STAFF REVIEW of Mirrors Edge (Xbox 360)

Saturday, November 15, 2008.
by Adam Dileva

Mirrors Edge Box art It seems like for the past while weve been getting nothing to play other than sequels or remakes, so when something new comes along, its hard not to get excited about it. DICE (which is known for the Battlefield series) has brought the concept of a Free Running (Parkour for those in the know of the sport) game done completely in the first person view. Gameplay almost feels like as if you were playing Assassins Creeds climbing, swinging, and jumping mechanics since every move is mapped to an up and down button to easily decide what you want to do; but through the main characters eyes.

This seems like a very cool and new idea, and parts have been done before in other games, but not a whole game concept centralized around it completely. The idea is to make you feel like you are actually controlling the character through their eyes as opposed to playing in third person with a free swinging camera to look in any direction at anytime.

You are Faith, a runner that delivers confidential information to clients much like a courier, but instead of a bike or truck, you get to your destinations and clients with your own feet and hands the old fashioned way, but with a twist. Sometimes to get from place to place, you may need to jump over barbed wire fences, climb very high roofs, or even jump from building to building. The reason behind taking these risks is because the cops (referred to as Blues) view runners as outlaws.

Early on you meet up with your sister Kate in a high ranking person's office only to find him dead and your sister there trying to figure out what happened. Clearly with your sister setup to take the fall for a murder she didnt commit, you are about to set off on a journey to solve the problem, but not without any hardship from the Blues shooting to prevent you from doing so.

This is the general story plotline though I never found myself really caring for any of the characters along the way other than Faith herself. This wasnt due to poor character building, dialogue, or even the voice acting, its that you only get story cutscenes between each chapter and with only 9 chapters in Mirrors Edge; youll most likely finish the story in around 6 to 8 hours. In those little few hours, the majority of the time will be retrying jumps that had you plummeting to your death or trying to figure out where to go while avoiding being shot rather than straight running from point to point. A second play through is even quicker once you know where you need to go since there isnt very many branching paths to get to your destination, which feels odd in an opening looking world.

Once the story is complete you are able to do sections of each chapter in a time trail mode where you dont have to worry about the Blues chasing you. Your best times are saved and uploaded for anyone to download and race against. This means you are able to see the best runners in the world, download their ghost, and race against it to learn their tricks and the best possible lines to gain your flow. It would have been nice to have two player multiplayer in this mode where you and a friend could actually race, but being able to download anyones ghost makes sure its not a complete bust.

What makes Mirrors Edge unique in gameplay is that you play entirely in the first person view, as if seeing the world how Faith sees it. This is concept sounds like a great plan when on paper, but felt like it came short when trying to look where to go next, while also having to look forward to obstacles that are coming next. Its like not having any peripheral vision but having to look in more places than straight ahead at once; you can start to see where frustration will set in.

For people that get queasy stomachs from playing first person shooters, this will induce a far worse feeling as the camera is constantly moving as Faiths head bobs while running and the camera angles when jumping between buildings high on top of the city.

Flow is what runners live for. This is combining perfectly times vaults over low objects, rolls while landing, and slides under low hanging obstacles. All of these in succession of each other will give you more flow and cause you to run faster and build momentum which allows for further jumps as well.

A runner needs to know where to go to get in the flow and how to get to each point; this is called Runner Vision. Essentially its a hint system that will make any object that you need to get to next like the box to jump over or the plank of wood on a rooftop to vault off of, it will be a bright color of red. These objects stand out quite distinctly since most of the rest of the Faiths world is a white color while outside and some bland browns and oranges inside. When the Runner Vision works properly you know exactly where to go next without hesitating or having to look where to go, but quite a few times the object I needed to vault off of or jump to would not color red until I was inches away from it which stopped all my momentum. This has happened quite a few times and slows things down more often than I had hoped. You may be stuck looking around for the next red object when it should be colored without having to be beside it. Players who like a challenge can turn Runner Vision off at any time though, and when playing on the hardest difficulty, its turned off for you.

Should you still be stuck, holding down the B button will also give you a hint and face you in the direction on where you need to get. Again, this in theory works great when stuck, but quite a few times it will point you in the direction of your destination, not the next fence to hop over or roof to jump off of to get there. It gives you a general direction, but usually not the path needed to get there. Should you accidentally hit the button while about to line up a jump or running from Blues, you will most likely fall off a roof or become disorientated to your surroundings as it whips the camera instantly to that direction. I found it was more of a hindrance than a help most of the time which doesnt feel right considering a whole button is designated to help you, yet it usually doesnt or makes you even more confused than you were previously.

