© 2009 The Runner

The Run, Episode Eleven

It’s been months since I last wore a suit. In that time the night has drawn in, rain has come to the city, and the season has changed. It’s time to settle down and tell you how this Run ends.

1

Merc is dead. The last lead he gave me was to look for Kate at the Shard, the gigantic skyscraper that has dominated the skyline in each and every level of the game so far. Without me telling you, you would know that this was the last level of Mirror’s Edge. It just feels right. Not because the plot is reaching a climax, and not because the game has innovated all it can. Simply because you feel ready. If you think back to the way you stumbled and tripped over those first few levels, you realise how far you’ve come. The game has trained you, for this.

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This level is about one thing and one thing only – asking yourself if you’ve learnt how to play the game. Every element of the game is pushed and tested here, not for the sake of it but because it makes you feel stronger. It makes you feel accomplished. Mirror’s Edge is a game about skill, and the accumulation of skill. But it’s not a run-and-gun skillset, it’s something fresh, something new. And that’s what makes it something to be savoured. This is a different kind of ability. This is demonstrated particularly aptly in a superb combat sequence near the start of this level. It’s one I’d recommend you attempt without any form of gun, because if you can get through without firing a shot you know you understand this game.

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It’s nice particularly in the way it’s laid out – a lot of doors, ducts, leaps and cover, the sort of level that would be a breeze to move through with an MP5 and the gravity gun, but here becomes more of a ballet-based obstacle course. It’s the most elegantly-designed arena in the game, and clearing it of enemies is extremely satisfying, because it reaffirms just how far you’ve come. These are the hard folks – the ones that’ll take your three-punch combo and kick back afterwards. But here you are. Doing it.

And that’s nice, because as I pointed out before, Mirror’s Edge is a game where you develop behind the monitor, rather than Faith developing. She knows it all, there are no scrolls to find or techniques to discover. She’s a Runner. This level is about you becoming a Runner.

4

As we progress through the shard, we meet the Lieutenant. He’s here to help us, and Kate, by giving Faith assistance over the radio connection. He stays downstairs to hold off the Pirandello Kruger guards who are now swarming the building. This is a level fraught with combat, which at times trips over itself in the way it forces you to engage people. The trick is to really accept this and go into it strong. It’s a level of combat that you’ve not experienced prior to this point; huge-scale fighting that requires speed and concentration. Disarm windows are smaller, you’re under constant gunfire – it’s tense, while also being liberating.

6

We take a lift up, but get stopped midway. Before long, we’re out and in the lift shaft itself, pushing acrobatics and jumping accuracy to its limits, with several nasty jumps across huge chasms, with no margin for error. Lifts rush past at high speed, adding yet another element to it. And yet – and this really is key, to the entire level – even if this is your first run through Mirror’s Edge, you’ll feel this is within your grasp.

Isn’t that great? Isn’t that what a game ending is about? An intensifying of emotion, rather than skill requirements? Mirror’s Edge has added to your skill set so naturally that by this point you’re used to the jumps, the timings, working out the next route. Not that you won’t die, but you’ll swing through with a grace you might not have had ten runs ago. While all the time, your skill level is intrinsically linked to the strength of the story. The romantic picture painted of the Runners only works if the player chooses to associate themselves with it. This level achieves that by providing the player with the chance to be a superhero. Nothing stupid, or novel. Instead, larger-scale challenges provide the player with a deeper sense of achievement.

7

Take the next section as a good example – a blend of path-finding acrobatics, whilst under fire from three snipers, all the while leaping between buildings over endless drops. It’s a fast-switching collection of demanding skills, that still manages to feel simple despite being quite easy to get wrong. The core skills have grown. You’re rolling out of jumps like it’s a reflex reaction now, and you’re beginning to see alternative routes even with Runner vision on. You’re becoming better.

8

Once you’re clear of this section, either by force or by gymnastics, the game space takes you up to a much more daunting encounter with the police. It’s the last big fight of the entire game, locked in a room with several Pirandello Kruger soldiers. You’re going to die. And you’re going to die a lot.

10

It’s a ludicrously well-contained fight. Stairwells, blind corners, dead spots and the occasional vault, all combining to make a playground that’s simply laid out and immensely stressful. On the one hand, you’re a professional now – even the shorter disarm time of the Pirandello Kruger guards isn’t enough to stop your nimble fingers. But at the same time, you’re still making mistakes, you’re not thinking quick enough, running directly at gun-toting soldiers from a long distance back. You die, you learn, you try again.

