However, if you actually want a review based on facts and first-hand experience, then Josh has you covered.
Steam, at the very least as a digital distribution platform, is great. Now I know Shamus has expressed a number of very valid concerns about the idea (and indeed, strong possibility) of a Steam monopoly and all of the ways that could go wrong â€" and I am in absolute and total agreement with every one of those concerns â€" but there is a reason Steam is by and large the PC digital distribution platform. I can, with confidence, say that the sales held regularly on Steam have led me to try dozens of games (if not hundreds â€" my account has nearly 125(!) games on it) I would never have considered playing otherwise. One such game is an odd little title released back in 2008: Mirror’s Edge.
|I’m not really sure what mirrors have to do with anything…|
When Mirror’s Edge came out, I’d been following it with some interest, but I thought the concept was, frankly, rather crazy (First-person acrobatics? Tell me that doesn’t sound like a recipe for frustration and disaster). And the reviews I skimmed after the game was released seemed to reinforce this notion. But when the game is on sale on Steam for $5? Well… It can’t be that bad.
Actually, it isn’t. I think I can say, in good conscience, that Mirror’s Edge is worth the buy at $5. Heck, I’d probably pay $10 for it. Maybe even $15 or $20. Now don’t take that to imply, in any way, that Mirror’s Edge is a good game. There are a lot of problems that prevent it from ever securing a place in that coveted category. But it’s not a terrible game either; there are some fundamentally good qualities to it, and it does get some things right.
But let me back up for a moment and fill in some background for those of you who haven’t heard much about Mirror’s Edge. The game was developed by EA DICE and is a first-person… well, I’m not exactly sure what to call it, but it isn’t really a shooter. Much of the gameplay is focused around jumping, sliding, rolling, and running across an urban landscape â€" typically the roofs of buildings â€" parkour-style. You play as Faith, a “runner,” who – in a city where all communication is monitored â€" carries illicit messages to and from various clients.
But enough preamble. I mentioned that the game has a lot of problems, so let’s start with a look at the most egregious ones:
I know, I say “let’s start with a look at the most egregious ones” and then I start griping about the setting. So we’ll start with the least most egregious problem.
I’d also like to make an important distinction here: The narrative, overall, actually isn’t too bad. Early on, the player (as Faith) happens upon a prominent mayoral candidate by breaking into his office. He also happens to be dead, and Faith’s sister (who happens to be a cop) is lying unconscious nearby. It’s obvious that someone is trying to frame her for the murder, and the rest of the game involves Faith’s quest to find evidence to acquit her sister and rescue her. Now, as a video game plot, this works pretty well.
What doesn’t work is the setting that is supposed to be supporting the narrative. As I mentioned, the game takes place in a glistening, near utopian city. The apparent cost for this high quality-of-life is a set of heavy restrictions on personal liberties, to the point where, apparently, every form of communication is monitored by the government. As a result, an underground movement has formed (a bit of linguistic irony, considering you spend most of your time high above ground, darting across rooftops) supported by the runners, who carry messages between their various clients.
Or at least, I guess that’s what it’s supposed to be. Don’t expect the game to help you out much there, it barely even mentions what runners actually do. Only in one level (the first one) do you actually have to run a package to someone, but the cops intercept you and you have to pass it off to someone else. Aside from that, there are bags littered in hidden places throughout the levels, but these are completely optional collectible items. I’m not even sure what you get when you collect them because I personally hate trying to collect things in action or platforming games. And that’s it â€" the packages and messages that are the whole reason for the existence of the runners in the first place are otherwise completely incidental to the plot.
Even more incidental are the unnamed “clients.” I don’t recall any of them ever being directly referred to in-game, not even in passing. You certainly never meet any; and aside from a few news tickers in the elevator rides (sigh) that are scattered throughout the game, you never see any sign of their existence. This left me only with questions â€" obvious questions that probably should have been answered somewhere â€" like, say, in the game. Questions like, what do these “clients” even do? What messages are they sending that are so important they’d risk serious legal trouble and the (presumably) large sums of money that the runners must be charging for their services? For all I know, Faith might be smuggling bombs to terrorists. The game surely doesn’t do anything to dissuade the notion, and it certainly would explain the absurdly trigger-happy police that always seem to be hot on her tail.
Or maybe Faith is just delivering ice cream to orphanages. I don’t know because the game never fills in any details!
And even the existence of the runners themselves seems suspect at times. Including herself, Faith only ever encounters four members of the organization over the course of the game. There is never any mention of a hierarchy beyond her immediate handler, and in a particularly key moment of the plot, when Faith sneaks into a private facility and spies a file with all of the important intelligence the mayor has gathered on the runners, it seems to consist of mugshots of about nine people. The whole organization would seem to exist as a framing device so Faith can have a contact ‘back at base’ named Merc (which, for some reason, stands for ‘Mercury’ and not the much more obvious ‘Mercenary’) to direct the player through missions.
