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Gaming Review

'Mirror's Edge' (PS3)

By
Released on Friday, Nov 14 2008



Also available on: Xbox 360, PC
Genre: First-person platformer
Developer: EA Digital Illusions CE (DICE)
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Release date: November 14, 2008

First-person platformers may not be anything new, but with its unique focus on movement and momentum, Mirror's Edge is a highly innovative title. Although it feels like a first-person shooter, you’d better ditch those Halo reflexes quickly as this is an entirely different kettle of fish.

Taking on the role of Faith, a futuristic runner in a totalitarian society, the player must dash across the city’s labyrinth of rooftops, delivering information and data to other members of her illegal covert group. With the establishment nipping at your heels, traversing the city’s skyline is far from smooth sailing. Where there’s dystopia, there’s usually fascist police, and it won’t take long for them to blow your head off if you stall for longer than a second.

The first thing that strikes about Mirror's Edge is the in-game environment. The cityscape is sterile and cold, yet there is something awe-inspiring about those myriad gleaming skyscrapers and the brilliant blue sky overhead. A palpable sense of loneliness weighs heavy as you glide across those desolate rooftops, but this is quickly replaced by wonder as you break into top speed and execute some of those aerodynamic manoeuvres.

The graphics and sound heighten the game’s ambience and emphasise its bittersweet tone. The city is well rendered, its stark white textures in keeping with the sterilised, crime-free streets. Colours are sharp, textures richly defined, but poor character models let the game down from time to time. The drone of distant traffic and the flapping of occasional birds overhead adds to the sense of isolation, while the soundtrack is equally evocative, creating a sense of urgency with its change of tempo when danger threatens.

Controlling Faith takes some getting used to. Initially the game feels much like a first-person shooter, so it takes time to unlearn those run-and-gun instincts; but once your trigger finger has stopped itching and the wall jumps, shimmies and 180s become intuitive, you really feel as though you have stepped right into the character.

Though some of the moves may be fiddly to execute at first, they are relatively simple and context-based. For instance, hitting the L1 button will result in Faith leaping over an obstacle, whether it’s hopping a fence or pulling off a wall jump to reach a higher level, while L2 sees her do the opposite, sliding under an obstacle or breaking her fall with a parachute roll. The over/under mechanic is central to the gameplay, and once it becomes second nature, the momentum begins to free-flow.

It’s all about fluidity, speed and timing. It isn’t long before you are required to pull off incredibly precise jumps. Hitting those L buttons at the right moment is the difference between vaulting off a wall and springing to your destination and smacking right into it, plummeting to your death. Pushing Faith too hard results in her succumbing to fatigue - her vision blurs and her breathing becomes erratic - the trick is to allow her a quick breather every now and then, but this must also be timed to perfection.

You’ll fall to your doom many times before you master each manoeuvre, but those who manage to resist the urge to hurl their pad into the television screen will be rewarded. Cruising across those rooftops is exhilarating, not to mention vertigo inducing, and there are as many kicks to be had just taking in the environment as there are completing the missions.

The experience isn’t exactly non-linear. You may have an entire cityscape to explore along with a number of interiors - including office blocks, subways and warehouses - but the path you take is dictated by the presence of fences, ladders, zip-lines and other objects you rely on for propulsion, and there isn’t much emphasis on off-the-beaten-track exploration.

It’s not always clear exactly which path you’re supposed to take, and this is where the ‘runner’s vision’ option comes in handy. Though it may seem suspiciously like cheating, the game would be next to impossible without this feature, which marks out the path you need to travel, highlighting propulsion objects in bright red. The guide button is an equally indispensable tool; hit this when you’re lost and the camera will point you in the right direction. Again, it feels like cheating. It’s almost as if the game’s developers turned over a finished version only to be told it was too difficult, so they went back and added these features to swing the odds in the player’s favour.

If there’s one area where Mirrors Edge falls flat it’s combat. As the game progresses you are bombarded by those fascist police as well as the city’s private security, both of whom come at you in droves on foot and deliver devastating air attacks by chopper. The bad guys don’t give you an inch, they’re always in hot pursuit and never stop firing. On the one hand, this keeps the adrenaline surging, especially when you are trying to pull off a precise jump while dodging enemy fire, but on the other, it’s immensely frustrating when you pause for a split second to get your bearings only to end up with a bullet lodged in your head. You can pull off effective disarming attacks with the triangle button and even take up the enemy’s weapon, but guns are an ephemeral thing in this game, discarded right after ammo is spent.

Gunning down enemies almost feels incongruous alongside acrobatic rooftop free-running, and the game does encourage evading attackers in favour of speedy escapades, but there are times when you have no choice but to take everyone out. When the guns are drawn it feels like somebody threw a spanner in the works. The momentum and free-flow is compromised and you momentarily feel like you are playing another first-person shooter.

Awkward combat aside, there is still a lot to appreciate about Mirrors Edge both aesthetically and in terms of innovation. Developers DICE have taken the first-person platformer in a bold new direction with this one, and while it may not be perfect, it’s refreshing to find a game that pushes the boundaries and offers something new in a market rife with clones and countless sequels.


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