Saturday, September 22, 2012

Mirror's Edge - Goes Everywhere and Nowhere

Since I am currently a college student, this blog will be updated with less frequency than before and there is less time now to play video games of any substantial length (although there are a couple of upcoming games that will be reviewed no matter what). With this in mind, I figured it would be best to focus on shorter video games and get more licensed video game comic reviews up; basically whatever takes less time. As soon as we agreed to this measure, I thought of finally playing Mirror's Edge, a game that I had in my library for a couple years but never really got around to playing past the first chapter. I was surprised to learn that this game has a cult following, which would explain the planned sequel, and while I now understand why it does, it definitely needed some work for its initial release.

The game takes place in an unnamed dystopian city that does its hardest to forget its violent past. While most people are happy and have even forgotten what the "bad" old days were like, people like Faith Connors have not. While her family was involved in a campaign to stop the city from succumbing to totalitarianism, a tragic turn of events forced her to run away and start a new life. Four years later, she has found freedom as a Runner, a special breed of courier that delivers packages containing sensitive information that would normally be snuffed if handled through legitimate channels. Now Faith runs along the mirror's edge, always one step from death, existing everywhere and nowhere and the one thing that makes her feel truly alive and above the city's rule. However, that's about to change, since she's gotten involved in a conspiracy that involves her sister being unjustly imprisoned.

As the story unfolds, I found that the developers were able to craft a pretty solid story with the right turns and properly develop the main character. The problem however lies in the explanation. By that, I mean that the story is never properly explained that well within the game itself. You get more of an explanation of the background from the manual, where most of the previous paragraph came from, than you do in the actual game. While I feel that some more world building could have been done, the plot still manages to do a good job of making Faith a strong female protagonist. I liked that she was willing to save her sister no matter what it took, yet realizes the costs of her reckless actions when they finally catch up with her; she's human and willing to accept and make up for her mistakes. Other characters are developed as needed to fill an archetype, such as Mercury being Faith's mentor, but I think I should mention that I found the main antagonist to be rather disappointing. He just comes off as cocky and the buildup to the reveal isn't fully developed, which makes the story seem a bit thin the more I think about it.

Then of course is the gameplay, which is divided between parkour-style platforming and combat. The platforming is executed brilliantly, with levels designed specifically to take full advantage of the many things the player can potentially do. Among the many times I've had to vault, wall run and other maneuvers, I felt a sense of freedom and flow that I haven't from other platformers. The acrobatics that can be performed, especially when you're quickly changing directions, are unique and the sections that utilize the easy-to-use game mechanics are easily my favorite part of the experience.

Combat, on the other hand, falls flat. There's a sort of secondary "fight or flight" mentality to enemy encounters, in which running away from enemies is actually a viable option. Sometimes that doesn't pan out however and you are forced to fight past the blues (cops) or security guards to get to the objective. Faith can defend herself pretty well thanks to her hand-to-hand combat training, but even knowing the proper timing to disarm some of the tougher enemies' guns won't get you very far if you're attempting to get a specific achievement/trophy. While I tried to get the trophy, the sheer difficulty of trying to knock out guards and get away from some swarms forced me to learn to use the guns for survival. As far as I'm concerned the guns work perfectly well and can serve to make the levels go by much quicker, but there's no safe way to tell how much ammo is remaining and the sniper rifle could be difficult to aim with at times. Either way, I didn't have fun fighting off groups of enemies and simply wanted to get back to the splendid parkour.

You may not get to enjoy these sections for very long however, considering that the game is pretty short. The levels go by surprisingly quickly and since there's only nine total levels, you'll find yourself searching for motivation to keep playing. Thankfully, you can squeeze out more play time with the Time Trial mode, which basically has you playing through different level sections minus the guards, so long as you meet the requirements to unlock the various courses. I had some fun here, but it's good to keep in mind that the routes they make you follow are specific to the story, so don't be surprised if you quit in frustration at least once.

Technically speaking, I absolutely loved the graphics. The bright colors help the player find their way through the levels and have enough variety to make the scenery great to look at, though the daytime portions show off the lighting to the point where it takes a moment to make the whites easy to see. Conversely, I thought the flash animated cutscenes were decent, though it did simplify some details like Faith's tattoos. The music in each level is done well enough to aid the player's emotions, but isn't really memorable outside of gameplay.

For an experimental idea, DICE managed to craft a solid game based around first-person platforming. While I can't say I would play it all the time, I am definitely interested in a sequel, as it could end up like Portal 2 where the next installment really stretches everyone's creativity. I would tell you to give this game a try, especially at a low price, but know that Mirror's Edge runs the same line as the Runners: everywhere and nowhere.

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