Quality’s Edge

By Shamus Posted Wednesday Jun 3, 2009

Filed under: Game Reviews 50 comments

I felt an unmistakable pang of guilt when I elected to forego Mirror’s Edge. It was showcased at E3 last year, and afterward I was caught speaking of it using the voice of a shrieking, swooning fancritter. At some point I got around to playing the demo and was so underwhelmed that I couldn’t even find the game I’d been longing for. I wanted “Prince of Persia with a first-person perspective”, and what I found was, “Quake, with platforming and kung-fu”. The depth hinted at in the trailer turned out to be an optical illusion. It was a vast, deep pool of pristine dystopian mystery that turned out to be little more than a puddle to anyone who tried to immerse themselves.

To be fair, it’s not like the Mirror’s Edge trailer made false promises. I saw the game I wanted to see – the one I wanted to play – and as much as I enjoy pointing out the problems EA has caused over the years (onerous DRM, high prices, canceled titles, and AIDS) I can’t hold them responsible for not reading my mind. They had a fresh approach to platforming, a unique art style, and stale gameplay. For EA, that’s a major breakthrough. I regret not throwing my weight behind them whenever they make any slight movements in the right direction.

In the end, I was so enamored with the fantasy version of Mirror’s Edge that I’d authored in my imagination that I decided that I’d rather keep it there instead of overwriting it with the real thing.

Rutskarn at Chocolate Hammer has done what I wouldn’t do. He’s ruined the game by playing it, and he’s writing about his experiences going through the game. Part 1 and part 2 are available via the links at the beginning of this very sentence.

Allow me to voice a major pet peeve based on his comments, regardless of the fact that I’ve never played the game and you can’t stop me anyway:

There are few things I regard with more contempt in a story than that of the obvious traitor. A good writer will foreshadow or telegraph the betrayal in subtle ways so that it fits once the deed is done. A bad writer will simply advertise the betrayal instead of hinting at it, and you end up with a movie or game where the audience is shouting advice at the screen in frustration. It distances them from the protagonists, because it makes the protagonists seem clueless and inept.

I was actually willing to forgive the absurdities of the setting. The idea of handing messages to couriers and having them run the messages all over the city is preposterous unless we throw away everything we’ve learned about cryptography in the last hundred years. There is no reason the runners couldn’t have done their job from a sofa with a few cheap bits of electronics and a couple of one-time pads. I could look past this as a requirement of the setting, but they needed some narrative grout to fill in those holes. They needed to present us with another, alternate reality to work with. Having couriers endure great pains and danger to deliver messages and then never explain what the messages are, why they’re important, orwhy we should care, is to simply draw attention to the holes in the setting. It’s not an unforgivable crime, it’s just unforgivably easy to fix.

E3 is on now. I wonder what game will be an enticing disappointment me this year?

If it wasn’t for disappointment, I wouldn’t have any appointments.


From The Archives:

50 thoughts on “Quality’s Edge

  1. I’m right there with you, Shamus.

    I was looking forward to Mirror’s Edge for all the same reasons that you were, plus – HEY! I GET TO PLAY A WOMAN!

    But, like you, I decided not to ruin my beautifully imagined idea of what the game was like by actually playing it.


  2. Enas Yorl says:

    I picked up Mirror’s Edge (xbox) due in no small part to your early enthusiasim Shamus! I played it for a while but it hurt my thumbs. I didn’t want carpel thumbal so I didn’t play it very long.

  3. wildweasel says:

    While the story won’t be winning any awards in the common sense department, I find that this entire game runs on the so-called “Rule of Cool” – which simply states, if it’s cool, then it stays.

    I thought Mirror’s Edge was a pretty damn fine game, myself, even if it does become rather difficult to play the “intended” way later on. Even my good friend, upon playing through my PS3 copy, was forced to start playing the game like an FPS near the end because it was just too hard to avoid everything. Especially the snipers.

    All things considered, though, I did rather like the game myself, though it doesn’t surprise me that it has its flaws. After all, this is a game company we’re talking about, not a grand council of deities.

  4. Mark says:

    I also found the demo disappointing, and elected not to invest in the full game.

  5. Johan says:

    Interesting, I thoroughly enjoyed the game. But then I completely ignored the story and mostly played it like you would a skating game. Also, I didn’t have any expectations whatsoever…

  6. Probably if any game at E3 is in a position to disappoint me, it’d probably be Heavy Rain. I was really interested in Indigo Prophecy/Fahrenheit, and while I haven’t been so foolish as to actually play the game, what I learned (from such things as 1up’s now defunct 1up FM’s Game Club segments around Indigo Prophecy) that the payoff for their previously riveting story was, well, bizarre (particularly in the European version – Fahrenheit), and not in the good way.

