Thanks to documentaries like Jump London, free running was all the rage a couple of years ago on TV. Since the gaming industry is more or less completely void of creative thinking these days, it was only a matter of time before someone would take free running, and shoehorn it into a game. Behold, Mirror’s Edge.
As previous OSNews game reviews, this one is also about a relatively old game. The reason for this is that since gaming is just a side-topic for OSNews, I have to pay for games myself. Since I already knew that Mirror’s Edge was a criminally short game, I decided to wait until I found it in the budget bin. So here we are.
Corn Muffin Goodness
Let’s get the really good stuff out of the way first. This game is beautifully designed, with unbelievably beautiful graphics in an original and fresh visual style. The simple reds, greens, blues, and yellows offset against the background of eye-piercing white is something I’ve never seen before in a game, and these visuals alone make the game worth grabbing out of the bargain bin.
Furthermore, a lot of attention has gone into making the character you’re controlling in first person feel like an actual living human being, instead of a plank with a camera on top and wheels at the bottom. Not only do you actually have a body – with arms, legs – but the developers also implemented realistic blurring effects and eye motion. This is about as realistic as the first person perspective can get, short of VR technology or the holodeck.
Sadly, despite all the efforts put into the presentation of the game, it completely falls apart because Mirror’s Edge suffers from two different but common game syndromes: Assassin’s Creed Syndrome, and Tomb Raider Syndrome (also known as Lara Croft’s Disease).
Assassin’s Creed Syndrome
Assassin’s Creed was a beautiful and original game, which tried to bring something new to a table filled with nothing but browngrey shooters and EA Sports games. Sadly, the developers behind Assassin’s Creed hadn’t a clue as to what actually made the game fun – namely, the planning/assassinating/escaping part of the game. Because of this, you spent 95% of the game doing boring and repetitive mini-games, with the actual fun part accounting for the remaining 5%.
Mirror’s Edge suffers from the exact same problem. The coolest and best parts of the game are those like you can see in the video above: running around on the rooftops, jumping from building to building, doing impossible moves like wallwalks and jumps, zip-line gliding, and god knows what else. This aspect of the game is exhilarating, and the sense of accomplishment that becomes you after a successfully planned and executed running/jumping/sliding strategy is awesome. I could do this all week without ever getting bored.
Sadly, the developers didn’t seem to realise that, so only like 10% of the game actually takes place on the rooftops so prominently displayed on promotional material and during demos. The remainder 90% takes place inside buildings and corridors, completely destroying the sense of speed that this game pulls of so well when running on the rooftops.
Then there’s the combat. You are pushed to avoid combat in the game, to run away from the police and to find routes around guards and security officers. The reason for this is clear: you’re a twenty-something year old girl without any form of weaponry (other than those you might take off others).
As a result of relying on unarmed fighting, the combat is awkward, sticky, and disorienting. There are only very few first person games that pull off melee/hand combat successfully (Condemned comes to mind), and Mirror’s Edge certainly isn’t one of them. Technically, you can disarm the countless foes, but disarming is an exercise is total and utter frustration because when there’s 8 guys shooting at you, and you can only take 2 or 3 shots, well, do the math.
Since combat is so cumbersome, and since the tutorials and manual press you to avoid it, it’s such a total surprise to see the game filled to the brim with it. Most of the time, these combat situations are not avoidable, and since they come at you with machine guns and sniper rifles while you’re armed with nothing but, well, arms, you can see how annoying this gets.
I set out to completely avoid combat in this game, because I had hoped to be able to finally play a game that doesn’t stress murder, blood, and weapons. Sadly, the developers weren’t confident enough about the free running aspect of the game to leave out combat altogether. Especially nearing the end of the game, it completely shifts focus away from runny-climby-dangly to punchy-kicky-shooty, and suffers miserably for it. This game would have been infinitely better without combat.
