Mirror’s Edge

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Clear your sister’s name in a citywide hunt for a murderer.

PC Release: January 13, 2009

By Ian Coppock

Before I begin the review of one of my favorite video games of all time, I have another content update. As you’ve no doubt noticed, I can barely manage putting out two reviews a week. I want to write articles of general industry interest, but I simply do not have time. If you’d rather see one review and one such article a week, I can do that, but until I hear otherwise, I’m sticking with reviews.

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Mirror’s Edge is a first-person adventure game set in a futuristic, gleaming city. The glory and beauty of this shiny city contrasts sharply with its government, a totalitarian regime obsessed with monitoring all forms of communication.

Faith, the player character, is a special type of courier who hand-delivers private messages across the city using parkour.

Faith is the game's player character. She uses parkour to turn the towers into the world's largest jungle gym.

Faith is the game’s player character. She uses parkour to turn the towers into the world’s largest jungle gym.

Most of Faith’s clients are underground figures resisting the city’s surveillance apparatus, but this premise is quickly glossed over when Faith’s sister is framed for murdering a mayoral candidate. As Faith, you must scour this nameless dystopia for the conspirators who framed your sister, and uncover their plot behind the assassination.

Although I love Mirror’s Edge, the plot and characters are both shaky and soup-thin. Faith is quite the badass, but not much penetrates or escapes her tough-girl exterior. She is fiercely devoted to her twin sister Kate (a cop, ironically), but though you spend the game clearing Kate’s name, this relationship is only explored extremely lightly.

K

Kate is Faith’s polar opposite, a law enforcer who believes in the promise of the city’s security measures.

To preserve some vague notion of honor, Kate stays behind to take the fall for an obvious set-up, leaving Faith with a few runner friends for help and some brutish adversaries to contend with. Faith is advised on where to go and what to do throughout the game by Merc, a grizzled runner boss, and occasionally Celeste, her fellow runner and best friend.

The background of Mirror’s Edge is kept frustratingly vague. This beautiful, nameless city clearly has a history, but Faith’s premise shoots itself in the foot by promoting her as a criminal messenger and then completely forgetting itself. Throughout the game, you’ll find hints that the city was once a more dangerous if more alive place, and references to “the November riots” but all of these interesting pieces of backstory take second place to a rather uninteresting and linear chase for the truth.

The story of Mirror's Edge is completely incongruent to its sweeping visual scale.

The story of Mirror’s Edge is completely incongruent to its sweeping visual scale.

The game is split into about nine missions that all go something like this: break into building, find clue, get out ahead of the police, follow clue into another building, so on and so forth. Sometimes the levels will begin with cop chases, but the game’s groove is by and large wearily predictable.

Sometimes, Faith will just pull clues and suppositions out of her own ass. She spends two levels chasing down one lead but then hits the jackpot by remembering a folder she saw in a minor character’s office. Sometimes you’ll find clues whose placement makes no sense, like security footage of a cargo ship inside the bowels of a police training facility. This made the game’s overarching narrative feel disjointed as well as random.

Sweet! A red pipe! This must mean that Kate's being held in the shopping mall downtown!

Sweet! A red pipe! This obviously means that Kate’s being held in the shopping mall downtown!

The cutscenes that play out after each level are animated in a stylish but unsophisticated Saturday morning cartoon motif, which begs the question as to why the they were not also rendered in the game’s beautiful 3D graphics. An interesting and questionable choice of storytelling.

As I mentioned before, there’s not a whole lot to Faith’s character. She’s not vulnerable like the overwhelming majority of gaming heroines are, but all you need to sum up her personality is the phrase “I must save my sister”. A good thing to do, assuming your sister is nice to you, but it’s hard to carry a game on that premise with so many random clues that jump the game around so many random times.

The cutscenes are more intimate in a character-building sense, despite their briefness.

The cutscenes are more intimate in a character-building sense, despite their briefness.

If this game’s story is so mediocre, why the hell do I love it so? Mirror’s Edge‘s simplistic plot and underdeveloped characters are hallmarks of a bad game, but its smooth gameplay and exemplary visuals are not. I was one of the few people who liked the action and jump buttons being assigned to my 360 controller’s bumpers and triggers, because I didn’t have to reach around the controller to execute complicated maneuvers. Usually you’ll just have to look and tap to perform impressive stunts. This made Mirror’s Edge very smooth, one of the smoothest gaming experiences of all, in my opinion.

I was also one of the few people who relished the combat. You’ll usually go up against multiple, heavily armed opponents, but I enjoyed the challenge that comes from hiding in wait for an officer and then punching and kicking the crap out of him. You’ll usually take on enemies one at a time and can also use guns, at the cost of dexterity. There’s a definite thrill to running and jumping to elude police squads, which you’ll be doing plenty of throughout Mirror’s Edge.

The game's combat is quick and satisfying. You can lug a machine gun around if you want, but don't try to lug it into a wall-jump.

The game’s combat is quick and satisfying. You can lug a machine gun around if you want, but don’t try to carry it into a wall-jump.

Mirror’s Edge‘s visuals are what I love most about the game. The city in which the game takes place is breathtaking in its scale and beauty. Miles of impeccably clean and beautiful skyscrapers, monoliths of white and silver decked out with usage of very strong color, like that blue in the picture above. If nothing else, the game was fun to play and extremely beautiful to look at.

You’ll also visit a good variety of places that each use a different color and layout. Corporate office break-ins are the chief order of the day, but as Faith you’ll also descend into subway tunnels, climb through shopping malls, and sneak around a giant boat.

I've said my piece about the game's story, but its environments are gorgeous.

I’ve said my piece about the game’s story, but its environments are gorgeous.

The environments in the game usually do carry a sterile quality with all that stark color and lack of non-police human beings, but I didn’t really care. The game utilizes EA’s admittedly impressive Frostbite technology to make Mirror’s Edge slick. The PC version of this game has significantly better graphics and added a few more visual assets to each level, as well as people who walk around the city. The PC controls are also quite good, but in my habit of getting really good at questionable control schemes, I used an adapter for my PC playthrough.

Mirror’s Edge is one of those games that carries both really good and really bad qualities. The story is nothing special and is pretty easy to forget, but the smooth parkour gameplay grants a sense of fluid freedom absent from most games. It’s really fun to run, jump and somersault hundreds of meters above the earth, constantly surrounded by some of the most beautiful graphics and visuals I’ve seen in any game. If you’re bored and looking for a simple and gorgeous action game, Mirror’s Edge is for you. I won’t use my love of the game’s visuals to proclaim it one of the greatest games of all time for everyone, but it was for me.

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You can buy Mirror’s Edge here.

Thank you for reading! My next review will be posted in a few days. You can follow Art as Games on Twitter @IanLayneCoppock, or friend me at username Art as Games on Steam. Feel free to leave a comment or email me at ianlaynecoppock@gmail.com with a game that you’d like to see reviewed, though bear in mind that I only review PC games.

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