Saturday, April 2, 2011

Game Review: Mirror's Edge

I recently played Mirror's Edge (bought it in the Steam Christmas sale), and I have to say, I really liked this game.

Mirror's Edge is a first-person platformer game in which you are a "runner" named Faith, and she and other "runners" are a part of a silent resistance to a fascist regime in their gigantic city. The "runners" travel by negotiating the rooftop landscape, and it is essentially a giant obstacle course. The story is a self-contained chapter of what appears to be a larger story of resistance against the corrupt government. This story happens to center around Faith and her sister, who is not part of the resistance, but one of the few non-corrupt police.

The gameplay was pretty good considering it is essentially mostly made up of obstacle courses. I was strongly reminded of Prince of Persia, in which you performed similar acrobatics to get to a goal. Unlike Prince of Persia, however, this is in first person. And they made it work really really well. At times, it may be slightly too forgiving or frustratingly unforgiving, but in general, the game plays well and you can achieve a good level of immersion without getting bogged down in controls.

One aspect that makes the gameplay work is the use of the color RED. Objects that are in the general direction of where you should go will appear stark red, serving as a guide when you don't have the third person advantage Prince of Persia did. This red color is incorporated into the backstory as a semi-magical sight that runners have that reveals routes and possibilities. Various public notices you find in the game warn of people with an affinity for the color red, as they might be runners.

Using the color red made it possible for the obstacle courses to not look contrived. This was a major drawback in Prince of Persia for me; all the things you jumped to and from looked specially set up just for you. Not so in Mirror's Edge. It looks like city rooftops through which you are actively finding a path with the help of your runner vision.

The glaring red color actually does NOT mess with the overall look of the world. The city colors were chosen magnificently well. The look of this game involves severe contrast and shocking colors. It is very bright, with the city buildings mostly white and pale blue, and certain areas splashed with vivid greens or oranges or blues. The look of the world was one of the big reasons I fell in love with this game.

See those two RED cranes? You end up jumping from the tip of one onto the platform suspended by the other. Which brings me to what I love about the game: it feels EPIC. It is like parkour, but infinitely more intense, and with corrupt police that shoot at you. You can try to run by them without getting killed, which sometimes works, or you can disarm them as you come to them, or you can use a weapon from one you disarmed to shoot the others. This last option is really not the best one most of the time. Carrying a weapon makes you move slowly, even a handgun (its a little annoying, but I can see they were trying to make this a fast-paced running adventure, and not an FPS).

The story is well integrated into the fact you are a runner. You need to get from place to place in a city that has security checkpoints and cameras everywhere. So you run across rooftops to go from one plot objective to the next, often times going on detours to evade the police, especially when their puppet realizes you may unfold a serious secret. You also get bits of story in the form of cutscenes that proceed seamlessly from gameplay (the cutscene is in first person, like the gameplay), allowing for appreciable immersion.

This game is not a long drawn out game (like this review). It is short. It plays with a new idea, and it "doesn't outstay its welcome," to quote Yahtzee Croshaw's view of Portal. In many ways, Mirror's Edge is similar to Portal. It does something unique, has a self-contained short plot that is pleasantly not drawn-out. There is only so much you can do with Portal-Gun puzzles, and they knew it. Same with obstacle courses, I suppose, although I can't say I was ready for the game to end.

Finally, I have to talk about this game in the context of gender treatment in videogames. I really loved this game for its other qualities, but the way it handles this issue makes me respect it. You are a female protagonist (common enough in videogames) that does not have large breasts (practically unheard-of in videogames). In fact, Faith is somewhat small-chested**, which is completely appropriate for an athletic runner who depends on speed, mobility, and agility. Second, there is the plot: it doesn't try to pull some role-reversal nonsense by having Faith save her boyfriend. She saves her sister, who is a police officer. My only complaint is that the police bullies you encounter so much are all male. More than any discrimination on the game's part, this just reveals an undercurrent in our culture that is sexist towards both males and females. Males aren't the only ones that could be mean bullies who blindly follow orders, and I'm willing to accept that.


If you played Portal, you should play this game. It is about the same length, and it is a breath of fresh air with respect to world art, gameplay, story, and gender.


** Have a look at this comparison of what the traditional look for Faith may have been, and what they decided to go with. Amazing, right?

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