Mirror's Edge (PC)
This game was originally reviewed on the Xbox 360. Only minor differences were noted. The PC version of the game plays, as you'd expect, significantly differently with keyboard and mouse controls. At press time the game contained no achievements, even when purchased via Steam, which is kinda lame. For a more detailed comparison of all three games, read Gus Mastrapa's Reviewer's Notes: Mirror's Edge.
Mirror's Edge can be exhilarating. As Faith, a practitioner of parkour, players flit across the tops of skyscrapers, vaulting over fences, sliding under ventilation shafts, and leaping across gaping concrete chasms. Come too close to a drop and Faith reels to a stop, looking down into the abyss like James Stewart in "Vertigo." You can practically feel your arms spinning to keep balance. Frankly, it's amazing how well Faith handles. We see the world of Mirror's Edge through Faith's eyes. Only occasionally, when running full out or bashing a cop in the nuts, do her hands come into view. When we pause to look down, we see her legs, feet and shadow as if they were our own.
Imagine trying to dance without awareness of your own body. No sensation. No hint of your torso or limbs in your peripheral vision. Just a set of strings that jerk your limbs like the wooden arms and legs of a marionette. That's how inhabiting Faith in first-person ought to feel -- disjointed and removed. But by some miracle of game design, the controls work. It only takes a moment or two to understand the game's rhythm: when to jump, when to duck, and when to dodge. Then it's off. We tear towards the horizon, darting across rooftops, barreling down hallways.
At full speed Mirror's Edge is a blast -- but slow down to contemplate the scenery and the whole shebang starts to unravel. According to the game's wafer-thin plot, Faith is a courier. But we never really see who her customers are and what, exactly, she's transporting. Faith risks her life for a living, but we never learn what she's risking her life for. Sure, there's a flashback that establishes that her parents were part of some crushed resistance -- one her mother gave her life for. But without names or faces, it's hard to feel for those freedom fighters. If Faith is only in it for the money, we never see how such greed is working out for her. There's not a single Han Solo moment to establish why Faith chose the path of the scoundrel and what that life has bought her. And her Chewbacca, a dispatcher named Mercury, offers little more to which to cling. Merc fills the now-clich?d role of all-knowing buddy. He's the voice in Faith's ear, always telling her where to go and how fast she's got to get there.
On one hand, the game's tendency to gloss over plot is refreshing. We're left to fill in the blanks, especially when it comes to the game's unnamed city. The place is pristine and prosperous. From the rooftops we can see that the berg is orderly, well-appointed and crazily clean. By now urban squalor is the de facto standard for videogame cities. Can you name a virtual metropolis that hasn't been strewn with litter and decorated end-to-end with graffiti? In the near-future utopia of Mirror's Edge, law and order are so pervasive that the Sharpie set is reduced to tagging the inside of air conditioning vents. But the city is empty, except for the police. From the rooftops it's easy to imagine the surrounding buildings packed full of beleaguered souls, like all those unwitting slaves trapped in the Matrix. But when Faith trespasses in these corporate strongholds, the offices are always totally unpopulated. Where are all the people? There's no point in turning every soul into Soylent Green if there's nobody left to eat them.
There is, come to think of it, a massive police force to feed. The city's buildings are frequently crawling with fuzz. The propulsive nature of Mirror's Edge works great when Faith is meant to ditch these thugs. But every so often the game locks Faith in a room with these armed stooges, forcing the player to slow down and actually deal. Faith is one hell of a runner, but the girl ain't much of a fighter. Sure, a well-timed button press can instantly disarm an enemy. But the process takes so long that Faith finds herself riddled with bullets before she can get a punch in edge-wise. And Faith's ability to go into slow motion is all but useless. So players aiming to eschew the way of the gun are stuck running in circles until Faith can corner her foes solo and pepper them with punches. Fact is, the bad guys take too many whacks to go down. These fights are show-stoppers when they should be accent marks.
While the fights tend to bog, the story blows its load way too early. We're only just getting a feel for the game's world when Faith's sister Kate is framed for a murder. Our emotional connection with this sibling is tenuous. Kate wears a uniform -- she's one of the establishment. So we know that there's some tension in their relationship. But a fleeting hug with Kate is all the quality time we get with the girl. Maybe it's telling that Kate doesn't make eye contact with us when we pull in for the embrace. It's hard to tell. One thing's for sure: Kate is Faith's princess and she needs saving. Apparently that's all we need to know.
The animated cut scenes between levels do little to deepen character. The dialogue in these brooding interludes is scarcely better than the naively ironic chatter you hear when watching crappy Sci-Fi Channel shows. And the cartooning, like a low-rent knock off of "Samurai Jack," is so amateurish that it telegraphs every plot twist at full volume. Want to figure out who will stab Faith in the back? Look for friends with arched eyebrows and you've got your Brutus pegged.
Mirror's Edge's inability to find a soul beneath all the action may be a shortcoming, but its biggest difficulty is a matter of balance. It's no coincidence that the game continues to shine once the curtain has fallen. Post-story challenges like time trials give players free reign to explore rooftops, develop strategies, then run like hell to beat the clock. Here the motivation is totally artificial. Players aim to beat a time and put their name on a leaderboard. When immersed in plot, motivation, though foggy, is to avoid bullets and stay alive. To merge such motivation with urgency and a palpable sense of danger is a delicate dance -- one Mirror's Edge hasn't quite mastered.
This review is based on a retail copy of the game provided by the publisher.