    I’m concerned that the ultimate payoff in Heavy Rain will be the same. That said, what I’ve seen so far is awesome.

  7. rofltehcat says:

    From the first review you linked:
    “Frankly, Mirror's Edge is half baked. The gameplay is nice, if a bit insubstantial…”
    Sounds just like every other EA game :P

    Sometimes I think even EA games could be extremely good if they had just spent an additional 6 months to do fine tuning and polishing.
    That fine tuning and polishing is what I miss about most games today :(

  8. krellen says:

    I’m going to make a run at prophet: the biggest disappointment of this year’s E3 will either be Mass Effect 2 or Batman: Arkham Asylum.

    1. Gilf says:

      (In regards to Mass Effect 2) And lo, was it so!

  9. Sharnuo says:

    Lol, me and my brother watched the preview and thought the exact same thing as you did. Then we completely forgot about it. xP

  10. RedClyde says:

    I’m starting to consider myself extremely fortunate; this is yet another game I absolutely loved and have no complaints about… while no one else can seem to enjoy it.

    Well Shamus, at least you liked it enough to make a post about it, which is how I first came into contact with it.

  11. Neil says:

    I had much the same reaction to Spore. I saw some of the early trailers and press releases, and thought “Holy s***, they are going to release a game that is nothing but a symphony of procedural programming that smoothly and invisibly spans across genres to deliver a gaming experience who’s depth and complexity will be rivaled only by Creation itself.”
    I just now realize that Spore is also a EA game. Funny, that.

  12. Tim Keating says:

    My problem with the whole “runner” concept was that they made a point that there was no secure communication… and then all throughout the game, you have a guy TALKING TO YOU ON A RADIO.

    The shooting also annoyed me. The game didn’t really need it. However, I have to say, the freerunning gameplay is ridiculous fun.

  13. Avatar says:

    Maybe you’re delivering one-time pads?

  14. Rick says:

    Played the demo – I thought it was pretty cool. Borrowed the game from my brother for the PS3. He recommended I play it on easy (hmm… fairly experienced gamer starting on “EASY” was my first red flag).

    It started out OK. Run around anyway you’d like and dodge a couple of bullets. Looks nice and plays OK. Then they started sending swarms of guys with machine guns/sniper rifles/etc at you… I wanted to throw my controller through the TV on multiple occasions in frustration.

    I ended up beating the game – just to get the damn trophy to say, “I hated the game and I have proof that I put up with the whole thing.” Oh yeah… the story stunk…

  15. Stephen says:

    I know this is way off topic but I can’t find info anywhere! Is the escapist magazine down or closed? I haven’t been able to get on from any of my computers for days. I can’t find any news stories either. It’s like every google search for “escapist magazine shut down offline” returns links to the escapist website. So what’s the deal?

    thanks for any responses

  16. Carra says:

    And even if every single electronic device stops working I’d start breeding some carrier pidgins.

  17. Jabor says:

    Honestly, I just ignored the story. The race mode is where the game is really at.

  18. Rutskarn says:

    Shamus: Indeed, EA is pretty smooth at making garbage look decent, although they’re nothing like Molyneux for taking an excellent concept and hilariously botching the execution.

    I haven’t gotten to gameplay yet, but it’s basically good ideas, several obvious and stupid mistakes, some design flaws, overall pretty fun.

    Also: Thanks again, Shamus.

  19. Just pretend it’s set in the 90’s, when export of encryption software from the US was Illegal.

  20. Rutskarn says:

    Max: Something tells me the cabal of subversive pseudo-anarchists aren’t really into obeying information encryption standards.

  21. @Rutskarn Haven’t you seen hackers? Not hard to imagine a society where the feds will storm your house just for having it.

  22. Dys says:

    May I direct your discerning eye toward Virtual Light, in which physical packages are still couriered in a cyberpunk setting. I’m sure you could come up with as many explanations as I can as to why, and I expect Mr Gibson could trump us both. It’s lazy not to bother explaining something so central to the plot, especially when doing so would add so much.

  23. Rutskarn says:

    Max: No, I agree, that makes sense.

    I’m just saying, I get the sense this is a setting where the government will storm your house for trying to overthrow the government. It’s probably a moot point whether they’re using kosher software to do so.

  24. Nazdakka says:

    I loved Mirror’s Edge.

