Here’s a toast to the games that could have been. The games that held such great promise, yet failed to deliver. The games whose pre-release trailers and downloadable demos piqued our interest and sparked our imaginations, but revealed themselves to be mere illusory shadows of…
Okay, blah blah blah, you get the idea. Mirror’s Edge could have been a really fun game, but wasn’t.
[audio http://archive.org/download/mirrors-edge-review/mirrors-edge-review.narration.mp3] Download
Mirror’s Edge is a first-person action/adventure game (sort of—more on that later). You play the role of Faith, a young woman who works as a “runner” in the all-too-shiny, dystopian city of New Eden. Runners are couriers for an underground movement, carrying messages and small parcels across the rooftop landscape of the city. This sets the pattern for gameplay: Each chapter drops the player somewhere in the city, sets a goal destination, and challenges the player to find their way across rooftops, through buildings, and atop the occasional train.
I wanted to love Mirror’s Edge. I developed a serious game-crush about halfway through the demo. The stylized, pristine landscapes of New Eden are rendered beautifully. The controls are simple without sacrificing the player’s ability to interact with the environment. In fact, the term “runner” is a bit of a misnomer. Players are surprisingly free to move about the cityscape (a la Parkour), running, jumping gaps, sliding under obstacles, hopping fences, riding zip lines, running along walls, and combinations of all the above. It creates a sense of freedom and exhilaration that makes other games feel stodgy and stilted.
And then there’s the violence—or rather, the notable lack of it (in the demo, at least; again, more on that later). Yes, there is gunfire and hand-to-hand-combat, but players are explicitly encouraged to avoid conflicts, reinforcing the message that this game is about movement and path-finding. The first threats a player meets in the demo are several police officers who are, to Faith’s surprise, shooting at her. Once you’ve disarmed an officer, you can choose to keep and use his weapon, or—as the game encourages—drop the gun and keep running. Players who choose combat will quickly find that bullets are slightly more realistic in this game. Unlike so many other game-heroes, Faith isn’t bulletproof. All it takes is one or two hits and she’s down for the count. I like this aspect of the game, not because I’m a pacifist (I’m not), nor because I think games should be nonviolent (I don’t). I like it because it’s fun and different.
The demo ends with a montage of clips from the full game that promises more of the same, all put to a rather nice soundtrack. I ordered my copy from Amazon with two-day shipping and looked forward to a wasted evening spent scrambling across pristine urban landscapes.
The game starts the same as the demo. I could have skipped the training and gone straight to chapter one, but I didn’t. I savored the anticipation.
Chapter one ends with a half dozen S.W.A.T.-style officers in pursuit of Faith on a wide-open rooftop, guns blazing. It’s quite a contrast to the game’s initial vibe, but it makes for thrilling climax as you escape them by leaping off the building and through the open air to grasp the runners of a nearby news helicopter. Phew! Glad that’s over! Now we can get back to exploring the city…
Except it isn’t over. Rather than showing up now and then as occasional thrill-rides, these one-sided shoot-outs quickly become the standard motif. There are no time trials, no hide-and-seek levels, no pass-the-baton races, nothing. Just innumerable police officers with an infinite supply of ammo and an unflinching desire to see you dead. So much for sightseeing.
I pressed on, and by the time I reached chapter six I wondered what exactly this game was supposed to be. It isn’t a good match for the action/adventure crowd (not the crowd I hang out with, anyway). It didn’t have enough exploration and discovery for that. If it was supposed to be a FPS, they forgot a few things. There’s not nearly enough variety in weapons; the only gun you get is one you swipe from a nearby officer, and there’s no spare ammo to be found anywhere. Hand-to-hand combat is limited and, frankly, a bit clumsy (I’m not the most dexterous of gamers, but I’m no slouch, either). Throw in a half-baked plot and mediocre voice acting and you have a disappointing mess.
In the end, this looks like a game whose development started strong but quickly lost its way. Or its budget. Either way, I’m still longing for that free-flowing ramble across the rooftops. If anyone knows a “no cops” or “invincible” cheat code, I’d like to know.