Livin’ on the edge.
Are you the kind of person who enjoys punishing themselves? Do you get a thrill out of endless, endearing torture? Maybe in your spare time, you hook alligator clamps from your nipples to a car battery. If that’s the kind of masochist you are than I have some good news, EA DICE has made a game just for you.
Mirror’s Edge, the highly anticipated new parkour first-person action platformer, walks along the tightrope of innovation without a safety net. In some ways it defies death and breaks new ground by creating an original genre, but it often tends to slip on a banana peel and fall hundreds of feet to an impending doom.
Graphically, the game is a bit of hodgepodge. When you look out over the rooftops and see a clear blue sky clustered with futuristic skyscrapers, it is hard not to be impressed by the amount of detail that went into creating these levels. Like a mature version of De Blob, colors are often primary and vibrant with most objects heavily saturated in reds, oranges, blues, and whites. Once you enter a building, though, things tend to look more like a janitorial closet than a thriving metropolis.
Cut-scenes are done in the style of the animated E-surance TV ads. They lack the dramatic flair of the levels and do nothing to improve the game. A lack of drawlines (those thick black lines around most animated characters) only seems to make everything look disproportionate and unbalanced in a floaty way.
The plot that moves the game along is razor thin. It tries very hard to build upon itself but falls flat on its face right onto the hard concrete of the streets below. They might have had an easier time if they had just tried to convince me to switch auto-insurance providers instead of trying to create an Orwellian underworld based around parkour message couriers trying to overthrow the government.
The music is very reminiscent of The Matrix films. It has that tribal techno groove thing going on that does a good job of intensifying some of the games more action-packed moments and fits well with the overall ambiance of the color scheme and squared off levels. Sadly, there wasn’t enough of it throughout the game as a whole.
Supposedly, the game is linear but open-ended. Get from point A to B how you see fit. But more often than not, there’s only one solution to overcome any obstacle. This in itself is not so frustrating, but the sheer amount of times you will die trying to jump from one ledge to another because you simply have no other option is beyond frustrating. In fact, it’s the reason you’ll stop playing this game.
You will get so tired and frustrated of trying to overcome certain sections of each level that you will give up and go do something else with your free time. Think Portal if it was no fun to play at all. Most of the blame goes to a lack of innovation in the control mechanisms. Instead of intuitive actions on behalf of the avatar like in Assassin’s Creed, you get moments of wanting to throw your controller across the room because your reticule was slightly askew and you missed grabbing that pipe which means you went hurtling downwards to your death below.
This sort of thing happens more often than you would expect and makes the game feel like a broken puzzle. In a game where all the innovation stems from your ability to maneuver over trepidatious landscapes, there needs to be an intelligent safety mechanism to break up the monotonous trial and error that is experienced throughout the nine levels of Mirror’s Edge. This aspect overshadows the greatness of some parts of the game where you actually do feel like a adept, agile parkour artiste and tips the scales of playability towards un-engaging.
That is truly the most tragic aspect of Mirror’s Edge. You can see those brief moments of greatness in it but even more so, you see them slip out from underneath your feet. If there had been less indoor environments and a balanced combat system, this game could have been mind-blowing.
The problem in Mirror’s Edge are only further emphasized by a broken combat system. While the option to not feature a HUD does give a great sense of immersion, it makes for some frustrating encounters. You will never know how many hits you can take before going down. Trying to use hand-to-hand combat to take out an opponent is an exercise in futility. The only true way to defeat them is by using a fancy-looking disarming move. This just leads to issues with you being shot to death as your locked in an automated disarm animation, let alone being shot at while you're jumping or climbing or doing anything that makes you feel like an unstoppable speedster like Ayako Miyake.
The game hyped the fact that you would be able to play through it without having to fight anyone. While that may be technically possible throughout most of the game, it seems to me that you would have to have intricate knowledge of each level to do so. Trying to avoid confrontation usually just leads you getting shot up while trying to scale a wall and you inevitably have to try and take out all the guards to progress.
Mirror’s Edge is a game that you will start playing with enthusiasm and end with controller-throwing, vulgar language-spewing frustration. I have never before in my life stopped playing a game because I felt like I was torturing myself by continuing further. Fortunately, the experience is short and the only replay value offered is via a very basic time-trial mode.
Mirror's Edge is the kind of game that you can see in the curriculum of some design school for its outside-of-the-box approach and polished style. But playing it is a different story. If you do feel the need to punish yourself, spend your money on a dominatrix instead of Mirror’s Edge.