  25. qrter says:

    This game has some of the shoddiest, dumbest writing I’ve seen in games. Ever.

    Sometimes it feels like Rhianna Pratchett (who did the writing) is trying to do some kind of noir-ish thing, which could be an interesting idea (noir in a brightly lit city) but she completely and utterly fails to pull it off, making characters sound overserious, unbelievable and ridiculous.

    At some point a character actually says “Shit man.. this damn city..”. As if they mean it.

    Or how about this little gem:

    “..don’t you watch the news?”
    “It’s not news anymore, it’s advertising..”

  26. Rutskarn says:

    Qrter: I agree, especially with that last one, that the dialogue can be stupid. Worst writing, not even close.

    Next entry, I’m going to mention exactly how I think about Faith–in other words, not terribly highly.

  27. Nazdakka says:

    I loved Mirror’s Edge from the moment I pressed start on the demo.

    It has some of the best artistic design I’ve seen in a game. The washed-out graphics, the music and the sound effects really convey what the game’s world is like. The free-running gameplay flows beautifully once you get the hang of Faith’s moves, and I actually found the combat to be a lot of fun.

    I think that the reason I liked the combat was that during my first playthrough I decided to go for the ‘Test of Faith’ achievement (beat the game without shooting anyone). That really gets you experience the combat the way it feels like it was meant to be played – you have to pick your battles and run away where ever possible. If you have to fight, the key is to use Faith’s mobility to isolate single enemies and then close hard and fast with melee attacks. It’s not just the usual FPS stuff, Mirror’s Edge asks you to have good tactical awareness, and to judge the odds before wading in.

    The guns feel clumsy, sure, but I suspect that’s because you aren’t really meant to be using them – it feels to me that they are intended as a crutch for sticky situations rather than a main focus.

    I’ll admit that the story is not the game’s strongest point, though. I was never really too worried about what was going on – something about Faith’s sister and an authoritarian government. Some stuff happened, then I got to run around the brilliant gameworld some more. All good for me.

  28. Corsair says:

    Who says she’s hauling messages on paper? She might be hauling, I dunno, flash drives. Design specifications for pipe bombs. ‘How to disassemble and reassemble an AK-47 in ten easy steps’ for Windows.

  29. Yar Kramer says:

    I didn’t have anything particularly substantial to say since I’ve never had anything that could run it, let alone actually played it, so I decided that instead, I’d try to come up with some sort of pun on the title that would imply that it’s not what it’s trying to be. First I came up with the horrifically-bad “Mirror’s Edgen’t,” but then it hit me: Mire’s Edge. Not as amusing, though. Oh well …

  30. qrter says:

    Some stuff happened, then I got to run around the brilliant gameworld some more.

    You see, it doesn’t work like that for me. The gameworld becomes less and less brilliant with each bit of cringeworthy writing I come across, be it in dialogue, or in a voice over, or the news broadcasts, or the ads in the elevators, etc.

    Good writing, even when used very sparsely, can enliven a gameworld immensely.

  31. Rutskarn says:

    Actually, I hated the fighting almost as much as the story. Again, I liked it in THEORY, but I always feel like I’m in an area with no cover, no ability to get momentum, and no chance of moving five feet without sporting a few darling new bullet holes.

    Also, there’s no quicksave, so when you SCREW UP ON THE LAST GODDAMN GUY, you get to do it all over again.

    I mean, there were definitely fights I enjoyed, but also fights I most certainly didn’t.

  32. MuonDecay says:

    It was still a fun game… until it crashed and began to refuse doing anything other than crash every time I tried to play.

  33. Derek K. says:

    I’m pretty shocked to read about the machine guns and snipers. I assumed you’d hit a few police here and there, but mostly you’d avoid them.

    (Un?)Fortunately for me, I’m one of the people that got motion sickness playing it, so I had very little interaction with the game.

    That being said, my Great American Novel (which I remember I’m working on once every 2-3 years) revolves around a very similar premise – that there is a value to the physical transportation of information. And it was started pre-Virtual Light and pre-Mirror’s Edge. Course, I’m about 4 chapters in after 14 or so years. So I may not be in line to challenge either.

  34. Miral says:

    Speaking of E3: you’ve all heard about Monkey Island, right?

  35. Daemian Lucifer says:

    Say what you want about mirrors edge,but it has excelent gameplay.Once you get over stupid dias and go through the levels flawlesly,it is quite an impressive experience.Unfortunatelly,not many can enjoy it since it does require some skill and level memorization.

    As for the story and setting,it is a bit meh.

