In Mirror’s Edge you play as Faith, a ‘runner’ in a futuristic city. Within the city there is an underground market for the delivery of sensitive packages, all because of the level of control exerted by the authorities over the various means of electronic communication. Runners collect these packages and traverse the city’s landscape using free-running techniques, all the while avoiding the policing authorities, before finally delivering their packages by hand. That’s the basic back-drop to the game, but apart from the prologue mission you never actually do your day job of collecting and delivering packages. Instead you soon discover that your sister is being framed for murder and your job is quickly put to one side as you seek to find the true killer and free your sister.
The story is pretty standard fare for action games these days. There’s nothing ground-breaking there, but it’s largely unobtrusive and inoffensive – you probably won’t love it, but you’re unlikely to hate it either. It provides the necessary impetus to keep the action going, always giving you a new lead to follow or another tricky situation you have to escape from. The cut-scenes are all quite short, covering up the load screens nicely. The developers have used a different art style in the cut scenes from the one you experience when actually playing the game though, adopting a more basic cartoon-style animation. It works out fine and the developers have made the right decision, I feel, to not burden this gameplay driven game with too much story or too many pauses.
Where the game is forced to pause for load screens you’re almost always presented with something to occupy your attention, be it through the cut-scenes I mentioned above, or through the tongue-in-cheek news stories that you’re presented with in the lifts you come across in some of the buildings (think the lifts in Mass Effect, but the wait is shorter, and instead of audio news bulletins you get a little screen on the right hand side of the lift with scrolling text). There’s a little bit of caustic humour in the game as well, whether in the form of those news bulletins in the lift, or in the secret areas scattered throughout the levels where there are little messages scrawled on the walls (and usually 1 of the 30 collectible runner bags to go with it).
Mirror’s Edge is a stunning game, but it’s not pushing the hardware and it’s not technically brilliant in comparison to many of this generation’s most highly rated games. The game runs well - I didn’t experience any slowdown, screen tearing or glitches of any sort, which means the game is fluid and fast-paced throughout. However, there are a few ‘jaggies’ in the game, and the character models and smaller features in the game (like plants, vehicles and office interiors) lack detail. But ironically those disappointing features always fit in well with the overall art style of the game, so they’re never poor per se, but don’t come to the game expecting the most detailed and impressive graphics on the market.
That said, where Mirror’s Edge does shine graphically is in its fantastic art style. For me, this is easily the most impressive art style I’ve encountered in a game so far this generation. There’s something very pure and simple about the game’s look - the city feels like a city, albeit a futuristic and austere one. There are buildings stretching out for miles and you feel dwarfed by their sheer size. When you stand near the edge of a building you feel like you’re on top of the world, and when you fall of the edge, well... you feel like you’ve fallen off the edge of the world. A massive rush of air comes through the speakers as Faith builds up velocity, the screen goes blurry and there’s a nasty smack of bones against the concrete floor when she reaches the ground. It made me flinch every time it happened.
The colours are richly vibrant – there are bold reds, greens, yellows and blacks smattered against plain white backgrounds. It’s stunning to look and marvel at. It was a bold decision to use such a distinctive and unusual art style for a game of this nature, but I feel it pays off wonderfully. It’s a breath of fresh air and it’s a perfect fit for the gameplay. My only criticism of the art style is that, despite being bright and stunning most of the time, some sections are actually incredibly dark (the sections where you’re in the sewers, or climbing around behind the walls and in the vents of buildings, for example). It suits those settings well, but given the unrealistically striking and bold art style used throughout the game, I see no reason why all of the areas couldn’t be vibrant and bright.
The soundtrack is great. There are a lot of tracks, more than just that title track you hear in all the adverts and clips for the game. There’s even a section in the extras menu where you can access and play all 20 of the tracks you hear in the game. They’re mostly ambient background tracks and remixes, combined with some more upbeat dance tracks when you’re on the run or engaged in combat. One thing I did notice is that in some of those darker sections I mentioned above, I felt a little bogged down by the mixture of sedate ambient music and claustrophobic dark space, and I couldn’t wait to burst through a door and go back out into the light and airy spaces where the pounding music encourages you to act first, ask questions later. That’s where the game really excels itself.
The sound effects are even better than the soundtrack. They really do help to immerse you in the game. You hear Faith’s pounding footsteps on the concrete, her panting for air, or her struggling to climb up a ledge after you have mistimed a jump. The sound of Faith running into a door and whacking it open is great; so too is the sound you make when you fling yourself at full speed off the edge of a building and slam against a pipe. For me, those are the two most satisfying moves to pull off successfully in the game because that’s when you really feel like a free-runner. That’s when everything comes together, from the music and sound effects to the visual effects and gameplay.
The city itself is effectively realised in the sound as well – be it the sound of aeroplanes flying overhead, birds fidgeting on the rooftops, or the sound of distant traffic. It really helps to create the impression of a city, even more so because you never actually go down into the city to explore, it’s mostly just a well sustained illusion, and the sound is one of the most important elements in creating and maintaining that illusion.