Now to be fair, much of the narrative involves Faith’s (not so often) clandestine attempts to find evidence that can clear her sister’s name and lead her to the real culprit behind the murder. So I suppose the lack of supporting setting elements could be excused by the fact that Faith isn’t really interacting with any of those elements. But at the same time, there is a strong undercurrent throughout the narrative about the kind of people who would live in an oppressive, almost Orwellian environment, and the ones who would resist it. And as a storytelling element, this falls completely flat because you have hardly any interaction with either the oppressed or the rebellious beyond your immediate runner friends.
How am I supposed to feel sympathy for the plight of an oppressed people when I never even see any sign of their existence?
But here I’ve spent over a thousand words griping and I haven’t even gotten to the gameplay. So let me move on to my second point:
To the game’s credit, the first-person platforming actually works â€" somehow. That was, to me, perhaps the most surprising thing about the whole game; my initial concern turned out to be perhaps my most unfounded one going in. DICE somehow found a way to make an acrobatics-heavy first-person game that wasn’t full of utterly frustrating “Damn, I just missed that jump again!” sections. That’s not to say those sections don’t exist, but there are far less of them than I ever expected. This feat was accomplished largely through the game’s rigid linearity. Levels are laid out in such a way that, if there’s a jump you can make, then it will be obvious that you can make it if you try. Conversely, if there’s a jump you can’t make, then you’ll never get anywhere close, no matter how many times you try. And when you do manage to land a sequence of moves and jumps correctly without interruption, the feeling of vertigo and speed is far more exhilarating than you could ever get from a third-person game.
This is not the problem.
The problem is that this action is broken up by frustrating puzzle sequences. Typically it’s of the “You have to find a way to jump up to this ledge here” variety, and some of them aren’t exactly short. There’s one sequence where you have to climb some twenty stories through the insides of a skyscraper that’s still under construction, jumping from scaffolding to concrete support beams and so on, as you make your way to a ventilation duct at the top. Apparently, in this faux-utopian future, budget cuts have led construction workers to forgo the installation of stairs and ladders in their scaffolding, leaving them to build on the power of plot alone. Or maybe everyone in the future is just really good at jumping.
Oh, and yes, Mirror’s Edge â€" the acrobatic, fast-paced, high-adrenaline not-shooter has air-duct escapes. A lot of them. Please tell me I’m not the only one that sees the problem with this.
|Not Pictured: Fun|
These puzzles are made frustrating by the vast array of largely context-sensitive moves and jumps that the player can perform at any given time. You can run along a wall for a few seconds if you jump at it at the right angle. You can vault off of piles of boxes to increase your jump’s range. You can swing on various poles and pipes, carrying your momentum from one to the next. And that’s just a small fraction of the moves available. Even when the destination is obvious, it can sometimes be difficult to tell how you’re supposed to get there, and this problem is by far the worst in the many puzzle sections.
But the game has a solution. There is a mode called “runner vision” that can be toggled on and off in the options menu, but defaults to ‘on’ in the normal difficulty mode. What it does is highlight objects in red that you can use to perform jumps or other moves that will get you closer to your goal. The system is also adaptive to the player’s progress; in other words, an object that was highlighted will return to its normal appearance if you manage to get closer to your goal than using that object would take you. In essence; that pile of boxes I just used to jump to another building won’t be red if I look back at it. With this turned on, it becomes easy to see the path the game designer has laid out to complete the level.
Okay, so you have a handy system that highlights useful objects and platforms so you never get lost. Cool. So, you ask, what’s the big problem then?
Well the problem is that runner vision has a remarkable tendency to do an annoying thing that I like to call not work. The system will highlight some objects for you, but other objects â€" even ones that you absolutely have to use because there’s no alternate path at all â€" will remain curiously and apparently arbitrarily ignored. This is most notable in the puzzle sequences, where you might get a single, obvious object highlighted in a complex sequence that requires multiple jumps, often leaving you effectively blind, stumbling across the stage wondering just what the hell the designer was thinking when he built this damn puzzle. At one point I spent a good forty-five minutes spread across two play sessions trying different combinations of moves on one puzzle until I figured out exactly what I was supposed to be doing. It was irritating, frustrating, and most certainly not fun.
I suppose the argument could be made that the developers didn’t want to reveal the proper path during the puzzle sequences, because that might “ruin the fun” (whatever that’s supposed to mean in this context). But the runner vision often ignores objects in the acrobatic phases as well. There doesn’t really seem to be any rhyme or reason to it. And the puzzle sequences aren’t exactly avant-garde brain-teasers either. They’re of the “get onto this ledge” or “get into this ventilation duct,” variety, no more cerebral or complex than a particularly frustrating Super Mario Bros level. And regardless of any of these gripes â€" even if they were fun â€" there’s just too damn many of them. The puzzle sequences simply break up the pace of the action far too often to be anything more than a nuisance.
…Man, this is turning into more of a rant than I thought. I’m already over 2000 words and I haven’t even finished with my gripes about the bad parts of the game. I’m pretty sure if I write anything more, this post will officially bridge the gap into “novel” territory.
So, tune in next time for Mirror’s Edge Review Part 2: This Game Kinda Sucks But Maybe I Can Talk About Some Good Things This Time.
|No seriously, isn’t this game supposed to have rooftops in it?|
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