I’ve always been meaning to play Mirror’s Edge. With a second game announced for next generation consoles, what better time to play the game than now? Over the last few years Mirror’s Edge has become one of the cult hits of this generation. It’s no secret that Mirror’s Edge is unique. I’ve played a lot of games over the years, but never a first person platformer. While Mirror’s Edge isn’t the first to do so, nor is it the first to incorporate parkour/free running into a video game, it is the first to do it in first person. Set in a flawed utopian city where non-conformers are pushed to the edge of society and everyone and everything is controlled and monitored by a strict government. The only way to communicate privately is through people known as “runners.” You play as Faith Connors, a runner who dares to live on the edge.
Let’s just get this out of the way shall we, Mirror’s Edge excels where you expect it to: running. At full speed blitzing across rooftops or down hallways, doing wall runs, and vaulting over objects is an absolute thrill. The main gameplay function that holds this running and platforming together is the concept of momentum. Momentum is everything. It determines how far you get on jumps, wall runs, vaults, and whether or not you can pull off a slide. The amount of momentum you have corresponds to how fast Faith is running. Obviously when stopped you aren’t going to wall run far, if at all. It makes “running” in Mirror’s Edge feel much more dynamic. You can tell when Faith is building up speed/momentum as her arms pump in a running motion, she starts to breathe heavier, her footsteps are louder/quicker, and at full speed the sides of your screen blur. These details also help the player feel the rush of running at top speed, making running feel real.
With the momentum aspect of Mirror’s Edge, it would be counter intuitive if it didn’t flow well with the level design. Luckily it does. Mirror’s Edge is a pretty linear game. Remember the running in Mirror’s Edge is platforming; inherently going from point A to point B while working your way through various obstacles. While some might be turned off by this, I believe it was for the best. In my experience I was able to move through the levels at a fast pace and make snap decisions on where to go and what to do without breaking the flow of running. The linear design helped with that, as well as a concept in the game called “runner’s vision” which will be talked about more below.
I do feel it is important to mention that the game isn’t just run straight/tunnel linearity; the environment gives the player a little freedom to play around with. There is a small amount of choice regarding which way is fastest, although the levels are “get from point A to point B” with objectives and plot woven in between. For example, a roof might give the player two possibilities, one that has you sliding under some pipes, vaulting over a fence and jumping to the next rooftop. The second path has you vaulting over a section of the roof, jumping onto another section and then sliding down some boards onto the next rooftop. In both scenario’s you make it to your pre-determined roof, but you have some choice into which path is easier or quicker. A choice like this can be important during enemy encounters since choosing the right jumps can prevent death.
Fleshing out some of the running mechanics of the game, I mentioned Faith’s “runner’s vision”. You are playing as Faith an experienced runner who has made this city’s skyline her playground. Runner’s vision is basically Faith’s vision. She sees objects highlighted in red that are points of interest to be interacted with; a pipe to climb up, a door to run through etc. When running across a roof, these objects turn red when you approach them at a certain distance. You feel as if you are noticing these paths and objects at the same time Faith is, making you truly feel like a veteran runner.
Runner’s vision can be incredibly helpful, like when dealing with the varying heights of buildings. Lower buildings might not be visible unless you are closing in on the edge. How do you know that there is a building there? Is it too far away, or too low for a safe landing? A red board jutting out from the edge of the building signals that you can jump from this point and live. Instead of slowing down and checking if the jump is possible you can make a leap of faith (pun totally intended) onto the next rooftop without actually seeing it. Some objects such as landing pads, doors, cranes, or zip lines are always in red. Keep in mind that runner’s vision is not the end all be all of finding your way through the levels. Every step will not be highlighted in red. In fact, runner’s vision is the suggested route, which means there can be quicker ways of getting to a ledge or rooftop than what the game actually shows you. Mirror’s Edge cuts back on runner’s vision the further you get into the game upping the challenge. On hard difficulty (unlocked after the first playthrough) runner’s vision is excluded altogether. The player now has to rely on their skill and knowledge. Playing on hard shouldn’t cause too much difficulty, since you will be accustomed to which objects can be or should be highlighted in red.
Another weapon you have at your disposal is a bullet time ability called Reaction Time. In this way the world slows down around you allowing you to pull off moves or combat. Reaction Time is regenerated when you build up enough momentum. The screen will flash blue and reticule on the screen turns blue when Reaction Time is available to the player. While I enjoyed the concept of this, its execution is sub-par. Reaction Time is pointless for running and can be frustrating during combat. In truth I used Reaction Time rarely if ever. I did however use another helpful move, the “hint” button. Pressing O on the PS3 controller or B on the 360 controller will cause your camera to turn to the direction you need to go. This is quite helpful under pressure or when you don’t want to lose momentum to figure out the direction you’re supposed to go without breaking stride.