There are basically two different locations; rooftops and indoors. Rooftop levels I found seemed to be much more fluid and I didnt have to stop nearly as often to try and find where to go next. Indoors was a whole different story with it being a much slower pace and much more confusing with having to look for vents to crawl through and multi-tiered vaulting to get to the next area. Factor in being chased almost constantly and it just feels a little too frantic indoors with not much room to move, where on the rooftops you have more room to maneuver and feels like you truly are escaping from the Blues.

Faith is able to defend herself should you get into combat and get cornered, but it feels like an afterthought and if you have more than one person shooting at you close range, you will most likely die. You can disarm an opponent if close range, though you have to wait till the exact moment their weapon turns red to swipe it from them, or you will find yourself on your back from shoved down. A press of the X button will make things slow down to make it much easier to do these disarms and usually this is the only way to properly disarm as the timing to do it without bullet time is just too narrow and unforgiving. This slowdown has limited uses but gaining momentum while jumping and vaulting will refill it, though Ive never found a need to disarm anyone when I can beat them down just as quick. You are able to complete the whole game without ever firing a gun and there is even an achievement for it but there are a few times when youll be forced to take down some enemies to proceed; even though the rest of the game is built around running away from it.

You are almost always being chased by someone, so you dont get much of a chance to play around with certain jumps or explore for not so obvious paths and secret bags. The only difference changing the difficulty makes is the combat portions (other than Runner Vision being forced off on the hardest mode) more difficult where bullets will do more damage basically. It would have been interesting to try some more difficult jumps or combos to get up to other places instead.

The majority of level loading is done during the cutscenes between chapters, but there are a few mid level loads within the chapters themselves. Normally this isnt a big deal, but the reason for its mentioning here is that on almost every indoor level you will need to take elevators to go up or down floors. Logically you would think that this is when loading would be done, much like how Mass Effect did. The issue here is that nothing does load while in the elevators, but each elevator ride is at minimum 30 seconds, sometimes even longer. Theres no indication inside either that even says you are moving up or down floors. With nothing to press or do, you will be jumping around or pressing yourself up against one of the walls to see your hands just to try and pass some time. Being inside the elevators longer than you were even in Mass Effect seems almost ridiculous since you arent even loading parts of the level.

Rooftops look great with barbed wire and electric fences and debris lying around but when looking over the ledge down to the streets, you might think you are the last person alive. There is no movement or people walking around, just some parked cars usually. Even when you are down at street level and you can see some police cars parked with an officer standing beside the vehicle, they dont move. It feels very void and lifeless considering how many Blues are trying to track and find you.

With half the game being outside and on rooftops in the sun and the other half inside buildings I find a very frustrating issue with my TV. The brightness outside was way too bright almost to the point of everything blending together. No problem I thought and turned down the brightness. Then came an indoor level and I couldnt see a thing, even the bright red indicators where to go. So every time I switch from an indoor and outdoor area, I have to pause and change the preset brightness level on my TV. Ive never run into this issue this drastic before, and having a new 46 TV, I dont believe that is the issue.

There was something else that took about till half way through the game for me to notice; there really arent many shadows. This includes the shadow Faith herself should be giving off while on the rooftops as its sunny outside. I would be willing to look past this but it doesnt feel like shadows have been sacrificed for something else. Only sometimes while staring at my own feet in certain areas will my shadow appear, and other times I will see it being cast on a wall, but not the bars in front of me Im clinging onto.

Cutscenes between each chapter reveal more of the story and in most games they are done within the games engine so it looks consistent to what youve been playing, or complete realistic looking pre rendered videos. Mass Effect tries something else and has a visual style that a passerby would probably think its a higher end Flash video. It feels like a mix of cel shading and well done Flash, which is the best way I could describe it. It doesnt really feel like it fits with the rest of the game as the color palette seems different from gameplay, but it is stylish though flawed looking at times.

Id be lying if I said Mirrors Edge didnt have a lasting effect on me because the other day walking in the city I saw some red railings and instantly felt like I wanted to vault over it.

Mirrors Edge is definitely unique which isnt a bad thing, but it relies too heavily on one gimmick and seems too much like a one trick pony.

Despite its flaws, when you get into it and combo all the jumps and rolls flawlessly, it feels simply great when you get quicker and quicker momentum and dont have to think about where to go next. My suggestion is to play the free demo and if you enjoy the small section you get to play and love time trials then definitely pick this up and take this leap of Faith.

Overall: 7.3 / 10
Gameplay: 7.4 / 10
Visuals: 7.3 / 10
Sound: 7.3 / 10


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