Written by  :  Oleg Roschin (174088)
Written on  :  Sep 28, 2010
Platform  :  Windows
Rating  :  4 Stars4 Stars4 Stars4 Stars4 Stars

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In the mood for FPP?

The Good

Mirror's Edge is a first-person platformer.

It's not the first one of the kind; this honor probably belongs to Jumping Flash. But let's face it, Jumping Flash was a game about a robotic bunny who jumped on people's heads. Mirror's Edge is to it what the original Prince of Persia was to any platform game before it.

Mirror's Edge takes the rarely utilized, nearly unknown concept of a first-person platformer ("FPP"?), and proves it can successfully compete with other genre combinations. The game's great achievements are: visceral, physical design of platform gameplay, such as never seen before, and impressive implementation of yet another underused concept: that of a defenseless protagonist.

Most video game protagonists may be in constant danger, but it's a very rare case when a protagonist has no chance to defeat his foes. Not in the sense of being dragged through scripted events or contrived situations that force you to do something else but fight; not even in the sense of Abe's Oddyssey, with its concept of outsmarting your foes; but in a more direct, realistic sense: you are too weak to fight opponents who wield deadly weapons and greatly outnumber you. You can't take on a squad of trained policemen with machine guns. Even if you are armed, you still don't stand much chance. If enemies surround you, there is usually only one option... run!

That's right, Mirror's Edge is mostly about running away. It's even less of a platformer than it is a "runner", a game in which your main activity will be... you've guessed it: running. Now, maybe it doesn't sound so exciting on paper, but it is realized in such a way that you'll enjoy every moment of this.

Imagine the situation: you are out on the rooftops. The sky is crystal clear. The sun shines over the clean, geometrically proportioned constructions of a bright, yet cold and hostile city. Heavily armed policemen approach from different sides. A helicopter appears and begins to shoot at you. You know you have to run. But where? You frantically turn around, run in circles, madly climbing on ladders and walkways, your hands sore, your breath heavy... You fall down, you try again... and then you see a red pipe in the distance. That must be the way! You run to the pipe and get hit by a bullet. You nearly die. But you keep going. You climb on the pipe. The sound of bullets still pursues you. You run, run, run... until you know you've lost them. Phew!..

Well, if you liked this description even a little bit, go and enjoy the game; and if you didn't it, still go and enjoy the game, because I'm not a writer and I certainly can't adequately describe what a session of Mirror's Edge feels like. But trust me, it's pretty much unlike any other game you've played.

Other factors contribute to that as well. The usual platform activities, jumping and climbing, are designed in such a way that you really feel you are the one who is performing them. First-person perspective is certainly a part of that sensation. But jumping in first-person perspective could be a frustrating exercise, because you can't see yourself and can't know for sure where your feet are. Mirror's Edge elegantly solves this problem by allowing you to look at your own limbs, just like you would in real life.

Beside climbing and jumping, you'll perform a lot of tricky combinations, such as running on walls, leaping and swinging on bars, and diving under obstacles when running. All these movements are executed smoothly and are a joy to experience. Each level is like an obstacle course, which requires you to perform different acrobatic moves to reach your goal. There is also some fighting and shooting; according to the game's concept, these are usually desperate moves that put the protagonist in danger. However, some of the game's most exciting sequences involve hand-to-hand combat, and it's really well-done and satisfying.

The levels give you an illusion of an open-ended, "sandbox" world; but it's just a clever optical trick. Mirror's Edge is essentially an "old-school" platform game, with the linear, "specialized" levels that come with the genre, and obstacles placed in such a way that you'll always be required to do some obligatory acrobatics to proceed. Since there are still a lot of doors and pathways and rooftops, which actually lead nowhere, but can confuse the player easily, the "necessary" obstacles are conveniently colored in red. It might be a contrived design element, but no more so than arrows pointing to the right direction in old platform games. Who cares if the game is not realistic in its level design, as long as it's fun to play?..

Mirror's Edge is also very interesting as a visual experiment. The game is set a totalitarian futuristic megalopolis. Totalitarian futuristic megalopolises usually look the same way in every book, movie, or game they appear in: it's dark, it rains, crime is rampant, decay is everywhere, and the lonely male hero has no other consolations but whisky, sarcastic one-liners, and perhaps a fleeting affair with a blonde femme fatale. Well, the scene looks absolutely different in Mirror's Edge. The city in this game is not dark at all. In fact, I don't think they used any dark colors for the architecture. Everything is bright. Very bright. Too bright. The city looks happy. Very clean, to the point of being sterile. Order and correct geometrical proportions everywhere. No decay at all. The sun in shining, the weather is always great. The protagonist is an athletic young woman who enjoys running around.

