Mirrorís Edge (PC) Review
Electronic Arts, 2009
Sprinting through doors
Real life runner vision, like woah man
Side effects may include motion sickness, out of body experiences, and the inability to distinguish your surroundings from gymnastic escape routes. People have reported dumpsters appearing as platforms, the urge to vault over their cars, and the way rooftops suddenly resemble stepping stones. Although no one will probably be seen jumping between office buildings at work, itís best to stay inside for a day or so after completing DICEís innovative take on the first person perspective.
In Mirrorís Edge, that perspectiveís name is Faith, suitable for a woman who vaults skyscrapers. Her eyes are the camera, pan it down and sheís all there; a tank top that meets a pair of light khakis, tapering above her sporty red footwear so as not to obstruct movement. Her head tilts, her chest breathes, and the wind whistles past her ears. You are in this characterís shoes, and few games could claim that to such a literal degree. That bit about motion sickness wasnít a joke.
As part of an athletic insurgency called Runners, Faith uses her mastery of parkour and free running Ė effortless navigation of environment Ė to deliver information across the rooftops of a dystopian city. Itís a concrete safety net left untouched by the law, a circulatory system attempting to lend oxygen to a society that according to Faith, no longer breathes.
The isolated canopy of concrete provides an opportunity to get comfortable with Faithís body and its capabilities, a runnerís toolset of vaults, vertical and horizontal wall runs, slides and landings. Itís disorientating at first, watching the world spin with every tucked roll, seeing a pair of arms reach out to grab ledges, or even the subtle head bobbing when rounding corners. And thereís not much time to straighten out those bearings, as Faith is almost immediately thrown into a conspiracy plot involving some very confrontational police.
Suddenly sheíll be sliding down the escalators of bright, bluely painted subways, breaking into office suites where it feels like youíre dashing through an Ikea magazine, and jumping across the backdrop of a city thatís almost entirely white, shimmering beside a beautiful lakefront. Itís all very pretty but in an eerie way, like the city is too perfect, a well thought out presentation of the gameís premise. Unfortunately, it felt a jumbled narrative was necessary to help guide that theme as well.
At most, thatís all itís there for, to give Faith a good excuse to run. Itís an immature script scribbled upon a very maturely crafted game, one with an incredible atmosphere pumped by a cardiovascular soundtrack of electronic beats. To have its chapters strung together by funny looking cartoons -- and characters equally two dimensional -- is insulting to the talent seen in the gameís other areas. When lines get as melodramatic as Faith reminding her peers that the media ďisnít news, itís advertising
,Ē itís almost more nauseating than any of the head whipping stunts she pulls off during the game.
Try to ignore it, because learning a game with a very real learning curve while bullet tracers dance around your every step isnít easy, and will require unhindered focus. Mirrorís Edge grants you wings but kicks you out the nest much too early in this regard, expecting you to master its tricks under a hail of small arms fire from pursuing law enforcement. And youíll fall, itís inevitable. Misjudging distances, jumping too early or too late, making awkward and on the fly decisions Ė thereís not much time to think when turning around means game over.
But the harsh truth behind the game is it rewards players who become good at it, and itís sort of why Mirrorís Edge works, eventually. The idea that missing a jump means fifty stories of windows blurring by as you approach the asphalt below is a terrifying reassurance of the gameís realism. Every jump landed after that ordeal is that much more rewarding. Losing the scent of a helicopter through a series of construction scaffoldings isnít just an obstacle course of another game; itís a matter of life and death.
That mentality certainly takes some imagination, but the game is designed to foster it. ďRunner VisionĒ is its way of conditioning you to think like Faith would, analyzing her urban surroundings for opportunities to escape. It colors these opportunities red, painting the path of a successful getaway. Maybe thatís a pipe that can be climbed, a ramp pointing towards a big jump, or a box to trampoline momentum from. The red coloring of these objects will guide you, but only just enough. Its real purpose is to rewire your brain so it can scan environments at a moment to moment pace, looking for scalable distances at every glance, red or not.
And it works, though sometimes the cops still get a step ahead of Faith, breaking the game up into a series of fight or flight situations. The fantasy trying to be achieved here is obvious and ambitious, but rarely achieved. At its best moments, the gameís combat means two officers wheeling around the approaching corridor and presenting a great opportunity to transfer the kinetic energy of a sprint into a massive drop kick. Sending the first officer reeling, take the opportunity to grab his dropped weapon and sequentially take out his partner. Toss the gun aside when youíre finished or out of ammunition, and keep on running -- no sense having it weigh Faith down.
Thatís every bit as awesome as it sounds, but usually the circumstances arenít as accessible. Often times itís a warehouse full of heavily armed SWAT officers that are waiting for you, creating a complete circus of trial and error. The cool looking disarm maneuvers demand an awkward melee confrontation, waiting for the enemy to take a swing at you, and grabbing their gun when it flashes red. Thatís a nice one on one approach, but thereís no clean way to run at a group of heavily armed men without feeling completely ridiculous, and trying anything fancy is a great way to get killed. Play your cards right and that feeling of being a super human is there, but many of the gameís set ups simply forbid that from happening.
As an escape artist itís best to run from these complications when possible, leaving them behind to enjoy a much more well executed platforming experience. The adrenaline of it all doesnít always necessarily come from being chased, either; itís more from just how authentic Faithís body feels at any given moment. Something as simple as jumping a chain linked fence, for example, is one of the gameís greatest pleasures. It rattles as Faith scales it, and you can see her legs whipping over the threshold as she vaults over it Ė a 6 foot obstacle defeated in an instant as she quickly accelerates to the next. Her body is an animated powerhouse of immersion, itís never not enjoyable to use.
That remains true in even the slower segments, which probably make up the bigger portion of the game. Outsmarting the law means going into sewer systems, elevator shafts, and other places where people arenít meant to be, but serve as exciting jungle gyms for Faithís athleticism. In a way that makes Mirrorís Edge more puzzle like than advertised, but even its chase sequences are constructed in ways that allow for multiple solutions.
Whether itís methodically climbing higher and higher into the rafters of a shopping mall, or sprinting through the fragile interior of office buildings Ė both can be tackled from different angles, and both have their own way of keeping the feeling of tension firm. Conquering complex environments with Faithís unreal upper body endurance, or flying past the sound of bullets shattering glass, itís difficult to say whatís most exhilarating.
And itís only when that tension abruptly snaps that Mirrorís Edge trips over itself. Missing a ledge by a few inches, running into a frustrating amount of guards, or having an oddly placed elevator kill the climax of a heated pursuit Ė all are occasional speed bumps in its design. However, itís the familiarity between the player and Faith that allows it to lift itself above these frustrations, and the best moments are too sweet not to revisit when that familiarity is gained. Whether thatís selecting a favorite chapter and trying to beat your best speeds, or mastering the nuances of the gameís trial courses.
But that first playthrough will always be the most memorable. After all, the game isnít about memorizing the correct paths; itís about not knowing where those paths lead. It's about those times when youíre sprinting towards a door, using all of that adrenaline to ram it open, and rushing into the blinding light of the rooftops -- not knowing where to go next. Look in all directions and cherish that sense of panic. Youíll have to make a decision and put some faith behind it, but just make sure that whatever you do decide on, you donít dare try it at home.