I can think of very few game endings that satisfied me. There’s an unwritten rule that the game should follow a ‘learning curve’ that peaks at the final boss battle, but Mirror’s Edge has few events that could be described as boss battles, and it certainly has no final boss. Instead, it does that very admirable thing, by giving you a hero’s ending. You don’t need to prove yourself. You’ve already done that, you got this far. You’re standing on the roof of the Shard, and from here you can see the New Eden mall, the canals you died in so many times, the complex jumps you made at the construction site.

11

As Jack-knife leaps into the chopper with Kate, you run, leap, slide and leap again. There’s pretty good odds you’ll even get it right the first time around, too. Bullets are flying, you’re getting hit of course, but as you cut through the air into the chopper, you feel like you really finished something. There’s a sense of satisfaction there that can’t be equalled just by beating the crap out of a slightly larger monster. You were given an acting part in a cutscene, rather than just asked to sit back and watch the credits roll.

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And I don’t know, but it just feels that in a year full of games that tried to be different but ended up providing more of the same, a game like Mirror’s Edge that brazenly walks out trying to be different, trying to see what gamers will respond to, is really quite important. I’ve had a few months to think over what Mirror’s Edge meant to me, and I still feel the same as I did after first playing it. It’s the quintessential rough gem – a game that stumbles off the beaten path. But for all the overblown, pseudo-nonsense I’ve spouted whilst praising it, Mirror’s Edge does fulfil that other fundamental quality – it’s fun. I had fun playing it. It’s now a mere ten pounds from most games retailers, a price which makes it truly unmissable.

This blog is an attempt to convey, in as strong terms as possible, why that is. Finally – and I do mean finally, as I’ve made so many laboured points over the course of writing The Runner – I just want to say this: the games industry lacks two things currently. The first is a culture of open source material, the sort that allows software in general to flourish and share ideas. Developers are too keen to keep their cards close to their chest, and this prevents innovations really making a difference, because other developers are hesitant to spend time trying to reinvent other people’s technologies.

But that’s another story. The important, second thing that is missing is big developers willing to take financial risks in order to test the water for smaller developers. EA and DICE are big names in the industry, and Mirror’s Edge could well have flopped – indeed, in comparison to some of the releases we’ve seen this year, it did. But it’s been done now, and its performance and its ideas are hugely valuable to developers, be they first-party, third-party or independent. These are the games that mean something, in my opinion, because they aren’t content to make a nest on the mainstream and wait for the money to come in.

Thanks to all those who kept with the blog while it was running. For those who haven’t played Mirror’s Edge yet, perhaps this should be your next port of call.

Happy Running.

14

5 Comments

  1. seanf
    Posted December 22, 2009 at 11:11 am | #

    I only heard of this series today, but I’ve enjoyed reading through the earlier episodes. Thank you for sharing your experiences.

  2. Mike
    Posted January 8, 2010 at 4:51 am | #

    I hope the developers will not listen to people who want an “open world” or a “simpler” combat system. First, I thought the combat system and the difficulty level were just right on; the balance was just right, it made me try again and again in some places, but at the same time permitted to make me feel as a hero.

    Also, I hope the open world won’t be implemented. People want an open world and they say they don’t understand how a game about free running was so linear. But Mirror’s Edge isn’t ‘about’ free running…free running (more correctly, parkour), was the mean of displacement for the main character, but that doesn’t make the game ABOUT parkour. So the linearity of the game felt very right. An open world game would not fit Mirror’s Edge world; it would not fit its purpose, its developers’ purpose. It would just not be Mirror’s Edge anymore. Anyway I hope they don’t put the open world.

    And thanks for your posts, I never knew someone could feel such things about something…I never knew someone could be so sensible about the subtleties, the details, and the feelings and emotions of something. Except for certain video game characters, movie and other fictional characters, I thought I was the only one to be touched by such things. Such things seem to be invisible, non existent to others.

  3. The Runner
    Posted January 8, 2010 at 10:03 am | #

    Thanks a lot for reading! I really appreciate people’s comments and their own feelings about the game. It’s interesting to have someone who’s done a bit of free running comment on the game too, particularly when you talk about the puzzling in the game.

    Glad you enjoyed the blog! I’m hoping to write a retrospective on the whole game to finish the site off in a month’s time or so.

  4. Guy
    Posted January 28, 2010 at 5:41 pm | #

    A superb series.Thank you for writing it, I hugely enjoyed reading it.

  5. Posted April 5, 2010 at 10:34 am | #

    You have no idea what a breath of fresh air it is reading this..I thought no one loved it as much as I did aswell.

    And here I am sitting listening to the Mirror’s edge soundtrack and I stumble across this

    Thankyou!

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  1. [...] a protracted absence, The Runner finishes its lengthy jog. For our more recent readers, The Runner is a first-person account of Mirror’s Edge that [...]

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