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    Nov 2010
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    Default Mirror's Edge | GameReview

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    The early levels of Mirrorís Edge are the ones that best communicate the joys of the game, because theyíre the ones that best deliver the free-running dream. That is: you, in an urban environment, gracefully inventing your own path from point Here to point Over There. You hop over fences, slide under pipes, run along walls, rebound off buildings and vault from ledges Ė all of it ideally without breaking stride and all of it from a first-person perspective. Itís smooth, fast, exhilarating, and its creators do it wrong, all wrong.

    The main character is Faith, a Runner. Runners are acrobatic postmen, traveling via rooftops to illegally deliver messages the sender doesnít want intercepted by the spying government regime. Faithís sister is on the other side, a police officer whoís framed for murder. That prompts Faith to investigate. Cue lots of running. While thatís all fine, the real star is the unnamed city in which all this takes place. Itís the playground youíll be bounding across, its insides a mixture of primary colours and modernist furniture, its outsides sparkling like a glitterball. Most dystopian futures in computer games are bleak, ruined worlds, but thereís a tangible reason why more of this cityís residents havenít rebelled: because itís a really, really nice place. Who wouldnít want to live here? Even the rooftops are swept clean.
    Youíre assisted by something called Runner Vision, which highlights certain items of scenery in red. A ropeline that can be slid down, a pipe that can be climbed, a handily placed chair that can be used as a springboard. Runner Vision makes snap decision-making easier, but the levels still encourage a thoughtful mode of play. You want to stop, look around, work out how to get up there and then implement your solution. You want to play it like you might play Portal, as a series of environment-based puzzles.
    Instead, the game becomes infested by cops and snipers and SWAT teams and helicopters, all serving to hurry you along. The initial levels are direct enough that you can work out where to go while sprinting, but as the environments become more complicated, the red objects also become less overt. You want to stop more, but the enemies never let you.

    Imagine you were playing arcade racer TrackMania and while arcing from one ramp to another, police started shooting you. More directly, imagine you were having fun and then people came along and started shooting you while you were having fun. Running is great, being constantly pressured in to running away is not so much. Yet it proves unavoidable. Each chapter is structured in basically the same way, with you bounding to the top of a building and then having to flee when the cops Ė or Ďbluesí Ė burst in to bust you. This frequently involves them coming through your only exit point, meaning you either have to run past them or go through them.
    Going through them means punching and kicking them to the ground, or performing a disarm move. Disarming is essentially a quicktime event, accomplished by hitting the right-mouse button when their weapon turns red mid-attack. The addition of Reaction Time, better known as bullet time, slows their movement and makes this much easier. Regardless, itís satisfying to watch your leg appear from the bottom of the screen and slam your opponentís head in to the ground. You can then either use your newly acquired gun to dispatch the other enemies or toss it to one side immediately. The weapons are forgettable, but discarding them lets you effect the same awesome nonchalance of characters in The Matrix.
    Note that weíre saying nothing bad about the implementation of combat. Itís clear that the developers donít want this to be thought of as a traditional shooter: thereís no way to reload your gun and carrying it slows you down, hindering your ability to perform jumps. Yet although youíre armed with the perfect skills for evasion, this also isnít a stealth game where you can avoid alerting enemies. While itís possible to complete the game without firing a single shot, for pure reasons of convenience youíll likely turn to aggressive solutions before too long.

    The issue is that the combat hinders rather than enhances the core pleasure of the game. Itís precisely because the rendering of free running is sublime that its constant, violent interruption is so frustrating. The world feels physically solid in a way other games donít. Walk close to a surface and your hands will raise and press against it. Fall slightly short on a jump and your arms will reach out and scrabble at the surface to pull you up, while falling slightly shorter still has you gripping the ledge with just your fingertips. Try to wall-run on an uneven surface and youíll slip and end up on your backside - not hurt if the ground was close, simply embarrassed by your clumsiness. The quickening screen bob as you gather speed, the sound of shoe slapping on concrete, even the way your screen tilts and turns: thereís an attention to detail here that places you firmly within this beautiful city. And it gives you the means to perform stunning acrobatic feats.
    Recently, when walking past a nearby building site, one editor remarked about how cool it would be to run along the tops of the cranes, like in Casino Royale. Mirrorís Edge has a level where you do exactly that. That made us all very, very happy. We just want to make it clear, though: at no point did we suggest that it might also be cool to use those same physical talents to run away from a bunch of snipers. That would be rubbish.
    Letís also make it clear that when attempting that moment of crane leapery, we fell to our death half a dozen times. Youíre not always going to time those jumps correctly. Youíre going to fall and die sometimes, forcing a retry, and thereís no quicksave. This proved occasionally frustrating, particularly when a death happened after a scripted ambush we were then forced to walk into a dozen times. But mostly checkpoints are well placed, quickly re-loading and sending you back to just before your failed leap.

    That scripted ambush is one of the situations where the game takes control of your viewpoint for the sake of a brief cutscene. Although the loss of control is abrupt, itís preferable to the gameís occasional and jarring leaps into 2D animation. Faith is likeable; a rare humble protagonist whoís willing to express something other than detached sarcasm. Thereís even some thematic nuance, though much of it is derivative of other work. But when the game is beautiful and steadfast in its commitment to the first-person perspective, suddenly jumping to 2D is bizarre and ugly.
    What will annoy some of you far more is the length. The story mode is short Ė we completed it in around six hours. But this is only slightly less than it took us to complete Call of Duty 4 and it doesnít feel unfairly truncated, despite the room left for the inevitable sequel. We must say that we appreciated it for not padding the experience needlessly.
    Also similar to CoD4, itís improved on the PC, being easier to make jumps using a mouse and keyboard and with PhysX support, it makes fist-smashing through glass even more satisfying. But then, this is a world wiped so clean that we frequently walked into glass walls without realising they were there.
    Despite the lack of multiplayer, there are two other modes that extend the life of the game: Speed Run and Time Trial. Speed Run is the story mode levels with an added timer. This forces you to complete each level flawlessly in order to reach the end within the time limit. Time Trial, meanwhile, is set in specific areas of those same levels and is entirely devoid of enemies.

    Hey, wait a minute, devoid of enemies? Time Trial essentially turns the game into the aforementioned TrackMania, placing a series of checkpoints on a level that must be hit in order and giving you times to beat to earn either one, two or three stars. Did we say devoid of enemies? Reach the end once and the next time through youíll be racing against a ghost of yourself. NO ENEMIES? No enemies at all! The Time Trial mode removes the gameís one major irritation, turning it into a game purely about movement and iteratively improving your performance. Playing the story mode is worthwhile, and youíll need to complete it to unlock all the Time Trial levels anyway, but thereís an argument to be made for this mode being Mirrorís Edge distilled into its pure form.
    Which only serves to underline the key frustrations of the game. Itís ambitious in a multitude of ways, both in making a platformer from a first-person perspective and in its implementation of free running. It succeeds in both these things, creating an essential experience in the process. But itís stymied by its attempts to combine those new ideas with the traditional first-person shooter model. Itís as if someone told them that people were scared of new things and that they should instead take something familiar and put a clock in it instead. In other words, itís really, really good and you should play it, but damn, it could have been superb.
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