Mirror’s Edge – PC
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Release Date (NA): January 12th, 2009
Nerd Rating: 7.5 out of 10
Nowadays, parkour and free-running are pretty well known in the public consciousness, but before autumn of 2008, most people didn’t really know the freedom and excitement that could be found in the simple concept of going from Point A to Point B. Mirror’s Edge, released by Electronic Arts in November of 2008 for consoles and the following January for PC, changed that in a big way by bringing parkour to 3-D platforming. This review will be looking at the PC port in particular.
Mirror’s Edge tells the story of a city trapped under the rule of a tyrannical and conformist police-state, where rebel forces are forced to use written communication and couriers to coordinate their movements. You play as Faith, one of these rebel couriers and an expert of parkour, using her skills to run, jump and slide across the rooftops.
You don’t get to ferry many messages, however, before you’re ensnared in a murder mystery that has Faith and her sister Kate framed for the murder of mayoral candidate Robert Pope the only politician in a position to bring positive change to the city. The rest of the game is spent investigating what’s going on with the help of your guide and job handler, Merc, and trying to save Kate from prison or execution.
Luckily, Faith’s skills are beyond compare for the time of the game’s release. You get to run along walls, climb, slide, and generally traverse the urban terrain in a flowing path that you’ll wish you could see in third person. In a pinch, you can even use a form of bullet time to help get things just right.
The beauty of the game is the beauty of parkour, experimenting to find the best way to get around. Mirror’s Edge does, by default, highlight objects in red, but these are never the best path to take unless they’re the only one.
That said, the controls aren’t perfect, and can feel a little forced. I played it with a gamepad for most of the time, but my experiments with keyboard and mouse didn’t fare much better. They’re fine most of the time, but there are moments where you’ll feel like you can’t quite do everything you wanted by no fault of your own.
Some gamers may be expecting this to be a First Person Shooter with parkour, but it’s the opposite; it’s a first person parkour game with some opportunities to shoot, and you should approach it as such. Most of the time, there’s a nonviolent alternative to shooting your assailants, and Faith can’t take that many hits herself before dying.
The truth of this philosophy is shown in the game’s only actual boss fight, where you may be able to win through brute force, but you’ll have a much easier time if you dodge around the opponent and use your head.
This does lead to some frustrating situations, though, especially towards the end of the game; freedom of movement becomes restricted, and forced combat sections come up more and more frequently as you close in on the truth behind the murder mystery.
That’s not to say that Faith can’t mix it up if she needs to. The top traceuse of The City has some tricks up her sleeve too. You never start a level armed, but Faith has the training necessary to beat up guards, as long as she can get them one-on-one or take them out quickly. The bullet time trick from before comes in handy here, too, when you need to land a handy disarm, knock out a guard instantly, and pop a few slugs in his buddies. It works, it’s just not always the best option.
When you’re done playing through the main story, you have the option of replaying past levels normally or in a time trial mode, or playing through bite-sized level areas making your way from checkpoint to checkpoint in the least time possible. This is when all that practice finding alternate paths or learning from the default roads comes in handy. Now that you have a basic idea of the geography, take the time to explore what you missed the first time through and try crazy ideas; if there’s anything you should’ve learned that first time through it’s that Faith’s not afraid to spit in the face of death, and you shouldn’t be either.
Visually, Mirror’s Edge is gorgeous, making the best of the graphics available at the time. Cut-scenes are done in a stylized art form with fluid animation. Unfortunately, there are times early on where the stark white geography, chosen to emphasize the emotional sterility of the city, can leave you practically blind early on.
Faith’s health isn’t shown in a bar; like many first person games of the time and since, her vision starts to gray out and darkness encroaches on the borders of the screen when she’s close to death. The real spectacle of failure comes when you fall too far, and you will be taking a few high dives off the rooftop. The first few times you see it, it’s a frightening and maybe even vertigo-inspiring experience, as Faiths’ entire world shakes and the ground comes screaming up to meet her. After a while, though, it can grow tedious.
Speaking of vertigo, there is one very important thing that needs to be said. It doesn’t apply to every player, but those prone to motion sickness may want to steer clear of this title. Locked as you are in first-person view, and with the emphasis on immersion in the movements and sounds, quite a few players have reported feeling nauseous after just a short time rushing through The City. The reticule-dot in the center of the screen may help, but it doesn’t do enough to offset the effects. Sorry, maybe the sequel will have a better balance of motion and immersion.
Immersion really is the key word with Mirror’s Edge; from the first-person view that follows Faith’s movements with utmost fidelity down to the various noises of the bustling cityscape around you, it’s all designed to draw you in. You may even catch a glimpse of pedestrians standing or walking around, or cars driving down the roads. Unfortunately, this does mean you’ll be bereft of any actual music most of the time.
The game’s theme music is “Still Alive,” not to be confused with the Portal song of the same name. It’s a beautiful, melancholic theme that plays at the start of the game, and is sampled occasionally to emphasize some graceful or insane trick Faith is doing. Most combat sequences or escapes are accompanied by a frantic, but somewhat generic action tune. These two tracks aside, all you’ll hear are Merc’s words in your ear, the city around you, and maybe the police putting in the token warning before they shoot at you.
Mirror’s Edge is an exciting time. Despite the early visual difficulty, it’s a blast to move around and explore, and time trials and mini-maps can add a lot of play time. Replaying the game again for this review, I found two or three shortcuts or corner cuts I hadn’t even thought of before, and I’m sure there’s a wealth of tricks left to find. Can you develop the true instincts of a parkour master and find them all?
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