Last year, EA surprised much of the gaming world with several brand new titles that showed innovation and style, opening gamers up to the possibility that the company had turned over a new leaf. One of those titles was Mirror’s Edge, the first person platformer that puts you behind the eyes and in the shoes of Faith, a runner in a future dystopia. She climbs rooftops and leaps across alleys, and you control it all from her point of view.
One of the first things you’ll notice when you turn the game on is the design, the feel of Mirror’s Edge as you play. The city’s rooftops are pristine, clean and vibrant. The camera sways slightly with Faith’s run, and you can hear her breathe from the the strain of diving from platform to platform. Working together, it really does simulate first person in a way that I haven’t experienced before, and it is incredibly immersive.
Instead of a HUD, the developers chose to give you navigational clues through the colors of certain objects. This entails lots of things, but the simplest explanation is this: red means run at it. When this system works, it’s a breeze, and the game is fun as hell to play. When it doesn’t work… well, we’ll get to that in a moment.
I feel like I should just get this part out of the way: free-running and platforming in Mirror’s Edge is addictive, simple, and entertaining on a primal level that I haven’t felt in a platformer since Mario 64. I felt so comfortable in Mario’s skin in that game that I could do whatever I wanted all over the mushroom kingdom, stringing together triple jumps with butt pounces, and I would never even stop moving.
Mirror’s Edge plays much the same way in the stretches where you really get to enjoy Faith’s uber-awesome parkour abilities. I simply loved the free-running mechanic, and can’t wait until I get to play it in a Mirror’s Edge sequel. Because, unfortunately, I didn’t get to play it that much in the first one.
Allow me to explain. Like some modern teenager, Mirror’s Edge seems to forget what kind of game it is in some places.
You see, there are 9 chapters to complete, and for about 30 seconds of each one you are allowed to string together a bevy of moves that make you feel talented and ninja-esque. The rest of the chapters though, throw you in-doors, where you tackle hallways. Or stand and twiddle your thumbs in elevators. Or slowly ascend a tall room by jumping from pipe to pipe.
To move from the freedom of the open air to the confines of a cramped hallway really limits this game, because the rooftop portions are so fun, and the in-door segments are so boring. On top of that, half the time, “the flow” which allows Faith to see the city in reds that show her where to go, doesn’t work. Leaving you to stop, stand still, and glance around like a kid with ADD trying to figure out what in the hell you’re supposed to do next, which is particularly maddening once combat comes in to play.
And oh does it ever. Put simply, combat sucks. Often times, you are only allowed one small window of opportunity to disarm an opponent, where you must react with tiger like reflexes to take his gun away, or you’re dead meat. And then you sit on a loading screen, waiting for a chance to fail again.
This trial-and-error gameplay becomes so predominant in the second half of the game that I nearly turned it off several times. Don’t get me wrong, I’m an old school gamer, and I’m all about a good challenge every now and then, but Mirror’s Edge kills you too often just for the sake of killing you. You run out, fight a guy, miss the disarm, and you’re dead. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat.
It gets even worse when the game introduces free-running ninja baddies, who follow you around, able to do the same moves you can do, only, YOU CAN’T FIGHT THEM.
Literally, the only strategy is to run away from them, and then you end up in an area that you don’t know where to go, and before you have a chance to take in your surroundings, they’re beating you like L.A. cops. And then you die. And then you start over again.
It really is a shame that these kinds of frustrating gameplay segments entered the picture when the premise of the game works so well. Introducing the combat elements so frequently, and often having them as the climax piece for most chapters really just feels counter-intuitive to the experience that the game is trying to offer. If I’m supposed to have fun running, then let me run, dammit, and quit throwing obstacles in my way.
In the end, Mirror’s Edge is a wonderfully innovative game that falls short of what it sets out to do. While the free-running elements are a blast, they’re too few and far between, and interrupted by pull-out-your-hair sequences that make you want to quit more than you want to persevere.
I have to admit, I can’t wait until they make a sequel that refines what’s already there. As it stands now, the game is just average.
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