While Mirror’s Edge’s running is so brilliantly done, it’s a shame that not all gameplay is this way. What I’m referring to is combat. When fending off the blue’s (Police), SWAT, or Pirandello Kruger (mercenaries) the combat is not particularly fun. It’s weak and shallow; the hand to hand combat is stiff and boring. This becomes apparent in forced combat situations. You fill find yourself in areas that, in order to progress, you must climb a pole or turn a valve. It is not possible to do this with enemies shooting you the entire time; you have to incapacitate them first. With that being said, the combat is not particularly difficult. There are two facets of combat, hand-to-hand and gunplay. The hand to hand combat consists of a 3-set punch move by mashing on R2/R-Trigger, a jump and kick, and a slide and kick move. Plain and simple, the combat feels stiff but it’s not that hard to take down enemies one by one (which I, and the game suggest). Jumping out into the open to land some punches or a gun disarm attempt can get you killed. Faith isn’t a bullet sponge. Taking enemies out one by one is the best course of action, but I found myself numerous times bobbing in and out of doorways or behind cover to separate and lure over enemies.
The gun disarms in particular can be frustrating. The gun will flash red during a melee attack in order for you to perform a successful disarm. Failure to disarm will result in you getting hit by the gun. The red flash that occurs can be really fast and thus hard to see and hard to react to. Even using Reaction Time, since Faith also slows down, the red flash can be quick and timing is everything. Failure to do can result in an easy death, as two failed disarms gets you hit twice and will kill you on normal difficulty.
Gun play is a lot more fun to use than hand to hand combat but it does have its flaws. Shooting a gun is standard fare here. It is accurate; what you aim at is what you are going to hit. Sounds unnecessary to mention… but with hand combat being so lackluster it had to be said. The downside is that you cannot aim down the sights and can only use the reticule on the screen. This doesn’t make a lot of sense considering you can aim using a sniper rifle later in the game.
While you have a large gun in your possession such as a sub-machine gun, Faith cannot run fast, climb, jump, or grab objects. Faith is a runner, she doesn’t have anywhere to put the weapon. As a result climbing or free running requires you to discard the gun. I get that. I also understand that she cannot jump as high or sprint at full speed. However, she does move uncharacteristically slow with a large gun. She should be able to move faster than she does. Using a hand gun does not come with these limitations. I did like how the guns have a very limited ammo capacity and do not show the amount of ammo the player has left in their clip. After disarming an enemy, the player has no clue how much ammo is in the clip, nor will you magically acquire 199 extra rounds. There are no reloads as you have a single clip per gun and before you need to find a new one. I really liked that aspect of gun play. This also prevents the player from taking out one enemy and then the next 5 with the same gun. The one drawback to that is to acquire another gun, the player will have to resort to hand combat or a gun disarm. It also is important to note that it is possible to beat the entire game without firing a single shot at an enemy.
To no surprise, there will be trial and error since it’s something that is inherent to the platforming. Most of the time a few screw ups is all it takes for the player to find success.You won’t have to worry about trial and error situations too much, although it can get annoying when you’re stuck in a combat scenario. The checkpoint system is done well, not dropping you off right where you died but not setting you back 5 minutes of gameplay progress either.
The pacing of the game is pretty even throughout. Although the combat in the game isn’t good it’s not over bearing. There is a good balance between running segments, combat, chasing, and getting chased. There’s even a train segment in the game that I highly enjoyed. Due to this my second playthrough on hard still was enjoyable and I probably could have played it a third time without getting bored. There are also 30 collectable runner drops throughout the game players can find. They are yellow bags that are hidden off to the side. While actively not looking for them on my first playthrough I only managed to find 4. However I realized later that the red Mirror’s Edge symbol means a yellow bag is close by, so that should be helpful for players who want to find them all.
The story in Mirror’s Edge is pretty cut and dry, if not a bit underwhelming. It’s nothing you haven’t seen before in the perfect society that controls, manipulates, and monitors its people scenario. It has enough to keep you going and looking forward to what happens next, but it’s not Mirror’s Edge’s selling point. The plot revolves around Faith Connor’s responding to an overheard commotion in the office of Robert Pope, a man running for mayor and a family friend of Faith’s father. Her sister Kate Connors works for the police and responds to a call from Pope about someone breaking into his office. It turns out Pope has been murdered and Kate has been set up to take the fall for it. As the blues close in Faith escapes in order to unravel the mystery behind Pope’s death and save her sister. As I said the plot isn’t too unique, plot twists are a bit obvious and some you will probably see coming. The ending was satisfying enough with no real lose ends.
Faith’s tracker Mercury, or Merc as he is referred to, is an ex-runner turned who is Faith’s guide across the city, giving her information and guidance throughout the game. Overall, the characters in the game are well put together; the voice acting was good as well as the writing. Faith is an interesting and enjoyable protagonist to play as. However some characters didn’t really have a point, one such example is Kreeg. Kreeg is a runner along with Faith that works for Merc, you only interact with him once in the game for less than 30 seconds. The name “Drake” is thrown around once or twice. You never see Drake much less know who he is. It turns out that he’s a tracker like Merc is, but that’s information I found out online and not through the game itself. Apparently Drake was a character in the Mirror’s Edge comic.
