I’d like to step back in time a few years to highlight a game that got overlooked at the time but is still as hip and worth-playing today as it ever was: Mirror’s Edge. This review is also prompted partially by the news that–who would’ve ever guessed it–this game will be getting a sequel! So let’s talk about Mirror’s Edge, an off-the-wall concept fit to run against the big dogs of the gaming world…
You play this scrawny girl who lives in a not-too distant future police-state dystopia somewhere in Asia. Your job is to deliever sensitive information between subversive elements of society that are too risky for plain old electronic transmission. You can shoot a gun in this game, but you cannot reload it. That should tell you something already… When you see enemies you can punch them, but you’d be better off to just RUN. Yeah. In this game you can run in ways unlike any other game you’ve ever played.
“Parkour” is the fancy word used to describe the art running ON walls, jumping off walls with special shoes to reach higher ledges; moves which generally seem to defy gravity but are possible if you’re a fearless (!) and lightweight badass. The game will teach you a series of moves at the beginning, then set you loose along sun-saturated rooftops with an aesthetic palette of mainly white, punctuated by bold neon colors. I include the below video just to show that parkour is actually a real thing that people do, in actual real life:
At the time it came out, this game got a lot of bad reviews. I think the reason for this is because those reviewers were trying to classify this game into the same categories that 90% of new releases will fall into. This game does not have a pre-existing category. It’s 1st person parkour with transitive flashes of shooting or punching. People complained about the combat being hard. Yep. That’s the idea. You want to dodge combat wherever possible, and when you have to do it, you’re a scrawny Asian chick with no body armor… so yeah, you can’t absorb bullets like most games allow. This does lead to some tough sequences near the end of the game when combat is unavoidable, but if you’ve been taking the game’s cues along the way, you should have a refined ability to find a pathway where you can take on your foes 1 or 2 at a time, dispatching them as fluidly and rapidly as possible.
Another polarizing thing about the game is that the storyline is largely told through “anime-style” animated cutscenes between missions. I thought this was effective and enjoyable–this coming from a self-proclaimed anime-hater. The dialogue is heavy with hip-slang and in large part the voice acting is top shelf. The lead actress is particularly spot-on. Ambient/IDM artist Solar Fields polishes things off with a pitch perfect soundtrack for rooftop chases.
I totally adored this game and found it to be a startlingly crisp breath of fresh air amongst a sea of sequels and recycled ideas. This is the antithesis to your “Call of Duty 72: Yet Again” type release. Shame on the gaming press for squashing such originality, even if they disagreed with some artistic or gameplay choices. This thing doesn’t fit the mold, and that’s what so great about it. You’ll never play another game quite like Mirror’s Edge.
If I had one criticism, it would be simply “I want more”. The game is short. And with the page-turner of a storyline, you are going to literally fly right through it. The highlights here are very memorable though: sliding down the sloped roof of a skyscraper while a helicopter shoots at you, and running along the outstretched beam of a construction crane and leaping from one rooftop to another across a chasm of city street hundreds of feet below. It’s actually hard not to wince when you fall off the 82nd story of a building, even knowing that you’ll soon respawn. That’s awesome. The action in here is undeniably unique and genuinely tense in its best moments. Even a seasoned gamer will have instants where you look at what just happened and say, “Wow. I really just did that?!” This is at the root of what still makes it worth playing today. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go start up a new game right now….