Mirror's Edge Review (Xbox360)

The last game released with first person combat was Breakdown, an Xbox title that was mostly forgotten because of its vertigo-inducing visuals and ridiculously difficult gameplay mechanics. Interestingly enough, it was a reasonably rated game and did offer the first real glimpse at a first person shooter that included fighting.

Without a doubt this was a game that developer DICE studied when working on Mirrorís Edge, the last of the four major EA-developed titles to be released this year. It takes that same aspect of first person combat and applies it to Parkour, better known in English as ďfree runningĒ. Players must vault over, under and around obstacles throughout city streets, rooftops and other locales to achieve their missions.

Everything in the game is done in first person except for the loading-screen cinematics.
Combat takes only a few forms, so make sure you time everything perfectly. If you donít, youíll get your ass kicked.

Following Faith, a trained Runner whose line of work as a discrete currier around an overly-secure government body, players are led through a clichťd story that, oddly enough, the gameplay denies.

As a first attempt at such a title, DICE has done a pretty good job of setting up what is necessary so players arenít overwhelmed. First is ďRunner VisionĒ, an extrasensory ability which allows Faith to see paths she can take to reach her destination. If thereís a location that you cannot figure out how to reach, a pole might be red indicating its significance to getting to that place.

The same applies to any surface, including walls, poles, ledges, and even whole rooftops. And in all honesty, using Runner Vision is a copout that takes half the fun out of the game. In my playtests, I found it annoying. Why bother playing a game thatís based around finding the fastest or most efficient route if an easy one is highlighted? However, that isnít to say itís not necessary. There were a handful of times when I was unable to deduce how to reach an area, even with the hint button. Yet considering the default setting is on throughout the game, I canít imagine players will enjoy the entire experience using Runner Vision.

Runner Vision also applies to enemies (though it can be shut off for enemies specifically), highlighting those enemies that you cannot avoid, which again defeats the purpose of enjoying the experience of learning it on your own.

That experience of free running in first person is tremendous at first. In fact, anyone who played the recently released demo became immediately intrigued by the gameplay. Indeed, itís incredibleÖat least until that freshness wears off. For me, that was about six hours into the eight hour story, where running through different areas turned into more of an old school NES title like Megaman or Super Mario, except in three dimensions.

This happens for two main reasons. First, there is rarely more than one path to any location. I expected a bottleneck at the start and end at any level or open area, where thereís one entrance and one or two exits, but most of the time there is only one or two possible paths to take. So no matter how unique you may be it wonít make a difference for the majority of levels because there are only a few possible solutions to get from point A to B. While this isnít always true, it is prevalent to find two paths from start to finish rather than three or four, or even more.

Levels are fairly large, so be aware of your surroundings and remember where you went. Or youíll get lostÖlike in real life.
Leaps of faith (no pun intended) are required. But if you donít want to die constantly, use bullet time to time it just right.

Second is combat. Like Breakdown, combat is an issue because to stay in first person means the camera is shaking everywhere and enemies are difficult to see. While true for real movement, the TV doesnít move with the camera so the result isnít the same. I havenít had any vertigo or motion sickness, but others have complained about it. Yet itís the actual combat itself that is problematic.

There are essentially three moves: a standard punch which can be made into a three punch combination, a jump/slide kick, and a disarming maneuver. Standard punching works fine with enemies taking roughly 3-6 punches before staying down, and they are easy to perform by pulling the right trigger. Jump and sliding kicks are similarly done, by pulling the right trigger while in the air or during a slide. Both of these are momentum based attacks, so the faster youíre going during either attack, the more damage you do. Finally, disarming is done when an enemy has their back to you or if they physically attack and players time their button presses properly.

Timing it right is excruciatingly difficult, which is why DICE implemented bullet time, performed by the push of a button. It slows everything down; enough for Faith to get a hit or two in, make a picture perfect jump or time that disarm just right. It is, however, useless for anything but disarming, which is overly difficult and improperly timed, even when slowed down.

What I do love about Mirrorís Edge are the controls. With the exception of the action button, the entire game can be played using nothing but the analog sticks and the triggers and bumpers. Itís an auspiciously simple design, one that makes running around the different levels that much more immersive.

Itís the irony of how restrained the actual game is, in terms of getting from place to place, that correlates directly to the storyís search for freedom. This twist of fate is funny looking back; Faith and the Runners push for freedom, yet they canít even find more than two ways to any given location. In fact, when you forget or donít know where you are going, itís a safe bet to count on the linearity of the game to keep you in the right direction. Just follow that singular path and youíll get wherever you need to be, just like that.

Half the fun of free running is escaping from gun-toting bad guys. Especially when they can chase you in a helicopter.
When fighting, use your surroundings to your advantage. Enemies can fall off cliffs or get cornered pretty easily.

The short single player is continued by the Time Attack mode, where players can race through various maps while being timed, the stats of which are automatically uploaded to EAís servers. Ghosts of previous runs appear so you can see any mistakes you made and look for faster, cleaner routes. Itís the golden part of the game, running around the giant city just for the heck of it (aka, free running and not mission running), and we expect to see more of this in downloadable content.

Is Mirrorís Edge really that innovative? No, but itís still a decent game that does more right than wrong. Some of the basic flaws like buggy climbing and other minor nuisances are typical of new types of games. Yet the constant pampering, shallow combat and hollow story keep it from being a great start to a new type of first person title. The lack of openness is the kicker, but once again, considering this is a first try, itís a good one and we canít wait for a sequel.

Top Gaming moment:
Every time I made a jump that didnít seem possible the first time through.

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By sharpe_ (SI Veteran Newbie) on Nov 24, 2008
Only 7.8? I thought it would get better, there was a lot of hype about this game.
By herodotus (SI Herodotus) on Nov 24, 2008
Looks more like a tech demo for something else that's in the works...the way Portal started out. Niche interest only.
By Revan (SI Elite) on Nov 26, 2008
Only an 8.1?! Come on guys! This is probably the best thing to ever come out of EA! I just finished this game and I gotta say, pretty darn entertaining. I was kind of surprised when I started it up. I did watch some videos of the game before I bought it, so I was kind of surprised that the graphics actually looked better than they do in the videos! I also thought it was pretty neat how they re-did the whole FPS "feel". This game has the most realistic first person controls I've ever seen and "felt" in a game since...well since Perfect Dark! One great looking, great playing game! Had a blast running all the way to the finish line! :D
Oh, and I gave it a 9.0.
By Revan (SI Elite) on Nov 26, 2008
Oh yeah, and one more thing. If you want to download the theme song from the game, but don't know who or what sings it, the song is called "Still Alive" by Lisa Miskovsky. And Alcorus does the one (it's called "Shine") you hear in the trailer and in the game's Main Menu. For anyone who cares. :) Sweet song!