
The plot is fairly simple. You are Faith, a runner whose job description includes using parkour (the French art of free-running) to courier illicit goods to various clients via the rooftops of a sprawling dystopian metropolis. Her job is essential in the totalitarian state she lives in, where tranquillity is secured in exchange for personal freedoms like the right to privacy and the right to protest. These runners are dedicated to bringing some element of liberty to a state whose citizens have succumbed to a passive life of conformity. However, while the runners once evaded the authorities, they now find themselves directly hunted by state security. Your task is to find out why ...
The first thing that strikes you in the game is the unique visual style. For once, the environments you frequent are not the usual computer game fare. Gone are the drab colours and worn environments and in their place comes a city which is beautifully sleek and pristine. This weaves perfectly into the premise of the game: this is a dystopia unknown to its own citizens. Blinded by the gloss and material perfection of their surroundings, the state's citizens remain unaware of the shady dealings which maintain their tranquility. Buildings are a faceless and uniform white, with the occasional flourish of red guiding your way - see a red pipe, box or whatever other object and you know that it's illuminated to guide you the way. Red doors can be burst through to enter the buildings themselves, and each interior feels different due to the abundance of sharp colours - some will be bursting with greens, others with blues but in HD they all look glorious and are a joy to run around in.
Crucially, there is no HUD at all, an intuitive element which allows you to really immerse yourself in the action. Given that the core game mechanic centres on running and not fighting, the controls really needed to be nailed - and luckily they were pulled off well. Your controller has simply assigned functions - LB to jump, LT to duck, RT to punch, Y to disarm opponents and A to open lifts etc, while simply holding forward on the left stick will have you sprinting away in no time. The simplicity of the controls works well, allowing you to get to grips with the basics easily.
Moreover, every aspect of the first-person experience is pulled off: as you sprint, your arms pump away to the sides; jump and see Faith's hands flail; roll to break your fall and the camera tracks the movement. What's more, there are few breaks to the action making chase sequences a real treat where you really feel the sense of urgency with the heat on your back. The sense of speed as you accelerate is fascinating and you feel the adrenaline as you slam through a door anxiously panting and looking for the next exit. All of this is heightened by pulsating music which makes your adrenaline-fuelled pursuits all the more believable.
For the most part, the game-play is like a first-person Prince of Persia, with a constant need to look at your environment differently to negotiate routes where at first there aren't any to be seen. You'll have to run up walls to reach higher levels, wall run to move between platforms and jump across buildings to evade your pursuers. The ideas here are solid but the execution is average at best and frustratingly poor at worst. Indeed, although the control commands are simple to grasp, jumping onto ledges or crossing gaps can have you pulling out your hair in frustration. For example, sometimes you'll have to jump onto a pipe - misjudge the jump by an inch and you'll plummet to the ground. In certain instances, this unforgiving need to jump at exactly the right time or perform a faultless leap left me having to repeat the same section of a level 20-30 times. And that's no exaggeration; sometimes, the game will simply not accept a small margin of error in jumps, and given the first-person camera, it is often very hard to nail certain actions first time.
Compounding this frustration is the utter inadequacy of combat. Quite refreshingly, gun battles have been shunned by DICE here, with the emphasis on evasion over fights. Nevertheless, at times you'll have to confront enemies, especially near the end where the foes are armed to the teeth and reinforcements arrive with great speed. Unfortunately, for the pacifists out there who want to complete the game as intended - i.e. using fisticuffs and not weapons to defeat foes - the game can be very unforgiving. To have any chance in later levels, you need to perform a disarming move with Y rather than using punch and kick combos to down them. Though completing them gives you a great thrill (especially given the great visuals when you knock out foes) they are simply too hard to perform. You have to disarm at EXACTLY the right time, and when you don't you invariably end up dying. When there's only one foe to defeat this isn't too big a problem, but when there are four or so in a row and you die on the last one, the lack of frequent checkpoints means you have to start right from the beginning. This means a whole load of repeated sequences and a whole load of fury with it. Put simply, Mirror's Edge was much more frustrating than enjoyable over the whole game.
So, although the game-play is simple and the ideas are theoretically intuitive, too often the gamer is left repeating the same segment over and over again as the AI is so unforgiving. Though for the most part the evasion of enemies is well-executed, the later levels which literally make you fight face-to-face show up the frustrating inadequacy of combat in Mirror's Edge, and added to the often clumsy gap-jumps and ledge-grabs it becomes clear that the game mechanics are merely in the early stages and need refinement if the rumours of a sequel are well- founded.
Of course, the niggling problems could be overshadowed by a cohesive, impressive plot but sadly the story is all too simple and not really too original. I couldn't help but feel more could have been done with the idea of a dystopian society (à la BioShock) and the twists near the end are all too predictable and not that satisfying. The 9 different stages all felt sufficiently different to maintain my attention but the thing that kept me playing to the end was the immense thrill of a smooth passage through a level, when everything just clicked and you managed to outrun foes with your quick speed and wit rather than the need to fight. The free-running, and not the story, is therefore the main attraction of the game, but when the AI is this unforgiving, it is very hard to maintain perfect fluidity in an entire level and as such, the game can feel like a bit of a frustrating one-trick-pony near the end.
DICE's creation of a first-person game which is not an FPS is to be commended, especially given their roots in the Battlefield franchise, and when everything clicks, Mirror's Edge can be an incredibly satisfying rollercoaster ride. The controls are easy to get to grips with and the lack of a HUD and pulsating music mirror the smooth running sequences wonderfully in the game's best moments, leading to a satisfying and refreshing experience in unique game surroundings. It's a shame then, that the need to expertly perform every action (be it in the Prince of Persia-esque platforming or the woeful combat) leads to immense anger and frustration which relegates the good times to mere fleeting moments over the course of the game. With a poor narrative and short length (it took me barely two nights to complete), Mirror's Edge can't help but feel like an ambitious project which delivers at times but frustrates so much more than it impresses.
Summary: Definitely worth a play-through for a mere £5 online, but it's problems stop it from being a classic