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Mirror's Edge (PlayStation 3) artwork

Mirror's Edge (PlayStation 3) review

"The game does a lot of things right, things that every bone in my gamer body tells me shouldn't work. The first-person perspective, for instance, works better than it has any right to, taking a basic platformer/action title and making it truly immersive. It is easily the game's claim to fame. There's nothing quite like jumping from the roof of a skyscraper to a tiny ledge, thinking you've missed only to see your arm dart up and grab hold at the last minute."

In the past few years of gaming I've tried to become used to disappointment. We live in an era where every game is so hyped up that we expect more from our consoles than we do from our government, job, and sex life combined. I've tried to adjust, I really have. I ignore developers and avoid their featured articles like the plague, I stay away from fan forums, and I don't glance at reviews until after the fact. Yet despite all this precaution I was excited for Mirror's Edge, the latest game from Swedish developers Digital illusions. What can I say? I love a good platformer, and frankly the market's been starved. Granted, DI doesn't have the best track record. Their biggest hit to date is the Battlefield series and hiding behind that are a series of less muscular titles, including Secret Agent Barbie: Royal Jewels Mission and Diva Starz: Mall Mania.

Fortunately, Mirror's Edge is somewhat of a departure from Barbie: Make Up Time. The game takes place in a dystopian future where society's every move is watched by an overbearing government. To get around this, insurgents use human "runners" to physically carry messages and sensitive material anonymously across the city. These human carrier pigeons get around by leaping over rooftops and clambering up buildings with matrix-style grace and dexterity. You play as Faith, one of these runners. The setting borders on cliche, but then someone had the idea to set the entire game in first-person. This sounds like a terrible plan, but in insanity often times lies genius. The table was set, the gauntlet had been thrown: could DI deliver a viable action platformer, with all the normal difficulties that entails, while adding in the clincher that it had to be all easily playable from a first-person view?

The game does a lot of things right, things that every bone in my gamer body tells me shouldn't work. The first-person perspective, for instance, works better than it has any right to, taking a basic platformer/action title and making it truly immersive. It is easily the game's claim to fame. There's nothing quite like jumping from the roof of a skyscraper to a tiny ledge, thinking you've missed only to see your arm dart up and grab hold at the last minute. Combat consists of a series of judo-style disarms and quick attacks, and the camera bobs and weaves appropriately as you pull them off. Also, they finally put in your lower torso, so you're not just a free floating head with arms.

The game controls great, even though it uses a control scheme that I've NEVER seen any game employ ever before. Also keep in mind that you have to control, from a first-person perspective, a character who can literally run up a wall, turn around mid run, and leap for a distant ledge. Imagine trying to play Devil May Cry from a first person persepctive, or Ninja Gaiden. That Mirror's Edge isn't a complete disaster is amazing. That it manages to be an intuitive and easy to play experience is an accomplishment of gameplay that deserves applause.

The game looks great, too, though if you think about it, here's another area where it really shouldn't work. The developers choose to make their city the blandest city ever. Everything is bright and saturated. Most of the environments are white, with little detail. The only people you interact with are enemies. This is the epitome of sterile. And yet it works. Rather than be boring, it adds a surreal element to the game, and really brings home the feeling of dystopia. It serves to mark the runners as unique in the city, and showcases the wonderful design of the characters. It also helps out with the gameplay, as less obvious ledges and things you can climb on are coloured bright red (called "runner's vision"), helping to keep you focused on the platforming.

I am so impressed by all the impossible things the game got right that I remain dazed and confused at all the generic easy things it got wrong.

First of all, the story. Remember that scenario I mentioned, what with the runners and those insurgents? You're introduced to that in the first mission, and it's a good idea, and it works as a perfect excuse to present a player with missions. Then, in mission two, the game takes a sudden turn and the insurgents are never mentioned again. Instead you're thrust into a cliched story (I mean, I knew who was going to betray who just from playing the demo) involving characters you've had no chance to get acquainted with. You never get this chance, because half of them are killed off before the end of the game, which is about ten hours long. The story is rushed, told so quickly and carelessly that you'll wonder whether you're playing an unfinished demo. I know the game is supposed to be fast, but here's one area they should've slowed down for.