    Funny,but EA seems to repeatedly do this with their games:Spore has excelent premise and incredible procedural graphics(Im talking about the movement of creatures,not pixel shaders or whatever),yet its gameplay is so poor that its unforgivable.

    It is nice that they are focusing on just one breakthrough in each game,but with so many resources on their disposal,its unforgivable that they arent doing decent jobs in other aspects of their games.

  36. Nalano says:


    “This game has some of the shoddiest, dumbest writing I've seen in games. Ever.”

    So I take it you’ve never played Fallout 3? Or Fable 2?

    I, for one, enjoyed Mirror’s Edge. Sure, the storyline was hokey (it felt like a WTO protester’s wet dream, and like a WTO protester had precious little focus or basis in reality), but its style of gameplay I haven’t seen anywhere else – and despite the limited number of levels and at-times frustrating difficulty, was a damned lotta fun for me.

    I’ve gone back to it multiple times and it fits a niche nicely: It’s a lot more laconic than the never-get-a-breath MP FPSs like L4D, CoD or TF2, a lot less mind-numbingly grindtastic than WAR or WoW, and a lot less painful with the cognitive dissonance than FC2, FO3 and GTA. (Holy balls that’s a lotta TLAs in one paragraph.)

  37. Jason Hutchens says:

    Yay for TMBG!

  38. Ooterness says:

    I agree with Nazdakka: Playing through on “Test of Faith” mode is the way the game was meant to be played. There’s no better feeling than evading a half-dozen snipers as you flawlessly vault up to a 10-foot roof and take one down with a disarm/knockout before he can react.

    Mirror’s Edge is one of the few games where I didn’t feel like an invincible space marine. Even little things like the camera blurring on a hard landing helped get into that character.

    Play it like you would a stealth game and the experience is much better. Play through on time-trial mode and it really shines; this game is all about finesse and striving for perfect execution.

  39. Danath says:

    I found the game wonderful the times I got to explore and freerun around vast areas, these were usually ruined by gobs of soldiers attacking me and having to resort to the terrible combat system.

    Combat isnt all bad, the times I had to escape from soldiers with my free running awsomness were amazing, but anytime I was FORCED into a drawn out fight, it was terrible, and that happened uncomfortably often, not to mention the disarm system, which flows best with the speed of the game, is so hard to time against certain weapons it could result in your death (as a couple of melee hits would kill you). Theres also a few sections where an opponent will pop up and you will speed past em or knock em down with a disarm, or sail through the air in a majestic leap, planting your feet in their face, and sail onwards, this WORKED, and got your blood pumping, and fit with the game, as you never had to sit around an area killing “all enemies”. And don’t think you didn’t know when these scenes were, if you tried to “run” past these parts, you would die, no questions about it. (Shortly after climbing the sewer, you think you can run past these guys in this big open area… nope! At least in no way youll notice in time while being shot at, which breaks the flow considerably, I never replayed to find out).

    Some of my favorite parts though included the running on the buildings or escaping guards inside the mall, or climbing the building that was under construction, I got to be creative and jump around, and the underground areas where I ended up running and leaping over guards was another great point, it FLOWED.

    So yeah, half right, half wrong.

    Last note, the anime style cut scenes were jarring and terrible, especially the kind of shoddy art style they went with. And its not even that the art style is terrible, but in contrast with the ACTUAL game, extremely extremely jarring.

  40. someguy says:

    heh. I haven’t read the comments, but it is surely interesting to see how this game arouses strong opinions.

    The game got some aspects so very very amazingly right, that it hurts all the more how the complete package fails in being a good game. And I’m not even referring to the writing. Quite sad, actually.

  41. Pinky says:

    I found the same problem with Damnation, except they were promising what was not delivered.

    They made it out to be Assassins Creed with guns, steampunk and multiplayer, instead it’s Gears of War (or some similar title which doesn’t actually have its own merits), with a useless Z-axis, a linear map progression (despite all their hype about a huge environment which you can take any path towards your goal in, there’s only ever one way to go forwards) and a poor action system (left shift to prepare to jump and space to actually jump? What?)

    The second level of a game sold entirely on the freedom of movement is set in a cave. And then I got stuck in the cave wall and couldn’t get out.

  42. Russ says:

    Mirror’s Edges is a fantastic game. It’s biggest flaw is that you need to play through it multiple times to get the full (and best) experience.

    Obviously, this is a bit odd in this day and age of one time through games, where subsequent play through are identical and are usually done to get achievements or trophies. Mirror’s Edge builds on itself.

