New, used, Abused: Mirrors Edge

Mirrors edge, developed by DICE on the UT3 Engine, was a game that I followed with some interest for most of the development time. After playing Assassin’s Creed I felt open to the concept of parkour in video games, and thought that Mirrors edge would be interesting at the very least.

Then it was released for the Xbox 360 in late December of ’08, to the massive public opinion that it was terrible. I was disappointed, though I had the distinct feeling that the use of the 360 controller was a bad idea, and it’d probably be much better as a PC game. Skip to blaming lazy developers for the console only release, forget about game.

Fast forward to Mid-January, I’d lost hope in the game, but then saw it for $70 in JB Hi-Fi. Despite my recent lamenting and bad feelings I took a chance and went halves with my brother. One of the best risks I’ve ever taken in my opinion.

Now, talking about the actual game.

Mirrors edge, as I’ve previously mentioned, is a First Person… Parkour…er? You play as a girl named Faith, who is part of a group called the runners, basically high-calibre couriers, in a distopian future where the city is controlled by a paranoid government. You traverse a number of levels, all with not-quite linear paths to advance, but it feels more like Prince of Persia rather than anything else, because, while you have a good number of ways to get from point a to point b, both points are necessities, not an open world like Assassin’s Creed.

While I enjoyed playing Assassin’s Creed more than Prince of Persia because of the open world aspect where you could go basically anywhere, I’m incredibly greatful dice took a nice position of the Prince of Persia side of things. Everything’s more direct, and every level is filled with preprogrammed action sequences that make for quite an interesting story.

The basic element of the game is running. You’ve got 3 main buttons; jump, crouch, turn around. However depending on the circumstance these can turn into anything from sliding under a pipe to wall running up a wall, turning, wall running up another wall and jumping onto the roof of the structure containing the first wall. They’ve done a terrific job in making the buttons appropriately context sensitive, and it feels quite natural using the same button for a good 5 moves when it’s needed. From the first person view it should be hard to know what’s going on, rolling after jumps and going up walls, but frankly I’ve never had a problem with it.

Gunplay also comes into it in a notable way, in that you can go through the entire game without ever firing a shot. Since you’re running around a lot you want to be light, so Faith doesn’t carry weapons. What you can do though is take weapons from the people trying to shoot you, and use them for a small amount of time. However this slows you down for the bigger guns, and since you’ve got no ammo you get a clip worth before it runs out of bullets, in which case you just throw it away. While you can go through a rotation of shoot, pick up his gun, shoot, etc it’s much more fun just to beat them up using a variety of martial arts moves, which can be incorporated with running up, around, off things.

One of the major things I liked was the music. Because they went for a fairly linear path and the unreal 3 engine is excellent at managing music, the music was done incredibly. The beat changes very quickly when there’s a ‘Oh shit, police helecopter’ moment from relaxed Parkour mellow to pulse pounding action. While other games do this there’s always a gap between when you see something dangerous til when the ‘something_dangerous.ogg’ plays, which I didn’t notice here.

The plot is also worth noting, because it’s really decent. While I’m probably biased because I love Terry Pratchett and his daughter was involved in the game, it was nice to see that they actually bothered with a storyline. What bugs me is that there’s fairly major spoilers in the second level, so I can’t really tell much about the story. The characterisation is decent, the dialogue is interesting and you come to empathise with the characters over time.

The online time trial mode is a nice addition, where you go through maps from the campaign and follow checkpoints as fast as possible. You unlock more maps by beating qualifying times, and there’s two better qualifying times which you can go for, each time adding more skill points to your rank, which is a nice addition as I can brag about my awesome three stars on storm drains 1-3 when people start talking about guitar hero.

Pretty standard, but what’s interesting is they record your movements and place them online, measuring you against the world. You can download other people’s routes as ‘ghosts’ and learn new ways to go, what corners can be cut, what speeds you up etc. There’s also a friends system which lets you race people you know, again giving bragging rights.

There’s also a mode where you can do a time trial in the actual campaign storyline, rather than just the maps. While this was a nice addition I don’t really see why we’d pick this over the time trial mode.

Another random attraction for me is that you don’t need a CD to play. This may seem trivial, but it’s a nice thing to see when most games these days are so paranoid they want both a disc and an online login before you can play the game.

There’s a bunch of random leftovers from the Xbox 360 version though. There’s bags which you can collect in the campaign, but since there’s no achievement for doing so, I’m left wondering why they kept it in, especially when in the first level there’s a bag you need to pick up to deliver to another runner. But since it’s part of the whole bag system you don’t see it on replays of the map, making the story as to why you’re going somewhere non-sensical.

The graphics (an after thought of course) are excellent, as in natural for the UT3 engine, but another thing that came to light was the addition of Nvidia Physx, a technology which basically performs physics processing on your GPU. Not only did they implement it but they went crazy with it. With it enabled you run through fly barriers (those strips of plastic hanging from the ceiling… never did get their name), break through plastic protection to get to a button, makes glass break and fragment realistically, with the pieces moving around when your foot bumps into them. It’s rather beautiful to see, and the only game I’ve seen that’s used physx better is Warmonger, as awesome game which no-one has heard about. Guess what I’m talking about next week.

So that’s Mirrors Edge, a game infinitely better than the unfortunate title which has no bearing on the actual game, which itself is quite good.

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One Response to “New, used, Abused: Mirrors Edge”

  1. If you’re interested in reading thoughtful blog posts on Mirrors Edge, you should check out the blog of Justin Keverne (a British laddie I know) – have a look at his posts tagged w/ Mirrors Edge:

    http://gropingtheelephant.wordpress.com/tag/mirrors-edge/

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