Oh, and the shitty cutscenes. Now, don't get me wrong. I'm no graphics whore. I still play on an old SDTV, and I'm far more interested in good gameplay than great graphics. Despite its bland environments and simple cell shaded style, Mirror's Edge looks beautiful. It runs a pretty high frame rate, too. My SDTV was plagued with nearly constant screen tears. With all this, I'd like to know who decided that the best way to do cutscenes was to hire the worst rejects off of Cartoon Network and have them draw flash animated graphics in a completely different style from the rest of the game? I'm not kidding. The cutscenes are the most disgusting thing I've seen in a game since XIII, all the more evident because everything else is so damn pretty. The developers so much as admit they could do better. The last cutscene is FMV, and while not the best thing on the market, it fits perfectly with the rest of the graphics and, most importantly, it doesn't make you feel like spraying lime in your eyes. Ambience was given such attention here, with the music (especially the credit song "Still Alive" by Lisa Miskovsky) being brilliant and evocative, the sound being realistic and enveloping, and the character designs being absolutely genius... why they decided to use such crap for their cutscenes is beyond me. Were they dealing with deadlines, or does genius have its repercussions?

In gameplay, as well, the game throws some strange barriers in your way. The level design is bizarre in its pacing. Just as you'll be getting orgasmic from soaring over rooftops and performing death-defying stunts a million feet above street level, you'll go inside a building and have to run down corridors and stairwells for a half hour, broken up by the occasional vent crawl. These segments are drastically out of place. In a game where the draw is soaring through the open air, there seems to be little to gain from clipping the player's wings. Even worse, many of these segments involve long rides in elevators, making the player feel even more caged. In fact, I think you spend more time inside than outside, a bad move all around. The outside levels are so much more interesting that this just serves to point out the poor design of the interior areas.

Each mission is also very formulaic. You'll start outside, quickly end up inside, get spotted by guards, run from them until a forced showdown, and then make your way outside to escape from the reinforcements. By the end of mission 2 or 3 you'll have seen everything Faith can do. After that it's just repeating the same moves over and over. They never cease to be cool moves (the first person view keeps things consistently exciting), but the formulaic design spills over into the platforming so that you can almost predict what each room will look like based off of the previous mission.

As I said earlier, I love a good platformer. The best platformers are a mixture of puzzle and action, requiring the player to plot a careful course through the stage and then execute that plan with precision timing. Mirror's Edge approaches both these elements with a fresh view, but then trips over itself in the execution. The biggest problem again comes from level design. While a good platformer would give a player a clear destination but no clear path, Mirror's Edge gives the player clear paths with no destination. Oh, sure, you have a button which points you in the direction of your goal, but this often just results in you spinning to stare into a wall or (outside) into a horizon filled with buildings (it seems to orient itself to more long term goals). By the time this is actually useful, your destination is usually staring you in the face. You never really know where you're going, so the game becomes more one of trial and error, where you run up walls and try out different moves until you end up somewhere new. As a result, the puzzle element is lost, as no actual logic is involved. Action also takes a hit, because you'll spend a lot of time retrying things in a single room, rather than actually progressing.

Much more fun than the main game are the included time trials. In these you race across maps from the game on pre set courses, trying to make through checkpoints to the end in very quick time. Here the platformer is done perfectly. Plotting the best way through the open environments is fun, and making it through the race with precision timing is exhilarating. Yet more proof that the developers knew what they were doing, and yet somehow steered away from doing it in the main game.

Ultimately, Mirror's Edge left me with a somewhat sour taste in my mouth. I can't write it off as a bad game. It's too innovative and does too many things right that some of the best games lack. And yet it is filled with amateur marks at every turn that keeps the player from really falling in love with it, and keeps me from feeling comfortable recommending it. It really is worth being in my collection, because it is a very unique game, but I'll never be able to play it without feeling like something's missing. Of course, as a final irony, the t-shirt that came with the pre-order is one of the best t-shirts I've ever had the privilege of wearing.

zippdementia's avatar
Freelance review by Jonathan Stark (November 15, 2008)

Zipp has spent most of his life standing in an open field west of a white house, with a boarded front door. There is a small mailbox there. Sometimes he writes reviews and puts them in the mailbox.

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If you enjoyed this Mirror's Edge review, you're encouraged to discuss it with the author and with other members of the site's community. If you don't already have an HonestGamers account, you can sign up for one in a snap. Thank you for reading!

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honestgamer posted November 15, 2008:

Here you go, a free line crit that you didn't even ask for!

