I remember hearing about Mirror's Edge way back when DICE announced they were making a shooter that broke the conventional boundaries. They were saying that the current level design of most first person games was restrictive and didn't give much in the way of player choice when it came to navigation and so on. Their as of yet untitled dream project promised an end to the short fence that a character couldn't climb over or the box that they couldn't climb on. It promised a highly interactive environment akin to that of Assassin's Creed.
Mirror's Edge is a 'dystopian science fiction' first-person action/free-running title that attempts to shatter our preconceptions of a typical fps. I've heard several reviews mention that it's a game based around a gimmick, rather like Assassin's Creed was - this is partially true, whereas Assassin's Creed did have a lot of free-running elements, Mirror's Edge actually has more in common with this extreme sport. You are cast in the first person body of Faith, a 'Runner' a kind-of information courier of the future. In the city, you see, it's clean and pristine on the surface with CCTV cameras and a very Orwellian feel to both the design and the regime that controls it.
It doesn't take long before something goes wrong and Faith is forced to run, whilst uncovering the plot and the numerous twists and turns along the way. The plot is delivered in game-engine style cut-scenes that are reminiscent of cel-shading, extremely well put together and very well animated. The majority of the game requires you to become adept with the 'Flow' the freedom of movement that encapsulates a Runner's acrobatic skill, their natural understanding of the environment.
To aid you in this end, DICE have included Runner vision, a handy tool that auto-marks objects of interest in red. The chances a red object will help you navigate the sometimes insane obstacles in the game are high. Later levels have less red objects and Runner vision can be toggled off if you want to make things a lot harder. The controls can take some getting used to. Speed and timing is the key between a quick escape and a sudden terminal fall into the ground from high up. There is a simple tutorial level that gets you to grips with the system and once you've finished that the game kicks off proper.
From then on in it's a white knuckle-thrill ride that will last most gamers between 6-8 hours (I finished it in 7.5). Whilst being short the game is highly polished and the story is interesting enough to make you want to finish it. DICE have included features for the speedrun crowd and race modes, but these are superfluous to the core game and story. As you begin to master the controls the game becomes an addictive blend of strategy and fast paced escape. You're never boxed in, there's always some way to get out of a particular area and earlier on there are numerous routes to use to gain an advantage in the level.
You will find that there are numerous security forces that are going to shoot first and not bother to ask questions later. There are several ways you can deal with these enemies, either by outright confrontation (lure them out one by one and finish them off in hand-to-hand) or by escape and evasion, moving swiftly through the level where the security can't follow you. After all, they're not Runners.
Mirror's Edge draws a fine line between frustration and fun, the free-running system is great when it works but sometimes I found that Faith decided to jump off at a different angle than the one she was supposed to. It reminded me in many ways of my original gripes with Tomb Raider and the first game in that series (many of the other games as well) - where I'd expect Lara to do one thing and she'd ignore me to plummet gracefully to her bone-crunching death below. That said there is an extreme feeling of satisfaction when you pull off a death-defying tricky move or you take down a whole squad of Blues without firing a single shot.
Yes there are guns, you can disarm enemies in a variety of ways and take their weapons. You can turn those weapons on your foes but there are advantages to remaining unarmed in the various levels. You can free-run only when you have both hands free. So the choice is left up to the player, confrontation means less to worry about as you navigate the level, on the other hand you may be forced to shoot some folks since it's easier than beating them up in hand to hand combat. After a while you may become familiar enough with the combat system to be able to weave around your enemies and pummel them into submission. The combat system takes some mastering and has a few flaws; often the enemies are all too quick to avoid you and seem to be one step ahead of Faith in the reaction stakes.
The combat system and free-running systems aside, the level design is innovative and slick. The puzzles will test your free-running skills to the maximum and you'll be stringing together complex moves such as wall-running, turning whilst moving and leaping off across a massive gap to catch a duct at the far end. Failure means returning to a possible check-point that may be a few jumps ago. The check-point system could have been replaced by a save-anywhere since some of the checkpoints are few and far between.
Mirror's Edge in terms of design, graphically and artistically is excellent. The character designs are sharp, the animation is flawless and the sense of movement from the characters is superb. You are always given a Faith's eye view of the situation so that means you see her lower body and hands, this is all spot on and there are no glitches present to break the sense of immersion. There's no ammo counters or anything to really tell you you're in a game either, so you can really sit back and enjoy the experience even if you are tearing out your hair at some of the trickier navigational puzzles and hazards.
The sound is nice; it's minimal in some places with lots of little ambient additions to bring the dystopian city alive. The voice acting and script are solid, all of the performances are superbly acted and there's not a duff voice in the cast. The music is gorgeous and the single remixed song that makes up most of the game is used to a great effect as you traverse the levels, the story unfolds with snippets of it and right at the end of the game we're treated to the whole theme that is as much of a reward as completing the game is.
Mirror's Edge succeeds admirably in doing what it set out to do; it redefines the first person shooter/action genre and injects a breath of innovation in terms of environmental navigation. For all the little niggles, high frustration factor, lack of save-anywhere for those times you're pulled away from the console and some control issues, it is a superb game and I look forwards to the sequel, since this one is so short.