"Parkour" is all about moving from one point to another as quickly and as efficiently as possible using all of the abilities of the human body.
With Mirror’s Edge, EA DICE have succeeded in capturing the freedom and speed of Parkour, and have transferred it to a compelling gaming experience.
Since the transition to 3D gaming that occurred during the mid nineties, most developers working in the action-adventure genre have been quite tame with the use of this new perspective, and many of the advances have been nothing more than window dressing for the same core game play. Mirror’s Edge isn’t a revolutionary title, but it certainly is evolutionary. Much like EA’s other new I.P, Dead Space, Mirror’s Edge contains a lot of ideas that have been used in some form or another by other developers. This isn’t a bad thing, as - again like EA Redwood did with Dead Space - EA DICE have taken all these elements and turned them into a truly enjoyable game.
The premise of the story involves a dystopian future, much like Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four, in which an oppressive state controls all forms of official news, and the only way sensitive information can be transported is by utilising a network of "runners" - urban athletes who operate outside the prying eyes of authority. You play "Faith", an aptly-named courier whose sister has been framed, and you must face a number of challenges and above all else avoid the law in an effort to free her from the corrupt state's grasp.
With a great control system, beautiful crisp graphics and a sense of speed and motion that is incredibly enjoyable, this is a game that you can truly lose yourself in. Each level is an obstacle course for you to traverse using the variety of skills at your disposal. Running, jumping, leaping, vaulting, climbing, sliding and rolling at speed from a first-person perspective could have been a clumsy and frustrating experience, but the context sensitive control system works well and, after the initial training area, feels natural to use. Leaping from one building to the air vent of another, then wall running and jumping onto a pole to swing over an electric fence only to save your self from a fall by grabbing onto a drain pipe will become a routine activity. It is from this ease of use that you become engrossed in the game.
Apart from certain sections of each level where you are only given one possible route, each area is yours to traverse as you see fit. Momentum can be built up or lost depending on what you decide to do to get through the level, affecting how far you can leap, which in turn either opens up more alternatives for passage or closes them off.
Graphically everything looks quite slick with a limited but vibrant colour palette giving the concrete world a feeling of energy and life. Everything is designed towards aiding your ability to distinguish objects and areas at a glance, which is necessary when you are moving at speed through the zones. "Runner vision" highlights possible routes early on in the game, while the lack of a heads up display helps immerse you into the game. When you get hit, the level of damage taken is shown by a muting of the colours.
The sound design is also excellent, the ambient noises of a living city mixing with the music to give a sense of relaxed energy which compliments the poetry of your motion. As Faith builds up momentum and physically exerts herself, the sound of her breathing increasing, the quickening of her steps and the whooshing of air rushing past you - all this works to give even more of a feeling of speed than you'll get from the majority of racing games.
The control design is quite simple and allows for quick manoeuvring. Analogue sticks operate just like they do in any FPS, with movement and aim being the left and right sticks respectively. For the bulk of your interactions with the environment you will be using the two left shoulder buttons for high and low movements such as jumping or sliding. The other buttons are used for specific actions such as attack, pushing buttons and locating your objective.
The core game play is really enjoyable and something I found I couldn’t put down. You will die as you experiment and learn your way around each area - that is inevitable but it isn’t something that becomes overly frustrating. Frequent checkpoints mean that you can try new things and take risks, but they don’t feel like they take anything away from the game by making it too easy. You do get a real sense of achievement from completing each area. You also have the ability to slow down time if you are having trouble with timing.
Now for the bad things. The story itself is rather weak and I never felt like I got involved in this dystopian world of totalitarian control, nor did I develop an affinity for any of the characters. The animated cut scenes look really out of place and generally just ugly. They actually pulled me out of the groove I had gotten into whilst playing the game.
Combat is a fairly shallow affair which ultimately boils down to timing in order to disarm, or a few hits to the head to put down the dude shooting at you. While you can carry a weapon, they do slow you down and limit your Parkour abilities, changing the game from fast and exciting to slow and dull. They are best avoided. In the main storyline, police freely shoot at you and act as an encouragement to move as quickly as possible, which is the one good thing about their inclusion.
If you are someone who likes to play through a game to complete it and be done with it, you will be disappointed here. The length of the story mode is going to be about 6-7 hours on your first play through. There are hidden packages to collect and different difficulty levels (hard becomes unlocked after a single play through) but that mainly affects how much damage you can take if you engage in combat. If you are the competitive type, either with yourself or others, there is a time trial mode which is what I enjoyed playing the most. Various areas from the game are here for you to run through unhindered by trigger happy cops or plot devices. Each area is given check points for you to hit with the goal of getting to each one in the fastest possible time.
Online leader boards, the ability to race against a ghost of your own or others' best times and the pure enjoyment of jumping around each level is where the longevity of Mirror’s Edge exists. Expect to see some sick speed runs showing up online in the coming weeks and months.
Mirror’s Edge is an enjoyable game, one that can get your heart racing at times or put you into a Zen-like trance as you perfect your line through each course. There are a few things included in the game that try to give it a purpose and end up being out of place, but they don’t detract from the overall experience of rocking around and jumping from building to building. This is an exciting new IP from Electronic Arts, and with a few changes we're sure it will be even better next time around.