Mirror’s Edge is a first-person platform game set in the near future in an unnamed city. You play Faith, a ‘runner’ who uses parkour / free running to make her way around the city. The runners are couriers, used as a way of sending messages while avoiding government surveillance.
There is a convoluted plot involving an assassination, corrupt politicians and businessmen, and one good cop. I didn’t really follow it all, but it’s not that important to the gameplay.
The game itself is divided up into nine levels, each of which has a few savepoints. Even though it’s a short game, it’s also very difficult. I played it through on ‘normal’, but if I was starting over I’d try it on ‘easy’. There are several points where your life expectancy is about 5 seconds before you get shot to ribbons. Also quite a lot of very hard sections where you will restart them over and over and over. I didn’t keep count, but some sections I must have attempted 50+ times. I was forced to look online several times at game walkthroughs, just for clues as to how to complete the hardest parts. The Mahalo and ign guides were especially useful.
As well as completing the main story, you can also play each level as a speedrun. There are time trials available too. Leaderboards for speedruns and time trials are available through Xbox Live, and posted to the Mirror’s Edge website.
In between each level is a short animation done in a cartoon style, unlike the cutscenes during the levels, which remain in the first-person perspective with no change in graphical style.
The game is beautifully designed; the city is a sterile empty hostile environment, all white bricks, primary colours, cctv and sans-serif typography. It’s as if it were built by Ikea. Maybe no coincidence, given that developers DICE are Swedish. Unlike your typical dystopian vision, there’s very little graffiti, or the grimy detritus of say Half Life 2’s City 17.
There is the occasional chance to get your hands on a gun, but the game never turns into a first-person shooter, and stays resolutely as a platform game. For instance you usually only get to fire off a few rounds before you automatically discard the gun. And if you manage to make it through one section with the gun, you’ve always got to discard it before you get to the next section (e.g. you can’t jump or run like normal when holding a sub-machine gun). There are two achievements, for both completing a level and for completing the whole game without shooting anyone. I managed the first few levels without any gunfire, but realised it was going to get too hard for me to manage the rest without a bit of gunplay. Maybe on ‘easy’ level it might be a tad easier.
On each level there are three bags that you can find for bonus achievements. There are small stencils in the vicinity as a clue for when you’re near a bag. Often at the bag’s location there is a bit of graffiti or a strange note; these just seem to be for a bit of fun, they don’t seem to relate to the plot.
If you watch someone else play this game, you’re likely to end up getting motion sickness. This is also not a game to play if you suffer from vertigo!
When you’re running fast, you get a lot of motion blur and speed lines. At other times there is a fuzzy depth-of-field effect. For instance when crouched down, you’ll be focussed on the immediate foreground, but areas visible in the distance will be out of focus until you look directly at them. This is a neat touch.
Despite being difficult, I think DICE have managed to strike a decent balance between the platform/puzzle parts, and the running/shooting cops parts. The platform parts are the easier, although some bits, especially later, will take many goes. There was one level, where you’re ascending platforms going round a giant circular drain entrance(?), that reminded me of classic platform game Nebulus.
The game would probably make a not bad film. Lucy Liu is a bit too old for the lead, but otherwise she’d be ideal. Maybe someone like Devon Aoki (from Sin City) for the role of Faith, and Lucy Liu for the part of her sister Kate.
Overall, Mirror’s Edge is refreshingly different. Probably the most interesting new game I’ve played since Portal. Mirror’s Edge is currently available for Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3, and a PC version will be released early 2009. This review is based on the Xbox 360 version.
There are some new time trial maps coming out in January, which if this video is anything to go by, will retain the general look-and-feel, but be in an abstract environment:
Just for fun, here’s a video of the introductory chapter ported to Portal:
And here it is as a Little Big Planet level: