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Mirror’s Edge Review

February 16, 2011 Leave a comment Go to comments

By Kob Monney

It’s taken me nearly two years to finish Mirror’s Edge…two years. That’s a lot of time spent trying to complete one game. While I can’t say I enjoyed every moment I spent with it; the thought of playing the game again armed with the knowledge from that (lengthy) playthrough won’t leave me. This thought is then tempered by an opposing one which tells me, in no uncertain manner, no; spare yourself the frustration, you’ll only sink your head into your lap and cry once you’ve died for the 27th time.

From the developer of Battlefield series (Scandinavian studio D.I.C.E), it was an attempt at fusing the athleticism of free-running with the explosive action of an FPS. When Mirror’s Edge is good, it’s fantastic. The sensation of free-running is unparalleled, the sound design kicking in as the air rushes past and the world flows by in a blur. It’s as if everything else tries its best to distract you from its main attraction.

The story is wafer thin, set in a futuristic city (that’s apparently utopian) with the main character Faith (a glorified postal worker) uncovering a conspiracy that has framed her sister for the murder of politician Robert Pope. I must admit I never found the story to be particularly interesting and I didn’t care who was doing what or for what reason. It’s a perfunctory, by-the-numbers effort that never grips the player. The cut-scenes, while visually interesting, are rather boring and flat and the story itself is uninvolving and emotionless. You may argue that the story was never the defining or most interesting aspect about the game and you’d be right. Alas, it would seem the developer shared the same kind of apathy towards its own story which only serves to give you a reason to run through levels and not much more. Exposition is casually dished out with one character in particular explaining what you need to know, just in case you forgot, in a way that feels forced and rather blunt. It’s unnatural, unintentionally funny and makes me think that some developers still aren’t sure how to marry gameplay and story.

The characters are another massive disappointment leaving us in a world that is visually spectacular but bereft of any interesting characters. It may have to do with the dystopian aspect of the story but that’s no excuse for characters having little to no personality. Faith is a missed opportunity with much of the game’s marketing making you aware of her face and (for once) highlighting a female character (with a possible hint at a different cultural background) but this aspect of her character is never explored. She could be replaced by anyone and for that reason it’s a shame as we never learn much about her or care to know outside of the plot developments.

Another problem is combat and guns; simply put, the guns are rubbish. Why D.I.C.E has decided to implement them without any kind of scope or reticule is beyond me but it makes for some very cumbersome shooting sequences. It’s better to disarm your attackers, pistol whip them and then drop the gun as shooting is much harder than it has any need to be (unless you’re staring them in the face). Combat can be a little trying, taking a gun is a hit-and-miss affair (with slow motion helping things but subsequently slowing  down the pace of the action) but once you’ve developed a knack for it it’s as easy as pie to run up to a guard, grab their gun and disarm them. In fact it becomes second nature.

This is perhaps where Mirror’s Edge truly thrives. It flounders when you’re given time and works better when you’re in the thick of the action, adrenalin flowing and the player unsure as to what will happen next. The use of colour (red is where you need to go) directs you in a manner that feels effortless. The tension created by not knowing what’s around the corner is excellent, adding to the feeling that you’re hand isn’t being held by the developer and that you are reacting to the environment, making decisions on the fly that need to be correct if you are to survive each encounter.

It’s when you do make the wrong decision that the frustration builds. This is compounded by instances where the character consistently fails to latch onto objects and falls to her death again and again. A jump that looks simple enough is met with countless deaths as the screen loses focus and Faith plummets to the ground, the sound of bones cracking a reminder of your ineptitude. It’s jarring when you  jump but for some reason fail to reach your destination only to succeed on the tenth or fifteenth time and wonder aloud what you did before that was so egregious and why you’ve succeeded on this attempt.

So while the story of Mirror’s Edge may not be its best asset and a sense of failure never too far away, Mirror’s Edge is worth it. Just. It’s an attempt at doing something that no notable FPS developer seems willing to do and has resulted in a game that’s part failure, part success. It nails the feeling of clambering and vaulting over obstacles in your path but is let down by its frustrating combat and some annoying trial and error that makes the game a slog to get through. It’s sad to see this week that development on the sequel (which was never officially announced) has been stopped. If D.I.C.E had another go at this, taking the feedback from the community, it could have resulted in a noteworthy game. What we have as its legacy (if I can call it that) is a flawed, maddening game that enthrals and much as it disappoints. In a rather contradictory manner parts of it were unmemorable, other parts were simply remarkable.

Copyright Kob Monney 2011

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