As I mentioned previously, I’ve been spending a fair share of time with Mirror’s Edge, a four-year-old game from EA. I liked the concept when I first heard of it a long time ago, but the price was just not conducive to my actual interest. With the recent Steam Sales, though, I had an opportunity to pick it up for five dollars, a price which I assume will pan out for its “Ed Value.”
The concept of the game is great; it’s touted as a mostly non-violent first person game in which you spend most of your time doing running and jumping stunts to avoid getting in trouble. This is largely true, but it comes with a hefty share of flaws, as well. More on those later. The good parts of the game have kept me playing it. There’s a good(ish) story, though I suspect I’ve guessed some spoilers already. Look, game designers/story writers, you must include superfluous characters in your story. Yes, it’s more work both from a writing and programming standpoint, but when there’s exactly three good guys in a story like this, one’s a traitor, one’s going to die, and the other’s the main character. Pad the damn roster.
The graphics, too, are stunning, and they meld perfectly with the level design. Color is used quite effectively to show goals, dangers, and level transitions. The between-levels story is animated roughly in a “Samurai Jack” style (if there is such a thing), but it’s been pleasing to watch, as well. I also enjoy the visceral rush of the actual jumping; they did a good job with the visuals and sound effects to make dangling from a roof or jumping a huge gap really feel heady and rushing when in fact you’re just sitting at your screen.
But. There’s always a but, unfortunately, with these new-ish genre, sort-of-theoretical games. The actual game design is based on an absolute TON of trial and error; it’s virtually impossible to complete a level in the first try, no matter how much practice you get or how good you become. That, alone, isn’t a huge problem, as many games are designed this way, and that’s what saves are for. However, that, coupled with some pretty weak controls starts to damn the thing.
There’s essentially four buttons to use: up movement (like jumping or climbing), down movement (like sliding or rolling), grab (to disarm), and attack (to punch, kick, or shoot – yes, that’s right, shoot in a mostly non-violent game). The problem lies that when you fail a level and have to replay part of it, doing what feels like the exact same button usage sometimes leads to vastly different results. I may climb a pipe up to an AC unit and jump to the AC unit, then, when I die and try again, doing the same thing causes me to fall to my death. Worse, when having to fight – and while I “know” you can always run, when there’s three dudes with machine guns shooting at you, you often need to disarm them to keep going – the “grab/disarm” button QUITE often fails. The mechanic to grab their gun as they’re about to melee you, but I do this over and over and fail about half the time. I don’t see that I’m doing anything differently between the successes and failures, which means I spend a lot of time reloading and re-running parts of levels because the damn game isn’t doing what I’m ordering it to.
On top of that, for a “non-violent” game, I get shot to death a lot. Sometimes I fail to disarm someone and get killed. Other times I’m just running and get shot up by a helicopter. Other times ground units shoot me from below. I’m not sure what the formula is for hits versus misses, and they miss me far more than they shoot me, but at times I feel like the baddies get a lucky streak of hits, and I’m dead without having a chance to find cover or defend myself. And speaking of defense, the gun mechanics in the game are terrible. The aiming is incredibly slow, so while I’m trying to draw a bead on some jerk, I’m getting shot up the whole time, often to my death. I would have been more satisfied with being unable to use a gun at all and being forced to non-lethally engage or evade, but I feel like because you can use a gun, some of the pulls are nearly impossible if you don’t. Either make the gun mechanics really solid or don’t include them at all; don’t give me half and half.
So overall I suspect I’ll get my “Ed Value” from the game, but it’ll be in 15 to 30 minute bursts. I get frustrated with how sloppy the controls are, fail the same area when I can see what I’m meaning to do, and quit every half hour or so. It’s not a bad game, it’s a great game that was poorly executed, much like the bad movie Nick of Time, starring Johnny Depp. Look into it some time if you want a prime example of “good but poorly executed.”
Stubborn (and not a runner, not at all)
Edit: Tag additions: #mirrorsedge