Review: Mirror's Edge


I can't help feeling that Mirror's Edge isn't the smartest place to start out reviewing games.

True, its weaknesses provide ample material for criticism, cut-throat negativity and sardonic observations about the state of the gaming industry, but if you're looking to boil a product down to a simple good versus bad statement, slap a score on it and move on, there are definitely better places to start. The checklist for a quality title is left virtually unmarked by a game that feeds on cliches and frustrating mechanics, yet the few things Mirror's Edge gets right enter into some complex equation that results in one of the most importantly average games ever created.

The game I'm most tempted to invoke, rather banally, is Sonic the Hedgehog. Platforming. Running. Trial and error leaps over pitfalls: you get the idea. One of the defining products of the 16-Bit era, an undeniable milestone in gaming history. Yet, given what the blue-spiked money-machine has chugged itself into, we forget all to easily how this great series was never a peerless one. Only in the second Sonic title was the speed promised in the first delivered on. Only in the third was that speed contained within the kind of expansive, intricately designed levels that 2D platforming had managed under Mario's reign.

Mirror's Edge set out with many of the same design goals in an equally popular genre, so where was the fanfare? Of course, Mirror's Edge's Faith is no family friendly corporate mascot, but I fear the industry has simply counter-artistically matured to the point where even something as significant as Sonic the Hedgehog would just be viewed as a quirky title with equally frustrating and short-lived gameplay, lost in a sea of brilliant by interchangeable products.

Mirror's Edge Screenshot showing player point of view on the deck of a ship in a late chapter

What I'm getting at is the sense that certain games, of which we can include Sonic the Hedgehog and Mirror's Edge, are 7/10 experiences with a 10/10 significance. There are far better games you will play that will mean less in the long run. This may not necessarily even mean that you will ever have the urge to replay Mirror's Edge: its influence simply deserves to be felt in how first person gaming evolves from this point on.

A significant title influences your thought when you're not even playing it. I find my mind shimmying up pipes and leaping between rooftops when out in the street, and I've attempted to vault railings and roll out of falls in every FPS I've loaded up since. The impulse is possibly more about the fact that the world needed a First-Person Parkour game: Mirror's Edge satisfies a basic human need to run and jump from things, to explore the inaccessible. Whilst it's not unusual for the urban FPS to seek out back alleys and rooftops to satisfy this need, Mirror's Edge performs solely in these areas, with enough forays into drainage systems and subway stations to keep the experience varied, though not a little too predictable.

Many a floating gun-hand has been defeated by a waist-high wall it couldn't hop onto (though considering their limited anatomy, perhaps that isn't so suprising), and whilst Mirror's Edge presents a highly specialised version of movement, it brings to an extreme things so basic and essential to first person immersion that they instantly become noticeable by their absence in other titles. Despite the best efforts of the daft plot, you've never had the experience of becoming a character in a first person game to quite the same degree as you will experience in Mirror's Edge.

Mirror's Edge screenshot showing the player character, Faith, kicking a security guard

You get your money out of a Sonic the Hedgehog comparrison when you inevitably turn to how Mirror's Edge trips over itself in its endeavour. Showstopping falls to oblivion are a feature of both, though Faith inevitably suffers a bit more for the restricted nature of the first person camera, taking a face full of wall where the spikey blue one would simply have to trust that the designers saw fit to provide a bottom to the chasm ahead. It bares mentioning that on both the PS3 and PC, reloading the usually fairly placed checkpoints is as quick as you could reasonably wish for. Nontheless, you're left wondering whether the third-person camera couldn't have been cracked out for some tasks, because for all its HUD-less, momentum emulating out-of-breath brilliance, the game plain abandons first person in inter-level FMVs that, whilst stylistically in keeping with the mega-bloom aesthetic of the rest of the game, are a couple of animators short of animation.

These vignettes come across as soulless pieces of flash-work that you'd probably expect one of the many in-game corporations to splash on their front-pages, appropriately adding to the confusion of why exactly the protagonist 'runners' are supposed to be better than the mildly corrupt government who, when all is said and done, have made a city that looks uncannily like a perpetually sunny utopia. The runners then seem less AVALANCHE than the People's Front of Judea. The story and characters aren't uninteresting to any offensive degree, but like many other recent titles their tendency towards being either gruff, straight-faced or straight-laced is grating. Mirror's Edge stands as a reminder that video games largely have a lot to answer for when it comes to their scripts. But even the smirk inducing seriousness of banal lines like 'It isn't news anymore, it's advertising' won't stop what is fundamentally an interesting, flawed game, from being an enjoyable and recommendable one.

Mirror's Edge

Verdict

8 / 10

Platform and review information

Available on PC (Windows), Xbox 360 and PS3

Game was played on platform in bold, materials were purchased by the writer.

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