02 December, 2009

Review: Mirror's Edge

written by Blain Newport on Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Developer: DICE
Platform: PC
US Release: January 2009
Genre: First Person Running
Price Paid: $5
My Score: 4 of 5

Not enough pictures lately? You'll like this update. Are you using a 56k modem? You'll like it less. :)

Mirror's Edge is the other big EA "new IP" from 2008. Dead Space didn't do it for me. This game does, to the extent my cynical old man heart can still be reached. I think I felt it beat once, faintly. It was more of a wheeze than a beat.

This is how far you have to go to get my heart to beat at this point.

I'm leaping towards a building in first person. I might not make it. I'm reaching out for it. There's speed lines everywhere. There's scary wind noise. It's a really long way down.

The problem is that if I fail, I just want to start running again. The game is about momentum, both in gameplay and pacing, and you if you fall you fall all the way down. I frequently got bored and impatient before I hit the ground. I know I failed already. Let's go.

The first person perspective can also be confusing sometimes. This is me landing in a roll from a long fall. That's a helicopter shooting at me. Disorienting, eh?

Strangely, I found breaking through doors / windows was the most discombobulating bit.

Awwww. First person hugs! Also, click on this one. The gal's face is a good example of how the game looks like an illustration. The city looks pretty spiffy too.

Enough warmth. Where's my violence? You can pass the game without shooting anybody, but it's generally safer and easier to do so. The shooting feels bad. It takes three shots just to make the deputy sit down. You also run slower and can't do cool stuff, so it's obvious the player isn't supposed to use guns much, which is fine.

It kind of made me feel like I was getting away with something I shouldn't when I picked up a SAW and killed lots of dudes.

This is another good picture to look at full size as an example of the style of the game. I never quite came to terms with the white foliage. I suppose it might be the future. But I can't shake the feeling that at the point where science has found enough free time to go back and solve the "make chlorophyll white" problem, there should be flying cars, space ships, and laser guns.

This is what it looks like when the game fails to load a section in front of you and you fall into a void outside of the level. There were a lot of issues with the port. For one thing, all of the prompts still show Xbox controller buttons. Plus the frame rate drops to unplayable if your PhysX drivers aren't up to date. Plus it crashes even if they are, so you have to turn off PhysX, which was the one advantage the PC version had. Oh well. For $5, I can live with it. Plus it's a DICE game. Being able to turn off the thing that makes the game crash is a huge step up for them.

Also, I've heard the Steam version doesn't have access to the DLC (which are special running courses that extend the life of the game beyond the five hours or so the story takes). Honestly, I haven't looked into it yet as I expect it would be normal PC platform neglect and make me sad.

The flash animation cut scenes were less great. The real game looked so nice that these were powerfully bland. When they were doing fast action, they were okay, even good. But for slow walking animations and talky scenes, they looked creepy and bad.

Sorry Rhianna Pratchett. I do not care about your story. The first person hug was good, and the voice acting was okay, but the dialog was generic and throwaway. "Because you're my sister" was a terrible payoff line that highlighted how flat the characters felt. And in a game that sparse, the amount of time you spent establishing a certain relationship made it obvious it was just there to set up a later betrayal. When it finally happened it didn't upset me in the slightest. It was more of a relief that the pretense was lifted.

(Some people hate the word gameplay. So I'm calling it mechanics. I'll probably use them interchangeably, just to maximize the people I annoy.)

Physics defying free running is the main activity in the game. The sounds and camera wiggle and tunnel vision and all that stuff are well done. But the activity itself never feels that great. Maybe that's just because I'm bad at it, but it felt like I never had the feedback to feel good about it. Did I time that slide right? Am I going the right way? (The inclusion of an "instantly look where we meant you to go" button is something of an admission that they didn't get the visual cues right.)

But I was never thinking hard enough to make the puzzly bits interesting. And It never felt like I was building enough momentum to make the action exciting. If I have to know the level already to find the entertaining running lines, your game isn't fun. I'm not going back to make it fun for you.

Well, I might go back. It is a pretty game. But I still won't spend my time looking for the perfect line. That's dull (and nonsensical when dodging gunfire).

A lot of the game architecture feels like it's just sort of around: a slide here, a vault there. It's boring. I never feel like I'm chaining crazy moves together and cutting a sweet line.

Basically, I don't get the rush the camera and sounds indicate the game was going for. Here's hoping the sequel does it better.

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