Throughout, you say 'first person perspective' when you need a dash between 'first' and 'person' since you have an adjective modifying an adjective.

Also keep in mind that you have to control, from a first person perspective, a character who can literally run up a wall, turns around mid run, and leap for a distant ledge.

turns = turn

That Mirror's Edge isn't a complete disaster, let alone an intuitive and easy to play experience, is an accomplishment of gameplay that deserves applause.

This doesn't work as you have it phrased. It's clear that you're saying it isn't a complete disaster, but it also seems like you're saying it's not an intuitive and easy to play experience.

Also, the developers choose to make their city the blandest city ever.

This transition from the previous paragraph doesn't seem to work. You finished up the last paragraph by talking about how the game deserves praise, so 'also' seems like you're going to continue in that vein... only you clearly don't (at least not at first). The points transition okay, but 'Also' just seems like the wrong word.

They never cease to be cool moves (the first person view keeps things consistently exciting), but the formulaic design spills over into the platforming so that you can almost predict which each room will look like based off of the previous mission.

which = what

I'm glad that you reviewed this game. I was extremely interested in this and have been for awhile, but Electronic Arts refused my request to send a copy (mostly because everyone and his dog wanted one). So I'll have to buy it when I play it, and this review gave me lots to consider.

If not for the bit criticizing other sites, I'd probably be bugging you to become a freelancer and let us upgrade this to a freelance staff review (we need a Mirror's Edge review). It's exactly the sort of piece I like to read because it gives excellent analysis and is interesting reading without going off on tangents. You really know your audience and you made me feel almost as if I was playing the game and experiencing your frustration and disappointments right by your side. The way you described it, I have every confidence that my experience will likely match yours. To me, that type of approach is one of the best a review can employ and you did so wonderfully here.

Keep up the good work!
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zippdementia posted November 15, 2008:

Hey, thanks for taking all this time with my reviews, HG! I would LOVE to make this a freelance staff review. I can take out the quick blurb about IGN and Yahtzee if it will lift it to that level.

As for the other issues, I'm going for a bike ride this morning, but I was planning on touching up my reviews when I came back, so I'll fix up everything you mentioned. I really appreciate the feedback.
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wolfqueen001 posted November 15, 2008:

Haha. Nice review. I'd actually been looking at this game since I saw a trailer/demo for it on some site somewhere... It looked really neat, but at the same time, I had some doubts just from watching it. A lot of what I was thinking about how the game would be shows up in your review in a clear, well-explained manner, too, so I'm glad I read it.

I still might check this out if I ever get a PS3... it still seemed like a neat idea despite the flaws you mention.
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honestgamer posted November 15, 2008:

Do you have AIM, zippdementia? If so, I'd want to talk to you about a few things before posting this as a freelance review. There are some administrative things you'd need to know about. You can reach me using my name (Jason Venter) in all lowercase letters with no spaces or underscores or anything. I'm on right now and otherwise will be checking periodically. If that doesn't work for you, let me know here and I can HG Mail you info.
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zippdementia posted November 15, 2008:

Thanks, Woolfy! I'm glad the review was helpful. It was a tough one to write, I have to say. First of all, I was writing it at 2:00 in the morning. Second off, it was a tough game to review, because there's a lot of great things on the surface that make you think you're crazy when you check in with yourself and find you're underwhelmed. It took me a long time to figure out exactly what was the real problem and put it into words.

I tried to be brief, which didn't leave me space to talk about some of the other things I would've liked to, but I really wanted to focus on what I thought the main innovations and failings were.

If I were to summarize even more, I'd say that the problem of the game lies in losing sight of the freedom and speed that, when it's present, makes the game innovative and fun.

@HG: message sent
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fleinn posted November 16, 2008:

Good review - share your feelings about the game somehow not delivering on the strong points, and becoming extremely frustrating sometimes. Still, there's one thing most reviewers haven't said much about - how they're managing the immersion so well. It's rare to play a game nowadays that keeps letting you believe you're actually playing the character, instead of just controlling it by remote control. For example on the bit where you tear across a huge gap between two buildings across the two cranes is pretty memorable - I really can't remember the last time i held my breath like that when playing a game.

So if they kept those critical junction points when designing the levels, and had spent more time creating alternate routes around the scenery - that would've made the game unbelievably good.

