Living on the Edge, the Mirror’s Edge
Warning: The game might cause sensations of motion sickness amongst some players who do not respond too well to first person shaky cam in video games.
In a city that’s gotten rid of crime, one group rises up against the authorities, because reasons. … Mirror’s Edge (2008) is supposed to be set in a dystopian future where a totalitarian regime and corrupt politicians pull a big brother on the inhabitants, but there really are too many unexplained plot elements for players to feel immersed in. Additionally, the characters are somewhat inconsistent.
For example, Kate Connors, the sister of the protagonist, Faith Connors, is a police officer working for the City Protection Force and her superior, Miller, reveals himself to be a kind of frenemy to Faith as the story unfolds. Yet the heroine has no qualms shooting cops left and right. Naturally, players would assume that these (albeit optional) killing sprees would unsettle her sister or Miller, but they don’t. Murdering blues has absolutely no impact on the story whatsoever. What’s more, Faith herself is a member of the so-called Runners, a group of parkourists who deliver secretive packages from A to B within the City and are opposed to the forces that be. Unfortunately, the game doesn’t really explain what exactly makes the system so inherently evil that it requires annihilation rather than reform and players also never learn what these packages are for, so that the only reason why anyone would identify with Faith is because she is the playable character. Even so, while a good story is always nice to have, the main focus of action-filled video games is the gameplay, of which Mirror’s Edge has quite a bit to show of.
In fact, the ideas within this production are quite fascinating and definitely what gave it its cult status amongst gamers. Mirror’s Edge is a first person parkour simulation that essentially switches back and forth between three gameplay designs. The first will see the player run and jump across linear paths on top of the rooftops of the City. In what basically is a fast-paced obstacle course, one will not only have to build up momentum, but also string together different maneuvers to maintain it and get to the goal1. The second transforms the game into a calm puzzle platformer. Here, the music as well as settings are toned down, and players will find themselves in closed environments where they will have to slowly but surely reach their destination.
Finally, the third component is one many players detest about the game: The combat sections. Though mostly optional, when confronted with the blues, Faith can either punch, disarm, or shoot them using their own firearms. The downside here is that she can only take about two direct hits from her rivals before dying, while they take about five and are armed. So, the best way for Faith to get through enemy encounters is really just by running away. Disarming the hostiles then is the second best option, though in order to strip the guns from the goons, players will have to pretty much perform frame perfect button inputs, which require quite a bit of practice to pull off consistently. Once a firearm is then picked up, Mirror’s Edge magically transforms into a standard first person shooter, at least until Faith runs out of ammunition, at which point it’s back to normal.
In short, while the combat is nothing to write home about, the first and second design elements definitely carry the game, which is why it’s sad to see them haunted by some shortcomings. For one, the field of view is quite narrow and not customizable by default, causing players to often not see where they could go next or not notice when enemies are nearby. The other worriment is Mirror’s Edge‘s terrible sign posting. Often times, uninitiated players will find themselves wondering where they are supposed to go to, which isn’t a problem during the puzzle platforming sections, where they have all the time in the world to progress, but becomes an issue during the fast-paced roof top segments, where the police insistently shoots at Faith.
The game tries to alleviate the confusion by having certain key items light up in bright red when Faith is near them to show that this is where she needs to go, however, the way they pop up is somewhat inconsistent. Sometimes, areas won’t have any red elements at all – like in Chapter 1: Flight – Checkpoint B, after Faith has talked to her sister, Kate – other times, objects that aren’t part of the route are still highlighted in red – like the bright, red, massive, crane during Prologue: The Edge – Checkpoint D – then other times again – like in the Chapter 6: Pirandello Kruger – Checkpoint C – everything is in either red or a shade of orange that is very close to it, so that players can’t really tell where the protagonist is supposed to be headed towards.
As it seems that the developers themselves are aware of how problematic their directions might be to newer players, they decided to include a button prompt that will have Faith immediately face towards the goal, but since I completely forgot about its existence, I had finished most of the game without it. Due to these issues, I found the platforming to be quite a mixed bag overall. The puzzle platforming sections – like climbing up the yellow interior of the New Eden shopping mall in the Chapter 8: Kate – Section C – were definitely well-made and enjoyable, but the fast-paced areas were held back by the troublesome directions. Clueless gamers will therefore see Faith either be shot to death by the police every other minute or fall into the onslaught of instant deaths that rob the game of any tension that could have been had.
Controls and Performance
The insta-deaths also aren’t just the result of lack of orientation, but feel as if they have something to do with unresponsive controls as well. Of course, Mirror’s Edge let’s players switch freely between their gamepad and the PC typical keyboard & mouse combination (the latter certainly being the superior option, if only for better camera manipulation and because the keyboard layout is customizable; unlike the gamepad’s). However, the game seems to randomly refuse to accept inputs, and so Faith sometimes just won’t jump when she needs to. Quite the bother. It is unlikely though that this stands in connection to the game’s perfomance as Mirror’s Edge does run at around 30 – 40 frames per seconds (fps) on the computer I was playing it on, a 32-bit Windows Vista Home Premium desktop PC with an Intel Core 2 CPU, 3070 MB RAM, DirectX 11, and a GeForce 9500 GT graphics card, and it can even run with up to 62 fps on stronger setups. Nevertheless, those with a Radeon Graphic Processing Unit (GPUs) might consider turning off the game’s PhysX as that will drop the framerate down to about 4 fps2.
Is Mirror’s Edge fun? No, not really. It can be fun to players who already know what to do and have experience with the mechanics, but that’s certainly no metric to go by and getting to that skill level certainly isn’t any kind of fun. It also takes about 10 hours to finish the game including finding all collectibles, which is why, in the end, Mirror’s Edge is merely a very stylized tech demo with great ideas, but little beyond that. The platforming has some satisfying moments, but these are sadly overshadowed by the lack of directions, shaky camera, occasionally unresponsive controls, as well as the awful, awful combat. Any tension the game tries to build up is also for naught with a story that is barely there and the player character dying for the umpteenth time at the same spot. All in all, Mirror’s Edge has a vision of a first person parkour game, but isn’t quite there yet.
The game is available as digital downloads for $4.99 USD or your local equivalent on Steam or for $14.99 USD on PlayStation 3 Store and Xbox 360 Marketplace, or in retail form for $21.99 USD for the PlayStation 3 and for $22.99 USD for the Xbox 360.
Mirror’s Edge gets a 6 leaps of Faith out of 10 ziplines, Shaka Brah
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Hey there. Thank you for reading my article. If you like, please do feel free to leave a comment. There’s no need to register or login. You can also follow my reviews on Steam: http://store.steampowered.com/curator/8839524-Gaos-Corner/ Like always, all screenshots shown here were taken by me during my playthrough. Have a nice day.
- cf. Brown, Mark, What Mirror’s Edge Catalyst Should Have Learned From Burnout Paradise | Game Maker’s Toolkit, YouTube, Alphabet Inc., posted 2016, June 21, accessed 2017, June 26, retrieved from https://youtu.be/gg0Nbfzo_00 from 0:45 to 1:29
- cf. GameplayJenny, What Let’s Play Mirror’s Edge (Badly) #5: Framing It Out, YouTube, Alphabet Inc., posted 2014, March 02, accessed 2017, June 26, retrieved from https://youtu.be/jDAEfBhvF0Q