    Like a racing game, where memorizing the track is a benefit, Mirror’s Edge rewards those who know the level well. Instead of stopping and looking for the next jump or climb point, you know where to go next and are able to keep up momentum.

    The game also rewards advanced–and at times unorthodox–moves where timing and button combinations are critical. Unfortunately, the game does a poor job teaching these to you. The player is better off experimenting, watching world record ghosts, and practicing in time trial mode.

    But, when you learn these moves and know the level, the sense of flow experienced is unbelievable. I’ve since beat the game on all the difficulty settings and with the exception of the server room level haven’t really been frustrated or disappointed by the game.

    If you haven’t played the game, or didn’t really enjoy it all that much, I’d recommend picking it up again. Play on easy, then learn some new moves from time trial ghosts, and then give normal a shot. I think you’ll find it is a better game than you may have given it credit for.

    @ Danath – That sewer area is really easy to get out of without fighting the guards. Get on top of the yellow boxes and jump over the razor wire fence while ducking. Move quickly and throw in some zig zags and they won’t even be able to hit you. I can only remember two forced fight areas: the server room and a place where guys zip line out of a helicopter to meet you. But I agree with your analysis.

  43. Brian says:

    Russ is dead on.

    When I saw the comment, “Shortly after climbing the sewer, you think you can run past these guys in this big open area… nope! At least in no way youll notice in time while being shot at, which breaks the flow considerably, I never replayed to find out.” by Danath I thought to myself, ‘he doesn’t realize that Mirror’s Edge is meant to be heavily replayed.’

    I loved the game, and replayed the entire thing an enormous number of times for a modern game. I only wish it had been a little longer, because once you have memorized and time trialed all the levels, you can play the entire thing start to finish easily in an evening (I think I remember it being about an hour an a half for me – but I was no world record holder, so not sure).

    Play on ‘Test of Faith’ all the time … the only point in not doing so is if you are on hard difficulty and you need to take a machinegun in the ship compartments (there are a couple of very difficult melee challenges down there)… but it is still quite doable even there. There is actually only a very few places in the game you can’t evade the enemy entirely rather than fight them once you have the levels memorized and the flow of the moves down (although doing the occasional disarm kill does make things easier).

  44. someguy says:

    Brian & Russ:
    totally valid points. I love the game in those moments which really focus on delivering said “flow”, but how much of it do you experience when crawling through f*cking ventilations shafts all the f*cking time? ;)
    Not to mention the abundance of having to wait in countless elevators… which would be a nice idea, as, you know, some sort of break from all that hasty running every once in a while, alas…

  45. Doug Brown says:

    Taken altogether, I think I enjoyed it more than I didn’t. Sure, the writing was clunky at times, and the story was … thin. But it had more an better story than the original Gears of War.

    Oh, and unlike Rutskarn, I didn’t see the betrayal coming. Guess I’m just too trusting.

  46. Nick says:

    Same here, I didn’t really see the betrayal at all. It might have had to do with the fact that the only time you see their face, it’s in cutscenes and they all look angry and squinty there anyway.

    The game was not too bad. As others have said, playing in “Test of Faith” mode all the time is the best way to play it. You never actually use the guns, so you can’t complain about the shoddy gunplay.

    Unfortunately, in an effort to force you into the “groove” and flow of the game, they usually send dozens of guards after you. Engaging any more than one at a time without a gun is suicide, so you are forced to run. This usually causes you to panic, and not find out where you need to go.

    As an added difficulty for me (starting in normal mode, vowed to never shoot someone), I also turned off runner vision and the center reticule. This forced me to find my own way around the map. But, with how linear the levels were, the “correct” path usually presented itself.

    The biggest problems for me were the “Press X to not die” section, that they don’t even say, in a scene where you assume it’s an in-game cutscene. I died twice before I realized I should probably try something.

    My other gripe was the server room. God, I hated that room.

  47. Rutskarn says:

    For those of you saying Test of Faith is best: my major gripe with combat is that it often feels like you need guns to avoid having to do any fight over and over again until you succeed. Maybe I just suck, or maybe I don’t have enough patience to fight the same damn guys over and over.

    Quicksave would have made this game far, far, FAR better.

  48. Picador says:

    Who says she's hauling messages on paper? She might be hauling, I dunno, flash drives. Design specifications for pipe bombs. “˜How to disassemble and reassemble an AK-47 in ten easy steps' for Windows.

    “In a world where all ISPs have instituted draconian bandwidth caps, underground parkour-trained messengers will deliver 50 gigs of data across the city without a $49.99 surcharge…”

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