When Mirror’s Edge first came out, I was under the impression that it was a big deal. I was pretty young at the time, and it’s one of the first few games I clearly remember being excited for (among others that I remember from that period are the first Assassins Creed and The Witcher, which did indeed go on to become big deal franchises). I never really got around to playing it until much later, but I always vividly remembered reading about the “first person sci-fi ninja game”, which was an unimaginably cool concept to my young mind.
So now that Cyberpunk is all the rage these days, perhaps it’s time to revisit this cult classic. In Mirror’s Edge, you play as Faith Connors, a young girl who works as a courier of sorts, only, because this is a dystopian future where everything is cool, her job involves doing excessive amounts of parkour, clashing with police and private security alike, and unravelling an intricate conspiracy.
The most immediately obvious thing about Mirror’s Edge is it’s unique aesthetic. Although the graphics aren’t exactly impressive from a technical perspective anymore,12 years later, (although it supports modern resolutions, so it still looks quite decent) the visual design of the game is both very unique, and incredibly well executed. Whereas other games with a similar setting take place in drab, grey corridors and dark alleyways, Mirror’s Edge’s world is strikingly pristine and open. The environments are extremely bright, almost blindingly so at times, and every building is painted in an immaculate shade of white. In fact, the whole map is presented almost entirely in primary colors, which gives the game an aesthetic unlike anything else out there. To maintain this striking visual design, the game’s designers opted for a very minimalistic HUD. There is no health bar, and in lieu of a mini-map or compass, the game uses something called Runner Vision, which highlights objects you can interact with ,such as a crate you can jump off or a pipe you can grab, in a bright red color. Coupled with the intuitive level design, this not only serves to further distinguish Mirror’s Edge’s unique visual style, but also does a great job of keeping you on your very linear route while maintaining the illusion that you’re making your way through a huge open city.
Through the 8 or so hours of the main story, the bulk of your time will be spent climbing, jumping and wall running around the city. Although the controls are a bit strange at first, once you get used to them, the platforming elements work surprisingly well, at times, you barely even notice that you’re playing in first person. The game maintains a great sense of momentum, and the levels, although small, are incredibly well designed, making you feel like a genuine parkour master, as you chain together increasingly complex feats of acrobatics. In fact, if the rest of the game was as tight and well designed as the platforming, this would without a doubt be one of the most enjoyable games I’ve ever played. Sadly, however, it falls short in some key areas.
Both the story and the gameplay design absolutely drive home the idea that Faith, while competent enough in a fight, is no Rambo. Your strengths lie in your skills as a Runner, not mowing down waves of enemies. It is absolutely baffling then, that there are multiple mandatory combat sequences, which not only aren’t very fun to play through, but bring the action to a halt. The melee combat is passable enough, basic as it is, but it’s the gunplay that’s the real problem here. Every single gun in the game feels genuinely awful to handle, and there is no aim assist, which in a game that is otherwise obviously designed with controllers in mind, is a pretty big problem. Given Dice’s pedigree, and the way the game very explicitly tells you that you are not meant to pick fights, I think it’s safe to say that the gunplay is awkward by design, but it’s truly baffling that you can’t skip it altogether. At one point you are even told that you’re supposed to either run away or hide in order to avoid enemy soldiers, but there are several points where doing so will absolutely get you killed. I can’t help but feel that this is a cop out, a compromise to a publisher who didn’t want to release a pure platforming game at a time where shooters dominated the AAA scene.
Mirror’s Edge’s narrative is quite barebones as well, although it’s told in a competent manner. The game makes use of a few lovely cell-shaded, pre-rendered cutscenes, which serve to enhance it’s story’s scope beyond the protagonist’s immediate surroundings, but it’s mostly told through audio during missions. It’s the sort of somewhat cliched neo-noir detective story that’s always been a staple of the Cyberpunk genre, but since it’s obviously mostly designed to get you from set piece to set piece, it’s adequate enough.
Apart from the rather brief story mode, there’s also the time trials , which used to feature a now defunct rudimentary online component, in the form of a scoreboard. This mode uses unique levels, which aren’t seen in the campaign, and, if you’re a completionist or are looking for some more challenge, they can almost double the amount of time you will spend with the game.
Mirror’s Edge is a short, fun experience, that just oozes style from every crevice. From it’s unique first person platforming to the breathtaking aesthetics, there’s a lot to like here, and it’s occasionally infuriating combat doesn’t detract from the enjoyment too much.