13
Feb
09

Mirror’s Edge Review

me-copy

Before I start, I’d like to point out that I played the game on PC

Run, vault over a fence, run onto a solar panel, jump from it on to a small building, slide down a tightrope, run, wallrun, turn and jump on to the rail to your left, run over a pipe hanging at 10th floor level between two buildings, jump down, roll, wallrun again and take a leap of faith from a piece plywood on to a pipe on the other side of the road,climb up….. What I just described was the first 30 seconds of the first chapter in Mirror’s Edge. And trust me, it doesn’t slow down. In fact, quite the opposite

.If you’ve been living in the center of the Earth for the last few months (the ad campaign for ME was so big, I think it would reach the comfy space under your rock of choice) let me give you the basic premise. The main character of the game is a runner by the name of Faith. Runners are like messengers, delivering information on foot, though not on the streets, but mostly rooftops. You see, their workplace is the City, a police state where the government can and does read and listen to every e-mail and every phone call of every citizen. Obviously there are people who don’t want the Blues spying on them, so they hire Runners, masters of the art of parkour. If you don’t know, parkour follows the general directive of running through an environment as fast and as fluid a possible, while avoiding any obstacles that may be placed in their path. And Faith has mastered that since it’s her basic mean of survival.

Normally you don’t discuss the graphics near beginning of a review, but ME is a special case. The game’s color pallet generally consists of black, white and primary colors (and variations thereof) slapped on to pieces of the environment like you’d use the fill tool in Photoshop. Thanks to that the game is very bright, which is a nice change from the usual gritty and dirty vibe you get from most modern shooter. All the colors besides red, are just there to differentiate the environment so it doesn’t get boring or just flow into one big white blob. Red though. Red is vital to the gameplay. Basically, the world is deprived of colors because one other ability, characteristic for Runners called Runner Vision. While all other objects are white or some other solid color, all the useful spots are marked red. Plywood boards that can extend your jump, small objects launching into a two-step jump sequence that almost always gets you on the object behind them without stopping,, monkey bars you can swing from, etc. etc. That and the button that points Faith in the general direction of where she’s supposed to go will be your two best friends during the game. But remember – even though the red objects show a path, it isn’t always the only one. The game, in a tutorial level, teaches you basic abilities that you have to put to intelligent use in the course of the levels. Go on YouTube and look for time trial video after you’ve played the game. You’ll be amazed.

The graphics themselves, while stylized are great. All the eye candy you can wish for: motion blur, lens flare, being blinded for a while when looking straight into the sun – it’s all there, and not slowing down for nothin’.

One important thing I haven’t mentioned is that the game is in the first person perspective. Meaning you can literally look down and see your feet, and in the beginning you’ll actually have to do that to be able to jump as late as you can from a ledge, because otherwise you might not be able to pull off the jump. Also you can compare some earlier demos and footage from the final game to see that the developers have a added a dot in the middle of the screen. Apparently some testers have developed motion sickness, and this little dot is the “fix” for that. The animation of Faith’s hands and legs, as well as her opponent’s moves is great and there’s nothing to complain about here either.

Now, that I’ve covered the parkour part of the game, there’s another important mechanic that needs to be discussed – fighting. Although there is an achievement for not firing a gun once during the game (well you have to, once, but that doesn’t count against it), I haven’t managed to do that on my first play through the game. In ME you can either fight hand to hand or with guns. The guns work fine, but it’s obvious that Faith isn’t really “compatible” with them. She moves slower, can’t jump as far, etc. when she’s packing heat. Besides the ammo runs out in seconds. Fighting hand to hand, although limited, is fine. You have set of moves depending on how you approach them enemy (running, jumping, sliding,, from a wallrun). The problem lies in a technique that could be very helpful but is too hard to pull off – disarming.. It works like a QTE – you approach the enemy and for a while, when he’s about to hit you, the gun flashes red at which point you press a button and are rewarded with a cool animation of the disarming. Problem is the time in which the gun is flashing red is so small that even when you use ME’s version of bullet time, it’s hard to get it just right. Maybe it gets easier with practice, but I tried it lots of times, and sadly failed quite often. And you’re not invincible while you’re disarming your opponent so you also have figure when and where to do it so you won’t get killed.  It wouldn’t be a big problem, but there are points in the game where you are forced to fight. Most of the time you can avoid the enemies and just run away. But, God knows why, in some spots the developer decided that you have to fight. Let me give you an example. You jump down to a rooftop. You see 3 SWAT guys dropping down from a chopper, all armed with automatic weapons. For some reason, two of them always stick together while the one remaining goes after you. Let’s you disarmed that one, but you had to use the bullet time because the SWAT are pretty quick. And now you’re, pardon my french, fucked. I’ve managed not shoot any of them finally but it took a few tries. Of course you can go the easy route and just shoot’em up, but what’s the fun in that? Would your inner achievement whore allow that disgraceful shortcut?

The audio is also up to par. There’s really no music in the game most of the time, just the sound of the wind and the cops chasing Faith. When there is music it’s mostly electronica, and it fits. I’m not a big fan of electronic music so I can’t tell if it’s a profound example of the genre, but I enjoyed it, especially in the context. Besides, the seeming lack of music is (at least for me) an incentive to play some of you own music. You know best what pumps you up, and trust me – that’s what you want in Mirror’s Edge. Actually there’s another sound that’s with you troughout the whole game that I haven’t mentioned – Mercury. He’s your boss and mentor and brings obvious thoughts of the operator in The Matrix. Him and the other voice actors were casted by someone who knows their trade. Besides the in-game chatter, there are cut-scenes which are voice-acted well, though when it comes to the visuals (of said cutscenes), opinions vary.

That’s because the cutscenes aren’t done in engine. Or rendered separately. They’re little pieces of animation, that actually bring flash movies you’d see on Newgrounds to mind. Which isn’t necessarily a bad thing though it depends on your point of view. I myself enjoyed them, though I have to point out that they kinda take you out the game world (the dichotomy between the realistic world of the game and Flash-like cutscenes is striking) but it is possible to get used to them.

In my opinion DICE did a great job on the game. It’s just the right length, to be satisfied after it’s finished, but make you want more if a couple of days later. Then you got the Races, Time Trials and harder difficulty levels to play.

Mirror’s Edge is not, by any means, perfect. But it’s no less than great. If you’re willing to let go of the maybe bad cut-scenes, the disarming mechanic and a couple of other minor flaws, you’ll love Faith and the parkour. You’ll get into the flow and enjoy it. I did. No reason not to give it a try yourself…

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