Cracks in the Mirror

It's like free-running on broken glass
By MITCH KRPATA  |  December 9, 2008
1.5 1.5 Stars

VIDEO: The trailer for Mirror's Edge

Mirror’s Edge | For Xbox 360 and Playstation 3 | Rated T for Teen | Developed by Dice | Published by Electronic Arts
Mirror's Edge is a game you may need to play twice: once to learn how it works, and a second time to enjoy it. I derived no pleasure from my single run through the story campaign, perplexed as I was about what I was supposed to do and how I was supposed to do it. This game is at war with itself — it's as if its pieces had been constructed by disparate development groups, each with a different idea. The individual elements are good, sometimes even great; the assembly barely holds together.

It gets off to a promising start, the not-so-original premise — outlaw couriers resist an oppressive government — being redeemed by a slick æsthetic. Forget the muted grays and browns of most dystopian game worlds — the city in Mirror's Edge gleams bright, white, and spotless. Most of the action takes place at skyline level, so even the repetitive nature of the visuals is offset by a dizzying sensation of height.

Against this backdrop, you play as Faith, one of the most skilled runners, who stumbles onto a nefarious plot and spends all her time fleeing the state police. Mirror's Edge's inspiration lies in the way you control Faith. The game amounts to a platformer played from a first-person perspective. Combat takes a back seat to navigating treacherous environments using only Faith's physical abilities: jumping, climbing, sliding, and so on.

It's a great idea, and implemented with a control scheme that's both simple and robust. Instead of mapping specific actions to separate buttons, Mirror's Edge relies on context-sensitive commands, usually with just two buttons — one for upward movement and one for downward. Depending on what objects are around, and whether she's moving, the same button can make Faith jump, run up a wall, climb onto a ledge, or vault a low object. Although the game can be stingy about collision detection, overall the system works well.

The bad news is that the design of the story campaign never gives you any breathing room to enjoy the free-running. Its insistence on cramming one high-octane chase scene after another deprives you of the time you need to get comfortable with Faith's abilities. The path is rarely clear, even with Faith's "runner vision," which highlights interactive objects in red. Stopping briefly to reconnoiter usually brings in trigger-happy cops to cut you down. Misjudging a maneuver by even a fraction brings Faith to a swift halt — whether you land wrong, mis-time a jump, or accidentally brush a wall. You get the sense you're supposed to be cruising through a free-flowing sequence of graceful acrobatic maneuvers, but instead it feels as if you were driving a Ferrari and having to stop for a red light every 50 feet.

Besides the story, Mirror's Edge has a time-trial mode, and that comes much closer to realizing the potential of the game's first-person parkour mechanics. This mode carves up the story maps into individual race tracks; you have to hit a series of checkpoints, but the route you take is up to you. The time trials feel more like a playground than does the story mode, and they emphasize environmental interaction rather than the kind of action sequences we've all played a thousand times before. Lacking lower-level goals or much replayability (unless you're insanely competitive), they don't offer enough for a whole game, but they hint at what could, and should, be done with the Mirror's Edge engine. It would be a shame to leave it like this.

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