Not many games of recent have made me growl in frustration. Sure, some have angered me and many a “ffs” have been uttered when missing another backstab only to be plunged into non existence for the millionth time; but Mirrors Edge has on more than one occasion summoned a genuine roar from inside me – echoing around the house like as if from a lion who has just been kicked in the nuts. The roar is always followed by a slamming of the keyboard so I can try whatever section I’m on again, again, though the fact that I did keep trying says something I’m sure.
Mirrors Edge is a game about running – a self described first person non shooter. You are Faith – a messenger in a city which is basically a future (and utterly gorgeous) utopia straight out of Orwells 1984 – running illegal messages across the rooftops. Before you can say ‘plot’ your sister is framed for the murder of some guy called Pope who was apparently important in days gone by. The rest of the plot is somewhat vague yet obvious and is generally stitched together with bad characters, bland voice acting, and a script like something you would find in the bowels of the internet for some hopeful sci-fi writer ‘with something to say’ but nothing original. It would be fair to say any sort of narrative here is purely secondary to the actual game, and for once that’s actually fine as the story isn’t what Mirrors Edge is about – it’s about running.
As you play as Faith, bounding between rooftops like a greased parkour master, you feel slick. The sense of momentum is fantastic as you rip over, under and through anything between a and b. Landing on a roof in a slide then hurling yourself over a fence, wall running to bypass a gap then throwing yourself off to grab a zipline onto the next roof – it doesn’t get tired. When it comes together like that Mirrors Edge ticks all the boxes for making you feel awesome, making you feel like something special. It’s hard to emphasise how good and smooth it is when you’re running at full pelt, it’s just like everything clicks and it’s wonderful – plus there is always that challenge to do it well. It’s fantastic but I think what punctuates how good it is when it’s going good is how bad it is when it’s going bad.
Mirrors Edge is really hard – sometimes in a good way, sometimes not. There exists a ‘good hard’ – it’s where a game is difficult but a difficulty that you can overcome and when you die, it’s because you are being shit. Mirrors Edge has lots of this, when you try to make a leap that was utterly ridiculous to think that you would make, or when you jump in completely the wrong direction. It’s also consistently good hard in that you want to be going faster, smoother; but because of your cack handedness you keep slowing yourself down – and it makes you feel like you’re losing. This all makes for the challenge to keep you playing, to keep you running. To go along with the good hard though is the bad hard, and here it is present in every other section. Basically, any section with baddies in your way is bad hard.
For some reason the people at Dice felt that they couldn’t make a game without combat and it utterly fails in Mirrors Edge. There are plenty of sections where bullets are licking at your heels, and that’s fine – it adds a sense of emergency and gives you that extra incentive to hurry along. The problem lies when enemies are placed directly in your path and you have no option but to fight. The combat is just awful. I mean, terrible. Firstly, it breaks the flow of running. Nine times out of ten you will have to stop to dispatch someone in your way, and this isn’t a game about stopping. Secondly, the guys are hard as nails and will kill you, often. Thirdly it gives you the chance to use a gun which slows you down and forces you to play an FPS because shooting people is easier than trying to grapple with the melee. What’s all the more upsetting is that it could be easily fixed; if I’m running I should be able to disarm or knock someone out on the fly with it only slowing me a little – it would keep up the pace and make me feel ninjary rather than like a drunken fumbling idiot.
The last thing I need to address with Mirrors Edge and that’s how it looks. It’s incredible. It’s so vivid and makes a striking and very welcome change from the usual grey overlayed with sepia overlayed with dirt that we’re constantly being fed. There are brilliant whites everywhere, complemented by swatches of primary colours. Everything is clean, reflective, angular. It looks superb, always. My screenshot key is crying out every time I launch the thing “No more!” it cries “I can’t take it!”. Well it has to take it, because no matter where you look there is pretty much a photo opportunity.
I really like Mirrors Edge but the prospect of playing it again is daunting. I can’t take any more of that combat – it’s too horrible. I want more of the running, the speed, the being generally ace hopping around roof tops. It’s enchanting and genuinely leaves you on the edge of your seat, clenching whatever you can possibly clench as you fly over a gap way too long and way too deep to be happy with. Maybe with a little more thought into how to handle baddies and a little extra time into characters and plot this could have been a classic, and while it’s good, it’s not.