Another thing - the game does look more healthy on a HD screen. It was the same in the demo - in SD things would disappear into a blur, and the screen- tearing is constant. It's not entirely gone in HD, but I think there are some downscaling issues going on here.

..Oh, and what's wrong with the animated story- boards? ;) I thought they were brilliant. Contrasted the playing well, and is a lot easier to create well than a full render - specially when you want to have faces and small expressions, or changes in the angles and so on. All kinds of movie- tricks just wouldn't work otherwise.
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zippdementia posted November 16, 2008:

Glad to see you disagree with a few areas, Fleinn.

For immersion, I totally agree that the game is immersive. I think I stated something to that degree in the review. But this immersion is lost every time I'm forced inside to stand in a room for 20 minutes figuring out what to do next. Then I remember I'm just a player in some developer's level, and the exhiliration is lost.

I figured the game had to look better on HDTV. I'm still a few months away from getting HD, but I have a pretty good idea of the differences. When I review these days, I'm tending to look more at graphical style over resolution because of this. Even so, I was a bit surprised by the screen tearing. I mean, Far Cry 2 is much more demanding in terms of the amount of objects on screen, the detail of those objects, and the distance you can see, and I didn't get any screen tears.

And speaking of graphical style, I just couldn't stand the cartoon network cutscenes. Forget the terrible story they portray, they lost the good design and fluidity that the characters had in game. I said I hadn't seen such bad cutscenes since XIII, but now thinking about it, I'm reminded more of Red Steel. Here you are, in a highly immersive game, and then suddenly the graphical style changes on you and you're watching stiff animation. It's just a poor design choice from my standpoint.

Had I gotten to the developers before release, I would've suggested that they take out all the cutscenes and instead present all those moments in-game. It would have catered to the real strength of Mirror's Edge (immersion) whil also increasing the length of a woefully short game. Again, like most everything I think they did wrong, they seem have known that they SHOULD be doing this. I complained about the elevators, but one of the little things I didn't get a chance to mention was the text inside some of the elevators that tells you the background of the city, simultaneously giving you a bit of story and occupying you during your ride. Of course, only a few elevators did this, so it didn't really gain the game enough for me to feel obligated to mention it.

Mirror's Edge... so much potential wasted right in front of my eyes.
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fleinn posted November 16, 2008:

lol. Yeah, the elevators. Full stop.. I don't know - I run a lot, and when you stand there stuck moving fast without running, high on endorphines, gawking at the stupid scrolling text - that was the perfect allegory for the dystopia you're in to me. ..What kept pulling me out was the constant rain of bullets at every turn - and all the bullets miss. Should've been less of that, and more troop movements. Might not have been very easy to do well, but I keep imagining how you'd outrun a slow- moving cop in riot gear trying to get a fix on you from the roof across the street. But instead you're invulnerable as long as you're running. Poetic, but silly.

...One thing I really liked about the review is that you can tell where you go from opinion to analysis, though. So you don't have to agree on the whole package, and still get an impression of what the game is like. Well written, that. Keep it up.
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Lewis posted November 16, 2008:

"Despite its bland environments and simple cell shaded style, Mirror's Edge looks beautiful."

It does indeed look beautiful, but it isn't cel-shaded at all. It's just incredibly stylistic.

I also don't think the environments are bland... what did you mean by that exactly? They're drawn rather artistically.
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zippdementia posted November 16, 2008:

Hey Lewis, how's it going?

I didn't know the game wasn't cell shaded... it certainly looks it. That's how well they pulled off the style.

I don't know how much clearer I can be on the environments. The color scheme is basic, the design of buildings is basic, there isn't much movement... but like I said, I love the graphical direction (except for the cut-scenes). I think they really pulled off something unique and innovative.

If only it hadn't been buried under a pile of bad level design.
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zigfried posted November 17, 2008:

I briefly considered getting this game, and hell if I even know why (maybe it was the stylish cover), but you've just saved me a bit of money. And with everything else coming out this holiday season, I appreciate that. The main thing that turned me off was hearing how the game cuts itself off at the knees with the indoor scenes. Sometimes it seems like a game has a good idea, then loses sight of itself somewhere along the way.

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zippdementia posted November 17, 2008:

I hate having to warn people off this game. It really is a good idea, and I want them to make the proposed sequel... but I want them to make a better game, and you're right... with $60 price tags, you've gotta be careful these days.

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