I know what Mirror’s Edge is trying to do. It’s different. It’s special. One could even dare to utter one of the most overused words in the industry: innovative.
However, that doesn’t always mean it’s great.
Like the free-running it tries so hard to emulate, this latest work from Electronic Arts can be exhilirating — if you’re willing to put up with a lot of pain.
You assume the role of Faith, a free-running messenger who serves as the covert means of communication in an oppressed and joyless city of the future. Faith and others like her are seen as renegades, but the story picks up when confrontations with the local police start turning fatal.
Each of Faith’s missions focus on getting from point A to B on foot as quickly as possible. She’ll run along rooftops, jump up walls, crawl through ventilation shafts and scale unfinished structures — all while occasionally dodging bullets and fighting bad guys.
The theme of “flow” is heavily emphasized, with things like pipes, ramps, scaffolding and other playable areas highlighted in bright red against generally brighter (but plain-looking) city landscapes. As the player, it’s up to you to figure out the best route to your target.
This shows a nice bit of design, constantly forcing the player into situations of critical thinking while layering the experience with logical puzzle concepts. Not many games really ask a player to do this much with their eyes in such short bursts of time.
Faith herself is as agile as she needs to be, capable of sprinting, sliding, shimmying on building ledges and using steps to launch herself into the air to make higher grabs.
However, this package also leads to some very maddening, controller-endangering moments. You will inevitably guess wrong, try an impossible jump or simply lose control and fall to your death many, many times.
Part of this is because the experience is so different, but another reason is that the controls just aren’t that great. The left and right bumper buttons on console controllers get plenty of work, but I never really felt 100 percent comfortable the whole time I was playing.
The first-person perspective also makes it difficult to make pinpoint jumps onto small platforms, and I’ve run into occasions where I thought I executed perfectly makeable jumps only to witness Faith NOT grab onto a ledge and plummet into oblivion.
This is also not a game for those easily confused or sickened by sudden camera angles, which are plentiful when having to pull off a combinations of slides, sprints and jumps.
But what really trips up the experience is the combat system, which tries to exhibit Faith’s martial arts skills but ends up just feeling awkward and broken.
First off, Faith wears a tanktop for the whole game, which doesn’t leave her much protection against bullets. That would be fine if the game didn’t use several opportunities to unload gobs of well-armed enemies after you.
In addition to worrying about failing jumps and splattering on the streets below, you now also have to factor in being cut down in a sprinkle (not a hail) of gunfire. Your constant meetings with death are aggravated by some of the goofy in-game checkpoints.
As for Faith’s hand-to-hand skills, they consisted of a few punches and kicks, as well as the ability to snatch weapons out of the grasps of enemies.
Practically every melee encounter I experienced felt clunky and stale, with me running around an area trying to avoid fire, then scrambling to my pursuer and simply whacking him a few times. Every confrontation had a way of ebbing away at the game’s precious flow, and that’s something that needs to be addressed if they make a sequel.
And yes — I would look forward to a sequel. Despite the above gripes, “Mirror’s Edge” is a game that actually offers gamers a chance to learn about their own tastes in gameplay, challenging players in ways that not too many other games do. It’s a bumpy, painful journey, and one can only hope the destination is worth it.
Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, PC
Rated T for Teen
Our rating: 6.5/10