With a game dealing with motion, momentum, and flow I find it a bit ironic when the game throws its own flow off. I’m talking about the animated cutscenes. It was such as contrast to the rest of the game. I liked the idea of the cutscenes as the style was nice, but their execution was a bit polarizing. They didn’t seem to flow well in transition from animated cutscene to the more realistic world. The character designs in this cutscenes didn’t look all that great, but the backgrounds and cityscape did.
Another highlight of the game is the city’s aesthetics. The city looks whitewashed and clean to a fault, but it is pretty to look at. It’s simple yet effective in the way it uses colors. The overwhelming white of the city really makes the reds, oranges, blues, yellow, greens, and blacks pop. Sections of levels tend to have one color scheme at a time, which helps in differentiating parts of the game. It helps portray the clean, perfect, but flawed utopian city Mirror’s Edge is trying to convey. While it doesn’t contain a lot of level art like other games there are billboards and vending machines which portray products. The elevators have little blurbs about the city that you can read while the level loads. One of my favorites dealt with the newest threat to children… running. Not in the sense that these children were “runners” like Faith, but in this controlled society even the act of running is a bad thing. It could be seen as if the children are mimicking runners or the could just be having fun. Regardless, running as a threat to children shows how serious the city is about keeping its citizens nice and docile.
The player can hear the hustle and bustle of the city, but it did seem lifeless most of the time. Although you can see NPC’s and cars on the streets below this is not always the case. You can hear some major traffic going on but see nothing on the streets. For a game that came out in 2008 it holds up graphically due to its simplistic city design however blurred textures can be seen from time to time, as well as dated character models. The music in Mirror’s Edge fits the game to a T. It has a techno-ambient soundtrack that I really enjoyed. Sometimes during intensive running or combat I didn’t really notice the music while other times I got really into the song. It’s very good and can be listened to outside of the game and still be enjoyed. As a special treat for beating the game, you can listen to the entire Mirror’s Edge soundtrack as well as view concept art and re-watch the cutscenes.
I also want to mention some miscellaneous things. The first is a mention to the fact the player can see Faith’s legs and feet when they look down. Yes, that’s right people. It’s a rare first person game where the main character doesn’t appear to be a floating torso. So moving along to the actual important miscellaneous points; the control scheme in Mirror’s Edge is unique. You use the L trigger and bumpers to jump, climb, and slide while the R trigger and bumper is used for fighting/shooting and quick 180 turns respectively. I played on the default settings and got used to them pretty quick. You do have to option of changing the control scheme that suits your needs. For example, you can swap the left shoulder buttons with the right shoulder buttons if that makes jumping/sliding etc easier to do.
I didn’t experience any glitches or frame rate drops. Platforming is solid and when I died it was my fault and not from wonky controls or Faith failing to grab a ledge/object. I did however encounter some “loading game” stops in the middle of my playthroughs. A few popped up in the weirdest of places making them inconvenient. I could be blitzing down a hallway when all of a sudden “loading level” would appear and halt me in my tracks. Thankfully his only happened a few times.
The campaign in Mirror’s Edge is quite short. It’s spread over 9 chapters and all of which can be completed fairly quickly. Trial and error can add length to the game especially if you get stuck in an area for a long period of time. Not including trial and error, the game can be beaten in about six to seven hours on your first playthrough. That’s not to say the campaign isn’t the only thing Mirror’s Edge offers. There are two other types of gameplay modes; time trials and speed runs.
Time trials and speed runs add additional hours to the game, mainly due to their difficulty. Speed runs require Faith to get to the end of the level in a set amount of time, while time trials are sections of levels where the player must get to various red checkpoints. Both speed runs and time trials require a lot of practice and level memorization in order to perfect a run. You’ll also have to think outside the box to find “short-cuts” that work but are hard to pull off in execution. There are a lot of time trials and speed runs that can be done without taking the above mentioned tactics to the extreme. However completionists will have a long road in head of them as this is where the real trial and error rears its ugly head. In this fashion Youtube is your best friend.
All in all, Mirror’s Edge is an interesting game with thrilling free running supported by great gameplay mechanics momentum and runner’s vision. However combat is weak, shallow, and boring in comparison. In such an interesting city with likable characters it’s a shame that the story wasn’t stronger. Mirror’s Edge offers quite a bit of replayability and a lot of extra gaming hours due to time trials and speed runs. Players will run into trial and error throughout the duration of the campaign, while it isn’t game breaking it can be hard to swallow in the time trails/speed runs. The character models look dated and the animated cutscenes are hit or miss but there’s no denying how stylish the city looks inside and out. With another Mirror’s Edge announced for the next generation of consoles why not go see what all the fuss is about?