Trent Polack's site for cats, games, game development, and undeniably powerful sociological insight all with a healthy dose of narcissism.
A Great Design Wrapped Within an Infuriating Game
Published on February 3, 2009 By mittens In Gaming

Mirror's Edge is a game that was heralded by a marketing campaign that wanted gamers to think of Mirror's Edge as a game that was innovative and, more than that, different. It had a heroine that was markedly different from another well-known leading lady. The scenery is comprised of a bright, pronounced color palette that was primarily composed of white and bright shades red, blue, green, and orange. And, more than those factors, the game was purportedly centered around the escapades of a leading lady whose primary talent was her ability to run fast and execute her Parkour-based maneuvers to navigate through an urban landscape. This marketing campaign, essentially, made Mirror's Edge the closest thing to an "art game" that mega-publisher/developer Electronic Arts is capable of releasing in this turbulent and confusing times within the economy and the games industry.

It's when Mirror's Edge is encouraging a player to run as fast and as smoothly as possible that the game delivers on the hopes that the game's marketing created. When things "work" in Mirror's Edge, they work. The mixture of intensity, fear, and adrenaline that the game manages to create in a player when, in one of the beginning stages, the player must flee from a small band of "blues" (policemen in blue uniforms!) by performing the classical leap of faith from a building to a nearby helicopter is one of my favorite gaming moments of 2008. There were nearby enemies that forced a sense of panic in the player but the designers at DICE managed to contain the danger that the policemen presented to the player perfectly; these enemies made the escape intense, forced the player to focus on running with the flow of the level, and the scene ended just as the game designers anticipated.

At no point in the aforementioned scenario did I, as a player of the game, feel that I was pushed into a corner by the policemen and had to fight my way out. The policemen served their intended purpose of coercing a player to progress at a somewhat specific pace (fast or faster) through the rest of the level and nothing more. DICE's inability to use these "enemies" as a means of pace enforcement throughout much of Mirror's Edge is, in fact, the game's biggest failing. Instead of making a player's trek through a level feel fun and intense the way a Hollywood chase scene would, these enemies constantly limit the options a player has. Sometimes they force a player to run through a certain portion of a level without having any time to properly explore or enjoy the obstacles and scenery. Other times these enemies make a player's run-through end abruptly at an unexpected and undesirable time. More often than not, though, the enemies in Mirror's Edge make a player feel like he/she has to fight his or her way through an encounter. And there is nothing more defeating to the integrity of Mirror's Edge's core design then a player feeling that he was pushed into a corner by the enemy AI and had no choice but to unrealistically annihilate a squad of heavily armed policemen.

Mirror's Edge's own instability is its eventual downfall. Sometimes it wants to make players engage in awkward gunplay. Sometimes it wants to make the level geometry into an uncomfortable Parkour puzzle. But, sometimes, Mirror's Edge gets into a groove when it's this absolutely superb mix of a platformer, racer, and first-person exploration game. DICE was able to implement the controls, the movement, and the general "feel" of being a particularly talented and nimble gymnast who was running, jumping, and sliding her way through a series of "real life" obstacles: the roofs of industrial buildings, construction scaffolding, city plazas, and so on. The real thrill that Mirror's Edge provides is when it exposes players to these sorts of urban obstacle courses and tasks him/her with making it through one of these courses quick, smooth, and in one piece. The amount of trial and error can be frustrating in these cases, but the reward for a smooth execution is unmatched by any other moment in the game. It's like trying to get one lap of a track in a racing game perfect over and over and, finally, getting through an entire lap without a single screw-up. And it's this feeling that Mirror's Edge's combat encounters and puzzle-Parkour don't manage to capitalize on.

I'd be remiss if I failed to mention how excruciatingly poor every aspect of the Mirror's Edge narrative is. Take note players: when you stumble into a story event in an office where you see your sister just keep in mind that you're going to wish the in-game cut scenes persisted. As it is, that's the one of only two in-game cinematics that players will ever see. Mirror's Edge chooses to convey the entirety of the story through communication units (which aren't bad; just poorly written and voice-acted) but what's worse are the 2D animations that tell the game's narrative in between levels. These cinematics are of a shockingly low quality not only in their scripts but in the absolutely awful animation style that created them. The characters lack any sense of depth, proportion, or even the human-like quality they possess when players see their in-game counterparts. The idea that the script which makes up Mirror's Edge made it into a AAA game production is altogether unsurprising but the fact that these 2D animations made it in is amazing.

Mirror's Edge is a sad game. There are a handful nuggets of superb gameplay that litter what is an altogether mediocre single-player gaming experience. I'm not even a fan of platformer games -- save for the occasional excellent title like Super Mario Galaxy -- but Mirror's Edge's early gameplay segments were an utter joy to engage in. If DICE can manage to recapture what made those early levels of the game so captivating then an eventual sequel should have a lot to offer. As it stands now Mirror's Edge is a game to get to see a very unique take on pacing and platforming, just try not to stray too far from the time trial mode.

Then again, the time trial mode requires playing the full game in order to unlock all of the courses. That's just cruel.

on Feb 03, 2009

too.  much.  text.  Eyes.  Bleeding!


j/k.  Hi Trent. 

on Feb 03, 2009


on Feb 03, 2009

Nice article Trent

I played the Mirror's Edge demo a few weeks back after seeing the commercial and having been allured by the appeal you mention their marketing team capitalized upon. While the demo as a whole did not excite me enough to purchase the game, there were definitely some memorable events.

One particular sequence that immersed me into the game was when the police were in pursuit of my character down a winding corridor and my character came to a dead end. At first, my character was trapped. After looking up, however, the path to follow became clear and a successful escape was once again in sight. There is a delicate balance when trying to make a fast-paced game entertaining. It is important to maintain an objective just out of reach so that the player has to struggle, but not so far out of reach that the player becomes frustrated. This part of the demo was designed well, because to see the next step in your path, you had to actually look up. When a game can captivate a player's emotions like that, it has done its job well.

The ending of the demo (our mutually favorite part of the game), I agree was designed very well and was executed fluidly. While approaching the end of the building, the enemy seems to close in from all sides, evoking panic in the player that jumping off the building and plunging to your doom is the best alternative to finding another route and being riddled with bullets. After realizing the helicopter hovering right off the edge of the building, it becomes a race against the eventuality that the helicopter might move out of range. That was a very fast-paced and climactic close.

A scene from the demo that was really more frustrating than necessary was when using the zipline to travel from one building to another and timing the release just right, so that a safe landing could be made on the elevated platform. Although I do have peripheral vision, for some reason the the opportune time to let go of the zipline never became apparent. Perhaps the camera was at a bad angle or perhaps I just had a stroke of bad luck repeatedly over a few times.   Either way, that stood out in my mind as a poor implementation of something I had previously equated to nothing but fun.

Although I did not like the game enough to buy it, I like the fact they made it, because innovation is really a niche in the gaming industry that is attempted too few and far between titles. Too many other companies rely upon game engines to reimplement what has already been implemented before, except using different textures or models. The fact they somehow worked parkour into a game that wasn't driven by quick time events, I think is admirable. One reason I really enjoy the newer Bond flicks is because Daniel Craig is capable of parkour, unlike his predecessors... I look forward to playing another demo of this genre of game, that includes better scripted levels and encourages more free thought of the player.