Mirror’s Edge is one of those games that just defies classification. It sits off to the side, in a little bubble all of it’s own. With elements of a variety of genres, blended together in an almost haphazard hodge podge. And yet, somehow, despite some overtly disparate elements. It all fits, and compliments each other. Leaving you a little unsure exactly what just happened, but with the firm impression that you want more. A lot more.
Reception for the game was mixed even before it was released, and it’s not hard to see why. In a society obsessed with easily defined, clear and direct labels, Mirror’s Edge snubs it’s nose at the crowd and walks it’s own path. Calling on a subtle, expertly woven blend of platforming, first person shooting and surprisingly responsive hand to hand combat. With each having its place, but none claiming true dominance. Though the former is clearly the back bone of the entire experience. If only from a gameplay perspective. This is one of those games that doesn’t really try to engage you through narrative. Which, along with the six to eight hour complete time, has lead many to criticise it for being poor on plot. But more on that in a moment.
The emphasis here is heavily on the experience. Encouraging you to immerse yourself in the dystopic future it depicts. A world founded on strict regulation. An attractive concept in many ways. Crime is virtually extinct, and the people want for little. Living in a pristine world of bright polish and shockingly vibrant swathes of colour. Colour playing an integral role in the way the game plays, even so far as to work its way into the narrative. By, as the runners themselves call it, going with the flow, the environment itself changes every subtly. Paths being highlighted for in you a deep crimson.
It’s one of those fourth wall breaking moments, blurring the lines. But it actually manages to pull it off, by employing a less heavy handed approach than other games have in the past. Immersion is key. And every facet of the game has been crafted with that ideal firmly at the forefront. A beautifully crafted cityscape which is both glorious and garish in its presentation, something which may be missed by many. But both the presence, and often absence, of colour are employed to enhance the feeling of everything being not quite right. Everything is just a little bit too clean, a little too polished.
As previously mentioned, the narrative is a lesser focus, but far from insignificant. The plot is simple, with little in the way of major twists. But it is far from light. It is understated, employing a subtle nuance of tone and symbology to convey its message. Rather than bludgeoning the key points with lengthy exposition, the writing team have credited the audience with a greater degree of intelligence. Something which is best demonstrated by two key facts. The strong emphasis on parkour (a French sport which involves climbing, jumping and running on buildings) and the key plot point of project Icarus.
The WORST possible time for a cramp
I won’t give anything away about Icarus within the game environment. But when you consider the name, and the symbology of the name, with the primary theme of freedom, everything comes into sudden, sharp relief. Icarus’ Father, Daedalus, was a master inventor. The two held against their will because of Daedalus advanced knowledge of the labyrinth. So as to prevent him from giving details away. The tales say that he crafted immense, birdlike, wings for himself and Icarus. Bound together by string and wax. Which they used to effect their escape. Icarus, however, was too brash, and flew too close to the sun. The wax melting, his wings disintegrating, and ultimately leading to his death.
Mirror’s Edge echoes this tale. Slowly pushing you further and further. Building the tension until you can bear it no more, and rail against the oppressive, but not inherently evil, authority which has kept peace at the expense of civil liberty. All culminating in an understated, but viscerally satisfying climax atop the largest skyscraper ever constructed. Relying on the Human element, rather than intense action and big explosions to carry the significance. Finally leaving us with the thought that, unlike the tragic Icarus, our protagonist, Faith, reached for the heavens, and broke through.
This is both its greatest strength, and most crippling weakness. On the surface, most people see a moderately interesting idea (first person parkour) with some unrealised potential. But it is the deeper subtext which should really be the primary focus. Something which many gamers fail to appreciate. Looking, as they are, for their next high octane roller coaster ride. This has lead to it being something of a niche game, and it will not be for everyone. But for those who dig only a little deeper, the rewards are one of the richest gaming experiences to date.
Mirror’s Edge is an incredible game. Conveying such a massive amount with only the most minimal of tools. Despite being a primarily linear game, the chapters are expansive enough, that there are often multiple ways to tackle each obstacle. Something which lends itself to further replay. As does the added hard mode after initial completion, and the time trials. With unlockable concept art and music tracks adding further incentive. If I was to pick one thing as a true failing, it would be that there is no free roaming option.
- Level Design: Incredibly beautiful environments, with vibrant use of colour
- Plot: A subtle, deeply nuanced narrative and plot
- Narrative: Clever and understated characterisation
- Score: Has one of the best OST themes (Still Alive) in video game history
- Level Design: Linear design, but with a surprising amount of freedom in most areas
- Length: Not a lengthy game, though with enough replay value to mostly offset the disappointment