Mirror’s Edge is a first-person action game released in November 2008 by Swedish developer DICE. It follows Faith, a “runner” in a dystopian future who ferries information physically from one point to the next, sort of a black-market courier.
Mirror’s Edge is a game about parkour, the physical sport/practice of moving from one point to the next in the fastest manner possible while navigating any obstacles in the way. In Mirror’s Edge, Faith can run, climb, jump, swing, and slide to make her way across the environment.
I have to give the developers credit for the bold design decision of making the game first person. Many players initially struggled to understand the move, wouldn’t a third person perspective, perhaps above and behind Faith, make the game easier? That’s exactly the point. Parkour isn’t easy. If it was, we’d all by running along rooftops to get to class. Every big leap, every fall in Mirror’s Edge has a physicality to it which is enhanced by the fact that you’re seeing the game through Faith’s eyes. The first time you dive to an adjacent rooftop and roll to absorb the impact, you’ll gasp. There is a small, white dot in the center of the screen which somehow reduces motion sickness and its effects when playing. It must work pretty well, since I myself am easily prone to motion sickness and never experienced it during this game.
The game is linear, with a prologue and ten missions. You could beat it in a weekend if you really put your mind to it, but it’s more fun to take it piecemeal. Many reviewers decried the game’s short length, as they are often prone to do with games as of late, but don’t let that scare you off. This game is perfect if you don’t have large chunks of time to play, so take it brick by brick over a week or two, and you’ll get your money’s worth.
The linearity means there is virtually no fat in this game in terms of actual play, save one element. The main stumbling block occurs when you have to fight Blues. Police officers are the primary foe in Mirror’s Edge, many of them replete with SWAT gear, and the first few missions teach you a flee mentality. Disarm if needed, but keep running. Faith is significantly slower when holding a gun, and your main asset is speed. She is simply not a fighter. Problematically, by about three or four missions in you’ll stumble across groups of Blues that must be fought. Sitting here I can recall at least five such circumstances in the latter half of the game. They require a great deal of trial and error, trying to disarm one Blue and use his clunky, difficult weapon to kill the other officers. Combat in this game just doesn’t hold a candle to the parkour sections.
Visually, Mirror’s Edge is on a plane of its own. The introduction to the first mission, seen through the eyes of Faith, is one of the most memorable game sequences I’ve seen in years. The dystopian future features sleek, minimalist architecture and design, with bright impressionistic splashes of color used to compliment the largely white city. It is at once arresting and beautiful, especially in the placid moments between flights when you can stop to take in the surroundings. These colors play directly into the design itself, Faith sees potential paths through “runner vision,” which colors these objects red. This contrasts strongly against the blues and blacks if the city’s police forces, essentially creating a diametric opposition between red and blue, life and death. The ambient, electronic soundtrack compliments the hyper-sterile sci-fi setting perfectly.
The story involves some shadowy government organization that wants to stop reformists and you get wrapped up in it and blah. Blah. Blah. Rihanna Pratchett, the writer for the game, does a great job of producing clean, efficient dialogue for the characters but it’s immediately clear that the missions and generally paper-thin conspiracy story concept were conceived before she was brought on to do the writing. The cutscenes are rendered in 2D animated scenes, seen from outside the perspective of Faith. They simply don’t work well. If you’re going to make a first-person game DICE, keep it first person. Render the cutscenes with the in-game graphics, and keep us behind Faith’s eyes the whole time. Only let us see her in passing moments, the reflection of a windowpane, the steel gloss of elevator doors. Like Valve’s monolithic Half-Life series, Mirror’s Edge would benefit from a completely first-person perspective.
Mirror’s Edge is an exciting take on first-person games, indeed, on the way we think about games as a whole. Restraining ourselves to genres is a fundamentally limiting practice, and the backlash against Mirror’s Edge in early press releases shows just how endemic this sort of thinking is amongst both game players and the gaming press. As Faith herself tells in the intro to Mirror’s Edge, “Runners see in possibilities.” We would do well to take this to heart, seeing not in limits, but in potentialities.
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