Tomb Raider Syndrome (“Lara Croft’s Disease”)
While out in the open, messing about on the rooftops, the controls of the game come to fruition most. When inside, however, everything starts to fall apart because Faith, the protagonist (that’s you!), seems to suffer from a severe case of Lara Croft’s Disease: Faith is very picky about what ledges she’ll dangle from, what platforms she’ll remain standing on, and what objects she’ll climb onto.
Add to this the literally insane clipping issues you’ll encounter inside buildings and you have a recipe for controller-snapping frustration. The moment where my jaw dropped was when I was supposed to walk across a few planks in a mall, but when I needed to backtrack because I got shot at by ten guys with sniper rifles, I was thwarted by the immense height of the planks: about two centimetres. I got stuck, got shot, and died. Turns out I had to jump, even tough on the other side it was no problem.
This was just one of the countless clipping issues that really take the speed out of the interior aspect of the game. Other dangers? Don’t run too close to walls, or you’ll get stuck and lose momentum. Don’t try and just run up escalators – you’ll have to jump if you don’t want to get stuck. And so on.
It’s sad to see a game with such a beautiful aesthetic and such potential for endless fun be held back by design decisions that were probably born out of a lack of confidence on the developers’ ends. A game without blood, violence, and tits? That’s too risky – let’s quickly add a few broken combat mechanics to please the blood-thirsty hoards of 12 year old gamers worldwide.
Still, should you buy this game? Absolutely and positively: yes (wait until you can find it in the local bargain bin). Just like Assassin’s Creed before it, Mirror’s Edge is fresh and innovative, and that’s something sorely missing in today’s world of endless remakes and shooters. As such, buying this game sends out a signal that we gamers are not all mindless blood-thirsty sexaholics.
Before I forget, there’s also a story in Mirror’s Edge, but I lost track of and interest in it about 4 seconds into the game. I need no reason to run.
- Title: Mirror’s Edge
- Platform: XBox 360
- Release Date: November 2008
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I bought the game for PS3, and although there is a bit of the Tomb Raider syndrome you mentioned, but I didn’t get a whole lot of clipping problems. I find a better description for the game is that it suffers Prince of Persia syndrome: lots of platforming, with combat that can be awkward and unavoidable. I am, of course, talking about the old Prince of Persia games, since I haven’t played anything from Prince of Persia 3D on the PS1 onwards (unless you count the remake of the first game on Xbox Live).
I found the combat aspects so frustrating, because the combat is more of a puzzle than any of the other problem solving aspects. It’s a matter of vaulting onto the right things and disarming people in the right order, with any deviation leading to death. Among the most frustrating parts was that indoor fight when the rolladoor creeps up, you have to leap onto the red catwalks and find yourself face to face with people that look like they’re carrying The Boss’s Patriot from MGS.
A PS3 specific beef I have with the game is the damn sixaxis. I got about half way through the game plummeting off pipes all the way before I thought to turn it off. When you’re balancing on something, the sixaxis is meant to be tilted to adjust balance, like left and right on the left analogue stick. Problem is, I tend to play with the controller on a tilt already, and for the week I was playing (took me so long because I kept turning off the PS3 in frustration), shouts of “DAMN SIXAXIS!” could be heard from my room quite often.
The plot was okay, but it felt half finished. Not in the sense there are loose ends that need to be closed, but more that I felt there should have been a book or a movie telling earlier or simultaneous events to go along with it. Being entirely first person, you’re left with the limited knowledge of the protagonist, instead of seeing cutaways to shadowy figures discussing their plans. Actually, you’re left with less knowledge than the protagonist. I learned more about the world in Mirror’s Edge by reading the scrolling screens in elevators than I did by watching cutscenes.
Overall, I enjoyed the game. Controls felt pretty natural to me (except for that damn sixaxis…). What I didn’t like was the combat. An interesting side note though, the game had realistic environments. Not that I mean it all looked real, I mean believable. I wasn’t left thinking “Why the hell builds these things? Why would you have a spike pit in the middle of an office building?” That always puzzled me about evil lairs in games. The villain usually has a zany hideout full of spinning blades, spike pits, crushing ceilings and stuff…