I had rather a large number of bad mirror jokes lined up for this review but upon reflection I thought better of it. After taking a long hard look at myself I realised it wasn’t something I could see myself doing. (Stop right there - Ed.) So on with the show.
Mirror's Edge is pretty cool. Part Matrix, part Jackie Chan movie, part Parkour simulator, the game is a welcome new approach to platformers.
You play as a runner called Faith. Runners are the couriers of the underworld, delivering messages the old fashioned way in a world of electronic supervision. Your job is to deliver packages around the city, whilst avoiding the 5-0.
The story is a mix of familiar genre plots, but works pretty well. Your running has been getting harder with the police now becoming unusually aggressive towards runners, shooting first, asking questions later.
Early on in the game you run into your sister (sorry), and a police officer who has discovered a dead mayoral candidate in his office, apparently shot by your siblings gun. With the help of your contacts in the underworld, you set about trying to find out what’s really going on. It’s a blend of conspiracy, big brother, and sci-fi.
And off you go, using the Forrest Gump method of conflict resolution: running.
The core gameplay is all about getting from point A to point B in the shortest possible time. Sometimes you’ll have the police chasing you, or shooting at you. Other times you simply have to find you way to a destination, using the world around you. The fun part is, faith doesn’t have to take the footpath. You jump, swing climb, dive roll, slide, and generally ninja your way around the city. The best way to describe it is to look at the opening chase scene in Casino Royale where Bond chases down a villain over rooftops, up a crane, though buildings, all on foot.
It takes a bit of time getting your brain out of the conventional limitations of the First Person Shooter genre. Mirror's Edge is also a first person game, but you move around so much more fluidly. Rather than walking up the stairs, or pushing a button to climb a ladder, you sprint along the roof tops, jumping off walls, climbing downpipes, swinging off flagpoles, sliding down giant glass roofed buildings, and leaping chasms between buildings in a way that would make Spider-Man jealous. The route you need to take is sometimes linear, and sometimes open. Once you get your head around the freedom of movement you have, the game really comes alive. Making a ‘run’ in one smooth well timed sequence is extremely satisfying.
Visually the game is impressive. The city is a bright, bloom lit world, full of ambient noise, with both outdoor and indoor areas you will travel through. Often the game will highlight an object in red, to indicate that it can be used in some way, whether it be climbable, soft to land on, or perhaps a ramp to springboard you over a large gap.
At the time of writing however, the game did have the odd issue for ATI cards. Anti-aliasing support seemed a bit hit and miss, vsync isn’t working, and of course you don’t get the PhysX eye-candy that you would with an Nvidia card. Despite ATI being able to run PhysX, as has been demonstrated by several tech websites, no support is offered.
The game looks great regardless, and certainly the lack of PhsyX support is no biggie. Also, given that at the time of writing the game has only been out for a couple of days, there may be upcoming patches that will remedy the graphics issues.
Combat is perhaps the games other gripe. Well, more of a niggle. I know some reviewers have been pretty harsh on the combat mechanic, but I think they miss the point. Yes, you can fight, and yes, you can grab a gun off your enemy and use it against them, but to do so is unnecessary. Combat has been labelled clunky, but I think that’s intentional. You are a runner, not a "Tom Clancy school of Counter-Strike" SWAT member.
Of course, the biggest challenge for this game on PC is that it does play like a console game. That’s not always a bad thing, but given that I wasn't getting the best graphics experience (and that I was equipped with a mouse and keyboard) I found myself wondering if I wouldn't have preferred to play this on my couch with my trusty launch-day bought Xbox 360 which has never crashed. At least that way I could focus on playing rather than tweaking and tinkering.
None of the issues above detract from the game enough to stop me suggesting that you need to play it. The game works so well because it combines so many cool things from movies and other games. The voice in your ear telling you to run, letting you know when the cops have arrived (seconds before they burst in the door) has a cool "Matrix" feel to it. The roof sliding and climbing is straight out of the Jackie Chan handbook. The level design is reminiscent of Half Life 2 in some parts, especially the vent crawling.
There are many more elements which will remind players of things they have seen or heard elsewhere, but rather than feel copied they show that the designers have a finger on the pulse of recent popular culture.
These elements come together to provide a uniquely enjoyable game. I can’t wait to see what can happen when this concept is expanded, or worked into a first person shooter to allow real freedom of movement.