Hail reader! We have returned from the PC Gamer showdown, and after two nights of sleeping (or failing to sleep) rough, we are now washed and rested and ready to blog.
Friday night was a quiet time for the event, few people had arrived and hardly any of the demos were running, one that was was the enigmatic Mirror’s Edge (360 version) and it seemed to be largely ignored. I snuck in early to answer the many questions I had about this intriguing game.
Alright, so cards on the table, the whole internet has gone wild for Mirror’s Edge since E3, it’s rapidly risen to the top of everyone’s wanted list, but not mine. No, I’m sorry, but I’m a cynic at heart and I have serious reservations about it. Why? Name any game in which first person platform has been anything less than a tremendous irritation. That’s why.
First off, some facts you probably already know about Mirror’s Edge it takes place in a starkly white dystopian future, in fact the visuals will seem vaguely familiar to those who’ve played Portal (and to those who haven’t, why the hell not?) as of yet that’s not a problem for me, but my fad sense is tingling, I can see this ‘iFacist chick’ becoming all the rage pretty soon. Mirror’s Edge does, however, mix this up with the use of bold primary colours (the distinctive red of the running path for instance) against the stark white. It’s a lovely aesthetic that i encountered multiple examples of in my brief sojourn and it remained striking. Yes I know I sound way too arty here but it really is a unique and beautiful style. The second is the feeling of velocity, the reason, I’m certain, the developers chose to put this game in first person despite the challenges, the feeling of speed, of running and jumping, and sickening vertigo as you throw yourself at each ledge is immense, far greater than any third person platformer has acheived before. Several time I hurled myself into space, convinced I had missed, only to grasp on at the last second, slamming against the wall.
Unlike Dead Space there wasn’t a huge chunk of Mirror’s Edge to get my teeth into, just a simple running section no more than a few minutes long provided you didn’t plummet to your death too much. Which I did. A lot. That isn’t a damning indication by the way, I do that a lot at platform games, I’m not, by and large, very good at them. In fact I’m bad at them, very bad. so bad that as far as I could tell the Prince of Persia suffered from advanced alzheimers.
So, once I’ve taken as a given that I will miss jumps my immediate question is “how badly will it punish me for doing so?” This is why I’m happy to play the Sands of Time, but avoid ‘classic’ 2d jumpers like the plague. Mirror’s Edge, thankfully appears to be one of the former. While it has no rewind function, the checkpoints are largely forgiving, and your death not especially drawn out, so you’re right back in the action. The jumps too hit just the right note of forgiving and possible. You can, and will, miss them, but you’ll never miss the same jump so often it descends into irritation. When I first saw Mirror’s Edge I worried it would be either impossibly hard and frustrating or totally on rails, such is the razor’s edge DICE had to balance the gameplay on. But they have done so, and everything else works with it.
There was little to tell of the story, or narrative from what I played, there was but one minor conversation (which I couldn’t hear) amongst the running. Other things I did not were small puzzle like sections indoors to break up the hectic pace of the outdoor levels, often these were rewarded with little yellow packages, I have no idea what these are, possibly some sort of hidden collection subgame, not anything I’ve ever been a fan of, but which could well work here simply by engaging the jumping puzzle part of the brain, rather than mindless wandering.
What really came to light during my play is the Mirror’s Edge desperately needs a quicksave, not because it was hard or frustrating, but so you can succeed, stop, think and say “I could do that cooler”. Not since Max Payne, where I would incessantly reload until I’d taken out a room of goons it the most stylish possible way, have I felt this urge, with Mirror’s Edge I want to go back at the end of each series of jumps, not just to do it, but to do it better. Something else interesting is the unusual control scheme, the most used controls (jump, duck, attack/open) are mapped to the shoulder buttons. In my entire time playing the game I never once used a face button. Definitely an unusual choice.
There are issues, one or two odd bugs popped up as I played, not unusual for an unfinished product, one crashed the system completely, the other hilariously glitched a helicopter in and out of existence before it was due to make an appearance. It’s also going to be hard to maintain that carefully balanced difficulty throughout, especially if they want to up the challenge over time.
But Mirror’s Edge works and that’s the most important thing I can say here. Pretty trailers and lovely art aside, the gameplay really does work, in first person and everything. It’s enough to make even a hardened cynic like me break down and say that maybe, maybe, this could be something really rather special.