Review: The grandest aspirations running along the edge of greatness.
Mirror's Edge is essentially a game about running -- running as fast as you can to get away from, and not necessarily kill, several different types of security guards/cops/"blues." It's a first-person action/adventure title from the folks who make the Battlefield games, something you'd be hard pressed to recognize from the bright, washed-out look of the game's setting. Experimental in many regards, though you're given the option of taking up a gun and pumping old-fashioned lead into baddies, the entire game can be played without firing a shot. And while the game is played entirely from the first-person perspective of Faith, a resistance fighter in this strange future, the gameplay is comprised entirely of platforming. Platforming which, surprisingly, works really well most of the time.
Whether you're barreling over an air conditioner unit, skittering along the side of a wall, or taking a leap of faith (no pun intended) in the game, movement feels natural and almost always works -- save for the occasional pipe you don't grab or wall you don't run along. Working in tandem with thoroughly detailed sound design, Mirror's Edge does a great job of making you feel as though you're chugging along at a reasonable clip and manages to make you feel as though you're actually pulling off ridiculously impressive parkour moves (i.e. the intro movie in the demo if you missed it).
I've spent 10 hours, give or take, running and jumping from wall-to-wall, rooftop-to-rooftop, and tunneled my way through a fair number of air ducts -- I've even hopped from the roof of one subway car to another. The problem is I've done nearly none of these things seamlessly. For all the running and jumping I've done, nearly all of it has been punctuated by poor pacing, forced combat, badly disguised load screens (another elevator!), guess-and-check gameplay or a combination of these elements. That's to say nothing of the awful, though thankfully skippable, cutscenes.
All that being said, I played way more Mirror's Edge than I needed to over the four days I spent with it. The game's single-player campaign takes, at the maximum, six hours to complete. But when I finished Mirror's Edge, I was ready for more. I had just gotten the hang of really exploring my options combat-wise, of finding alternate routes through levels, of playing the damn game! I immediately picked the story back up from the beginning, this time playing through on hard, and started afresh -- something I rarely do after just finishing a game. In fact, the last time I did so with a game was Assassin's Creed, a game where glaring mistakes were eventually excused by its fresh and exciting delivery; incidentally, Assassin's Creed was last year's most divisive title for many.
If I sound conflicted about Mirror's Edge, it's because I am. While the gameplay remains reasonably exciting throughout the game, my many niggling complaints (poor combat, occasionally kludgy controls, abysmal story/motivation) add up to some fairly substantial problems. On the other hand, the game regularly provides exciting moments and the experience is varied enough throughout (i.e. a range of enemy types, assorted level design) to make me want to keep going. Unfortunately, this is where the pacing steps in and tries to ruin the experience. While you spend most of the game running at full speed, the game slows everything down every now and then and forces you to figure out how to scale an area. Rather than keep with the breakneck pacing that the rest of the game follows, you come to a full stop and laboriously look around and leap and leap and leap... you get the idea.
For all its great ideas and grand aspirations (parkour-style gameplay, first-person perspective platforming), it only really delivers on a few (running, when it works, and time trials). But in fairness, DICE and EA took a big risk in making a totally different kind of game and succeeded admirably in that respect. Measured against holiday blockbusters like Gears of War 2 or Little Big Planet, Mirror's Edge is a middling, short and choppy experience I would personally find hard to recommend to your average videogame consumer. Measured against other new IPs, Mirror's Edge is a great example of laying the groundwork for future (hopefully more functional) experiences instead of simply going with the grain.