Yes, everything looks right in this city, and that's why it turns out to be more chilling and soulless than any one of those "dark" futuristic cities, which are actually quite cozy. Mirror's Edge has a very strong, very original visual style. The happy, bright, yet sparsely placed colors, the abundance of sunshine, the blinding white of the roofs, the neatly arranged green or light brown corridors in office complexes - all are in stark contrast with the grim and macabre worlds we see in most "mature" modern games.

Whether you like this style or not is entirely a matter of taste, but it cannot be denied that Mirror's Edgeis one of the few modern games that has instantly recognizable visuals. I read somewhere that the designers of this game specifically aimed at creating a game world that, when captured on a screenshot, would make people say immediately: "hey, that's Mirror's Edge". And they succeeded. Look at the screenshots for this game, compare them to any other modern 3D game, and you'll see how Mirror's Edge captures your eye right away.

The cut scenes, on the other hand, are done in a rather ordinary cartoon-like style. I heard that some people didn't like that, and even dismissed the game just because of those cartoons. Personally, I enjoyed them. I think they were a refreshing alternative to the in-game engine cut scenes that are omnipresent now. I am one of those nostalgic dudes who still misses the joy of playing a long low-polygon 3D or even 2D level, only to be treated to a gorgeous FMV afterwards. The cartoon movies of Mirror's Edge don't quite have the impact of the FMVs of yore (they actually look more primitive and less detailed than in-game graphics, not to mention that they are 2D; that was most probably intentional), but they still have a personality of their own, different from that of the gameplay portions. It's actually a bit like the comic-book cut scenes in Max Payne in this sense.

The Bad

In order to appreciate Mirror's Edge, you'll have to, so to say, connect to its vibe. The very things that have attracted me in the game - unusual and stylish world design, cartoon-like cut scenes, inability to fight "properly" - are bound to annoy and upset people with a different taste. Mirror's Edge doesn't try to cater to a very large audience; that's actually one of the things I like most in it. It has a unique approach to game/world design, which might not be everyone's cup of tea.

Level design is one of those "coins with two sides" of Mirror's Edge. Yes, I was delighted at the sight of all those bright, "clean" levels. But they don't change. The game chooses a particular visual style and sticks to it. This is good, because it means the designers were persistent enough to create a stylistically coherent world. This is not so good, because there isn't much variety in the levels of Mirror's Edge. You'll be running and jumping through similarly-looking rooftops and corridors throughout large portions of the game.

I must stress that Mirror's Edge is one of those games that really gets away with monotonous level design. The aesthetic impact of its graphical style is so strong that moving a character through these environments doesn't get old. It is always a pleasure. And yet it must be noted that Mirror's Edge is best played in small sessions. There is something slightly tiresome in beginning each chapter with a long-winded rooftop run that, for all purposes, feels pretty much the same as the previous one.

If you expect a smart detective story here, you'll be disappointed. The story of Mirror's Edge is good as far as your average "mature" 3D platformer goes; but it cannot be compared to the best example of detective fiction in video games. Same can be applied to the game's world. It looks great, and works great, but only as a platform stage, as playground for your acrobatic activities. This game is not an adventure, not an RPG, it's not open-ended. For good and bad, it's just a platform game, with more modest ambitions in terms of story-telling and game world creation. Don't expect detailed dossiers and background information about this intriguing world, because there is hardly any. It's a bit like Beyond Good Evil: stylish, classy, attractive, but not very deep.

When I think what it could have been if it had quests, inventory, interaction with NPCs... Yup. Dream on.

The Bottom Line

Mirror's Edge is one of those games that polarizes opinions. Some people would find it highly attractive and enjoyable, while others would dismiss it as a repetitive and shallow experience. While I admit there is some truth in what those "others" might say, I belong to those who hold Mirror's Edge in high esteem. Apart from its innovations as an "FPP", it bursts with creativity, and provides a gameplay experience that is both original and surprisingly "old-school" in its re-creation of nerve-wrecking suspense that is rarely present in modern games. Perhaps it could have been more; but what is there is still very impressive.