Most of you have probably seen that by-now infamous Mirror’s Edge video where Faith is running along a rooftop filled with crates and fences, whilst utilising jumps, rolls, wall-runs, and free running leaps from one building to the other. (If you haven't, download it here.)
At E3 2008, we got a chance to do just that, with DICE’s Creative Director, Lars Gustavson, talking us through the action.
If you’ve been following Mirror’s Edge, you'll know the premise by now. You play as “runner” Faith who is a courier in a Big Brother-style future where your job is to get messages through from right under the nose of The Man. There isn’t much revealed about the plot yet, but that’s hardly the point of the game now, is it?
Inspired by Parkour, the game’s objective is most simply described as getting from one point to the other as efficiently as possible. “Efficiently” means running at full speed, vaulting up a set of crates, jumping over a fence, down a zip line, and rolling right as you get to the end to get under a platform.
Las Gustavson says that they spent a great deal of time making sure the camera was just right. DICE really wanted the player to feel the environment, and the camera does a fantastic job of conveying the kinetic nature of the movement. Execute a roll and you’ll see the ground, sky, your legs, arms, and then the motion blur of your run. Things are all well and good when you’re executing all these fancy moves in other video games, but you never “feel” that wall-run so much as you hit a button to make a character do it. It’s an almost disconnected experience when you can roll your way through an entire stage and not get any vertigo. But what you see in Mirror’s Edge is nothing short of video game hotness. The screen blurs, the wind gets louder, Faith’s footsteps get louder, all delivering a feeling of momentum as things suddenly go silent except for the wind when you take off and pray that you had enough speed and jumped late enough to make that billion foot jump to the next building.
You see Faith’s feet kick, you see her arms reach out, the camera jostles from shock when you make contact and it can take a second to regain your bearings. The point of view in Mirror’s Edge feels visceral and connected. Executing Faith’s large repertoire of moves makes you feel like you are the one who just grabbed a pipe after completing a jump that would have made Evel Knievel proud.
Combat is, of course, part of the game. Armed guards and agents of the dystopian future government are out to stop you from making your appointed rounds. It is possible to just punch them (which still feels clunky at this stage) but it’s certainly more rewarding, however, to jack the Man by running at them, sliding between their legs, and planting a well timed kick to the family jewels.
Disarms are possible but they can be a bit tough to pull off. In a game coming from a developer whose biggest other franchise - the Battlefield series - revolves around lots of running and gunning, Mirror’s Edge actually discourages you from holding on to a weapon for too long - you can’t really rappel down a rope with a shotgun tying up your hands, can you?
Slightly wonky fighting controls at this stage aside, the rest of the controls handle very nicely, which makes a hasty getaway more fun than slugging it out Clint Eastwood style. It’s also possible to flick on Reaction Time to help with those difficult to time jumps and split second decisions. It’s basically Bullet Time - but it’s not the only time when you feel like the game pays homage to The Matrix.
There’s a fluidity to the gameplay that rewards smoothness and grace. Your impressive set of moves are executed with nothing more than the left shoulder buttons. Lars tells me: “L1 for anything that has to do with up, L2 for anything with down.” All this, of course, while I’m trying to wall run over to the side of a building to get to a zip line. And instead of riding the zip line to the end, coming to a stop, and then running again, it’s better to let go of the zip line, tuck into a roll, and up into a run without having lost your momentum. Sounds complicated but I did it with two button presses and you know what? It felt fabulous. “We made a conscious decision to not have a sprint button,” says Lars, “you must instead work to always build up momentum.” It’s this momentum that lets you slide under things, jump further, or roll.
Time is always of the essence, and the third more hidden component to Mirror’s Edge is an element of subtle puzzle solving. There are obvious methods of getting from point A to point B, and flicking Runner’s Vision on reveals the most obvious paths via bright colours. There are also less obvious but faster ways. And no - you don’t find the less obvious way by painstakingly exploring every single square inch of the brightly rendered world (that’d take too long). Unlike other games as well, you have all of Faith’s moves at “hello”. It’s up to the player to find the most effective uses for them, which is a subtle and powerful component of the game’s design which combines very well with the “I’m there, I’m actually doing this” feeling of the game.
The controls in Mirror’s Edge work well and it’s a true joy to move through. It’s a fresh take on a genre riddled with World War II set pieces and pop and shoot mechanics. It certainly works better as a runner rather than a gunner, and though I wish that they'd tighten up the fighting controls before the late October release date, I do hope that the “run” remains the soul of what’s shaping up to be a very fun game to play.
Want more? Check out the E3 trailer over at GP Downloads (99MB).