You’re introduced to the basic gameplay in a short tutorial level, and as you advance through the game those initial moves are expanded upon by stringing together different types of jumps or combat moves in order to produce a more complex gameplay system. Gameplay basically consists of combining jumps, grabs, slides and crouches with commonly found elements in the world to move quickly through the city towards your destination. So, for example, you’ll often find yourself building up speed, sliding under a ventilation pipe, vaulting over another pipe, running up a ramp, jumping off the ramp and then grabbing the opposing building. It’s made to feel very fluid and natural, even though the moves you’re performing are completely extraordinary, so in that sense the game really has captured the movement of free-runners well.
Combat consists of combining those jumps, grabs, slides and crouches with disarms, kicks and punches to take down opponents. For example you can run towards an enemy, slide and kick him, then move in to a crouch and punch him, before finishing him off with a standing punch. Pulling off these moves successfully is as satisfying as you would expect and want from a game. Enemies also adapt quickly to your tactics so that it’s never too easy to win – try to punch a person twice while crouched down and you’ll probably get a rifle whacked in your face instead. You can achieve disarms either from behind an enemy, or whenever an enemy moves to hit you with his weapon, at which point his gun will shine red and you have a short period of time in which to grab it before you’re hit. You have to be quick or lucky though, so it’s often only worth doing in slow motion.
There’s also a strong puzzle element in Mirror’s Edge, so it’s not all fast-paced action. If you’re anything like me you’ll spend a while in some rooms trying desperately to work out how to negotiate a room using your available moves in order to advance to the next section. In that way it can be quite similar to Portal, where I would find myself looking around the room wracking my brain for the solution. Then when you finally work it out you feel a great sense of accomplishment for working it out, mixed with a feeling a shame and embarrassment for not figuring it out sooner. And whilst the game is very linear, in the sense that you must get from point A to point B, and this is not an open world game where you are free to go and do whatever you want, there is nevertheless a lot of room for manoeuvre between points A and B. There is often a clear route through each level, but with time and practice you start to see new routes and shortcuts which utilise your more advanced moves.
As far as content goes there are 3 distinct modes – story mode, time trial mode and speed run mode. Story mode is the main attraction. You start off with access to easy and normal, but when you complete the game for the first time you unlock hard (as well as speed run mode), which removes the runner vision and makes enemies tougher. As is well reported, story mode is relatively short, and most people find it clocks in at around 6 hours.
Speed run mode offers the same levels you find in story mode, but you also get a time to aim for. With the exception of the first 2 levels, these are extremely hard to achieve. It’s not simply a matter of knowing where to go and being able to do it without making any mistakes; you will also need to find at least 1 major shortcut in each level. It’s certainly a challenge, to say the least.
Time trial mode takes one of the levels found on the main story mode, but keeps you within a small section of the map, expands on it and introduces new obstacles and a completely new layout. So whilst you’ll recognise the setting most of the time you won’t be familiar with that particular map. You’re tasked with negotiating these ‘playgrounds’ as quickly as possible, all the while aiming for checkpoints scattered throughout the levels. There are 23 levels in this mode and you can download ghosts to help you out and check your position on the leader boards.
While the story mode is relatively short, there is plenty of replay value in the game – you’ll probably want to complete the main story mode twice (once on easy/normal, then again on hard for the new challenges introduced), and try out the speed run mode, although it’s too hard for my liking. And then there are the 23 time trial maps, which are certainly worth playing, if only to see what else the game has to offer. The achievements/trophies are also very challenging. A good chunk of them are devoted to the main story mode, with the rest split between the other two modes. Getting them all will require a lot time, practice and patience, so if you like your achievements/trophies expect to be playing the game for some time.
That said, those extra modes (and the hunt for achievements/trophies) should really be bonus extras that come with the game, and shouldn’t be relied upon to bulk out a game’s main mode. In that respect Mirror’s Edge is a disappointingly short game. I would say that if you tend to play a game just once and then never really touch it again and don’t tend to explore any extras, Mirror’s Edge is only worth a rent. On the other hand, if you tend to play a game more than once there’s a lot in here for you. There are 30 runner bags to find and collect, artwork, clips and music to unlock, 3 tough modes to complete, and some pretty challenging achievements/trophies to get.
It’s great to see EA bringing us such a unique game. Mirror’s Edge brings a lot to the table and it’s an enjoyable and addictive experience that captures the nature of free-running well. It has a truly fantastic and original art style, and is an absolute breath of fresh air to look at and to play. It’s just a shame that if you take away all the extras, you’re actually left with a relatively short game.
Mirror's Edge - Review
By Craig Snow, November 26, 2008
Mirror's Edge - X360
Presentation - 8.5
Gameplay - 8.5
Value - 7.0
Gameplay - 8.5
Value - 7.0
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