Monday, January 4, 2010

Mirrors Edge - Mirror, mirror on the wall, who's the fastest of them all?

In the near future all of our networks are monitored by a totalitarian government. I'd personally start encrypting all my traffic with 512 bit protocols. Others might start using carrier pigeons. Apparently the men of the future opt to use runners to distribute information. Probably because DICE didn't feel like making pigeon game. 

You are playing Faith, a runner who is discovering the secrets of the regime and is getting high on their Top Ten most wanted list. She'll run from the cops, save her sister, run even more and of course, save the world. The story is told with nicely animated cutscenes but it failed however to keep me really interested. It all felt like something that's just there to sew all the levels together.

The designers opted to choose for a first person experience. This is a bold decision as most platform games are played in third person (think Prince of Persia, Tomb Raider). Melee fighting is also difficult to pull of in first person.  It took me a while to figure out how to beat the cops which all have guns while you have none. The best way to do it is to quickly run to an opponent. Then they will try to knock you down with their weapon. While they do this there is a small time frame during which their weapon will turn red and you can disarm them. This happens with a nice animation and you got yourself a nice gun! From there on it plays pretty much like a regular shooter. Hide behind cover, shoot someone, take their gun and take cover again. Walking around with a heavy weapon seriously limits your speed however. It's also impossible to do most of the acrobatics while carrying a gun and the average gun only has a few bullets. It's clear that the fighting is seen as an intermezzo between running sessions. From time to time you'll see a few soldiers, get rid of them, drop your weapon and continue running.

The bulk of the game comes from the acrobatics you can pull of. Faith has a diverse gamma of stunts. She can climb, roll, do wall jumps,... She also has to build up her momentum. If you start running you'll notice that you run faster and faster. This is needed to pull of some of the more difficult jumps. The levels are divided in outside levels on rooftops and in inside levels. Outside you'll be jumping from building to building, hang on rain pipes and jump from cranes. Inside you'll have to get from room to room passing small corridors. The level design in this game is really standing out. You always know where you have to go and you'll often have to think a few minutes on how you can get there. I've never been stuck in this game for longer than fifteen minutes. At some times it wasn't immediately clear to me what I was supposed to do but I always figured it out. What if I try to walk up the wall and then do a sideway jump? The player is also visually aided by the use of the color red. If you need to use a ladder, it will get red. Once you're down the ladder it will turn gray again. It's a clever system which avoids backtracking, you won't accidentally use those stairs again. And if you feel up to it you can turn of the hint system.

The other thing that stands out in this game are the graphics. Not in a "let's throw as many polygons at the screen as we can" way but in its artistic design. The game uses a smart coloring scheme. Most of the world is colored with white, blue and green. The red color is kept for the hint system. It all looks very slick.

Overall I had fun playing this game. It won't make my list of favorite games of the year but it was well worth the three euros I paid for it. It's a game that is showing potential but still has a few rough edges to work out. The story could use some polish and the fighting can be improved. I'm sure this will be done in Mirrors Edge 2.

It's great to see that EA dares to start a new franchise from time to time. Especially when it's basically a new genre such as Mirrors Edge. Creating another expansion for the Sims or FIFA 2010is a failsafe way to create some extra cash. This game is great for everyone who wants to try out something entirely new. And if you want to see more refreshing games it's well worth buying this one.

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