Wednesday, 22 August 2012

Mirror's Edge

Post-Launch Review
Mirror's Edge
Developer: DICE
Released: November 2008 (console) / January 2009 (PC)


Mirror's Edge is a first-person platformer (and occasionally shooter) which takes place in an unnamed dystopian city of the future, where life is comfortable and crime-free for most, at the cost of many freedoms and liberties. Faith is a runner - a courier who races across the rooftops illegally delivering messages and packages for those who would prefer that their communications go unmonitored. Faith's sister Kate unwittingly stumbles into some serious trouble, and it's up to Faith to help her out, pursued all the while by a police force intent on keeping certain secrets safe.

At Launch

Review scores averaged about 80%, with most critics loving the game's speed and flow. Many reviewers criticized the game's shooter segments, calling the mechanics underdeveloped and clunky. Some were also disappointed with the short length and tendency for platforming segments to be very trial-and-error. Opinions were mixed on the animated cutscenes. Overall, reviewers seemed to agree that Mirror's Edge is a promising first step which is in need of refinement.

Post Launch

A time trials map pack was released, containing additional maps with a very different and more abstract look than the main game. The pack was not released for the PC version.

The Good

Animated Cutscenes
The cutscenes of Mirror's Edge are cartoons. The animation is smooth and expressive, and even though the art style is very different from the more realistic and very brightly coloured game world, they mesh well. I quite enjoyed them, particularly the segments where Faith is in motion - she's quite graceful. 
Character models are highly detailed, and they move well. You don't have a chance to notice very often, but in the training mission you can get a good look at fellow runner Celeste, and she looks great. And when you see other runners in action, the fluidity of their movement is pretty cool. 
The textures in Mirror's Edge look great up close - and you'll see a lot of textures up close in a first-person platformer like this one. There's some nice shine in damp areas, and different materials look... well, different.
The city environments are very white with many splashes of colour. It looks bright and cheerful - a contrast to the dystopian setting we know we're in. Colour is cleverly used to draw your attention to your objectives and routes - for example, red indicates a movement path, and your destination is typically marked with a large sign and a particular colour that doesn't appear elsewhere in the level.
Movement and Momentum
Movement is highly momentum-based. The longer you run in a straight line, the faster you go. Different moves will either increase or decrease your speed/momentum, so when you're being chased by a gunship, you have to pay even more attention to your path than normal - if you slow down too much, you'll get torn to pieces by machine gun fire.
Faith has a much larger range of movement options than your typical FPS character, and they can all be chained together in cool ways. It's especially neat to see some of the moves from a first-person perspective - the camera actually rolls with Faith's perspective when she rolls, for example.
Faith is a runner, not a mercenary. She's a strong hand-to-hand fighter, but is very easily overwhelmed by multiple armed opponents. When you have to fight, you have to do it carefully, by isolating and taking down opponents one at a time. You have little health and go down quickly when fired upon, but moving quickly prevents enemies from easily hitting you. However, you can't run or jump or pull off any fancy maneuvers when holding a gun, since it's heavy and requires the use of your hands. In other words, you can't find an SMG and carry it with you just in case.
You can pick up firearms, but you have no indication how much ammo is left when you do. You could have plenty of firepower, or you might have only a few shots. It helps add some suspense and realism to combat - you're not exactly going to stop and check the magazine when you've got five guys firing at you.
Many reviewers disliked combat for exactly the reasons I did like it: no HUD and high challenge level. I think it's appropriate to the character and the style of the game - you're encouraged to run and not fight. Although I will agree that it can feel a little out of place when the game forces you to fight. 
Time Trials
In case the story wasn't enough for you, and you enjoy finding the best routes and setting the best times, there's a time trial mode where you can compete for the best completion time of a bunch of levels. It's a nice way to extend the gameplay if you're looking for more, and adds just a little bit of competition to the single-player experience. At this point in time, though, it's unlikely you'll be able to place very high on the boards, since there are people who have had plenty of time to master all the tricks.
The time trials map pack, which includes 7 (8 on the PS3) extra stylized time trials maps, does not appear in the PC release.

The Neutral

I knew going into the game that Mirror's Edge wasn't very long, but it was even shorter than I expected. I cleared the game on normal difficulty in just over 4 hours.
Like I usually say at this point in a review, shortness isn't a bad thing. It's just good to know going in.
It's a little generic. Helping out someone in trouble turns into discovery of a conspiracy, blah blah blah. I did very much enjoy the concept of the runners - a physical delivery service in a time of heavy monitoring and surveillance - and the (highlight for spoiler) government's efforts to get rid of the runners, not because they were actually a threat in and of themselves, but simply to disrupt the rebels' communication network.
The ending is an ending, but not a conclusion. The main goal of the game is completed, but there's plenty left over, and it seems that Faith has only uncovered the very beginnings of a conspiracy, rather than the whole thing.This might've ended up in The Bad, but it's recently been announced that a sequel will happen eventually, so all you need is patience.

The Bad

If your PC isn't absolutely top-of-the-line, it'll have some trouble with PhysX, NVidia's enhanced physics engine. Really all it does is add some fancy banners and tarps with realistic fluttering effects, as well as highly realistic glass shattering where all the shards are tracked. Just as a point of reference, in the first scene where you come under fire, I was running at 45 frames per second before the blues hit the glass... and when they shot out the glass my frame rate dropped to FIVE.
I'm not sure if my runner vision is malfunctioning or if this is just how the game works, but there are times where I'll be looking for a path and have a really hard time figuring out where to go. I often see props that look like they should be runner-red, but aren't. I don't want there to be a red line that shows me the exact path to take, but a few more hints would be nice. Normally it doesn't bother me to not know where to go and have to look around and explore, but in a game that's supposed to be based on fast-paced, fluid action, it feels awkward to stop, stand still, and look around to figure out where to go. And even then, not knowing where to go is one thing, but trying potential paths and repeatedly falling to my death is quite another, more annoying thing.

The Verdict

Recommendation: play it.
Mirror's Edge isn't perfect, but it has a solid, fluid movement system and looks great. The story isn't terribly exciting, but there are some promising plot points and ideas that will hopefully be expanded in the eventual sequel. It's also nice that three of the four main characters are women and all three of them have personalities and appearances that match the character, rather than pandering to teenagers. Faith seems like an interesting character and I hope we get to see more of her eventually, along with some slightly-tightened game mechanics.

1 comment:

  1. The Time Trials DLC was released for PC on Origin, and is available for purchase from Amazon (if not elsewhere).