© 2009 The Runner

The Run, Episode Two

I’ve graduated from training now. More like a warm-up, rather than an instruction, I’m limbered up and ready to run. I come home from another day doing what I hate; I eat, turn the lights off, and put on my running shoes.

2-1

Let’s talk about narrative. Mirror’s Edge doesn’t need one, but it’s there all the same. My name is Faith, I’m a woman living in a city of the future, where people are kept under careful watch by an oppressive government. A subculture forms, one specialising in the transfer of information. It needs people, people who are fast and willing to being risky. They run along rooftops and crawl through ventilation ducts, ferrying parcels to and fro. It’s a romantic idea. It’s also entirely secondary to everything I am about to play through.

Rooftops are where you’re free in Mirror’s Edge. There’s an expanse of skyline in all directions, and though your path is almost entirely linear, you still feel this glorious sense of air and escape. When you leap, there’s a real rush. You’re really moving.

2-2

I’m delivering a package to Celeste, who will take it further on to its destination. It doesn’t matter what’s in the package, or who sent it, or where it’s going to. The game doesn’t care, and neither do I. All I care is about the pipes, the sliding, the next jump. My boss Merc, a man blessed with a good voice actor but a poor name, chatters to me about hurrying up, watching my back and so on. But there’s no-one about to see. No NPCs with their own routines and alliances, no submissions or faction standings. Just pipes and doors. And then gunmen.

2-3

The first time you meet an armed guard in Mirror’s Edge, you have to run. This is symbolic of my relationship with most of them for the entire game – if you can avoid combat, do. ┬áThis is partly beacuse of my abysmal understanding of the combat training given in the previous level; it’s too concentrated on timing and finesse, which breaks the flow of the run. But it’s mostly because, before playing Mirror’s Edge, all I heard about it was that it would be great, except for the combat. The combat is bad. The combat is broken. The combat is imbalanced.

They were all wrong, but that’s not a story for now. For now we’re running. Out of the air duct, up the staircases, through the doors, and…

2-4

Heart-in-throat moments have to be paced carefully in games. Most can’t even manage to create one, but occasionally you get a game that comes along and seems to be able to create them effortlessly. The problem is that if you pile them on top of each other, it becomes overwhelming. You suffocate under the drama of it all, something that made Call of Duty 4 hard to play after a while. It was just so exhausting.

Mirror’s Edge balances itself. After the slower-paced internal section, winding through corridors and up stairwells, I burst out into the light. There are gunshots behind me, and this feeling of pressure, tension, the need to make a quick decision. All this while I’m still taking in the incredible urban vista that’s just exploded through the doorway at me. As you look around, you’ll eventually see your next move, and you’ll make it. A leap, a slide, a grab. Whatever it is, you always seem to make the decision a second or two before you justify it to yourself. That’s how you know Mirror’s Edge is doing a good job. You’re acting on instinct.

And when instinct fails, Runner Vision catches you.

2-5

Spot the way forward. Runner Vision highlights the default path through a level in red. It’s not always the best – experienced runners will know when to deviate – but it’s often the easiest to reach. Runner Vision saves you when you’re in danger and need a way out. We’re near the end now. Runner Vision will get me there.

2-6

A scripted sequence kicks in, and I take a breather. Mirror’s Edge isn’t physically exerting, clearly – I’m still glued firmly to my chair – but when you get some downtime, you feel your muscles relax. You’re tensing yourself, as if at any second you might have to sprint from the room and down the road. Every jump and slide that Faith makes is mimicked in my own body with a slight push of my feet against the carpet.

Take a breather.

It doesn’t take long before my pursuers turn up. They’re firing on me, and one of their choppers has found me.

2-7

Learning through failure is a common theme in videogames. But being taught to get things right the first time is the sign of a well-designed piece of entertainment.

2-8

Mirror’s Edge encourages you to act on instinct. To see the way forward and take a chance on it being the right one. It gives you the opportunity to do something crazy, and you learn to spot these opportunities as the game goes on. Leap off a building onto a helicopter?

2-9

Why the hell not.

8 Comments

  1. Posted July 26, 2009 at 2:18 pm | #

    This is really excellent. Reminds me about why I really enjoyed playing Mirror’s Edge when it came out. Shame that it was really just poorly received and understood.

    Might play this again actually :-) .

    Keep on with the posts.

  2. Atlantic
    Posted July 26, 2009 at 2:48 pm | #

    I’m glad someone else shares my passion for Mirror’s Edge. It has problems, but the world is so beautiful, the gameplay so crisp and clear (apart from the combat), it’s just lovely.

    Woo!

  3. The Runner
    Posted July 26, 2009 at 4:05 pm | #

    Thanks very much. I’m currently on holiday, so i can’t say much, but i’ll be posting every friday until i’ve finished my run. It’s a great game, and it needs more exposure! Thanks for stopping by, everyone.

  4. Bjorn Bednarek
    Posted July 26, 2009 at 7:54 pm | #

    Great writing, a fantastic understanding of the game design the designers were going for and a love for an under-appreciated game. Keep it up!

  5. Switchbreak
    Posted July 27, 2009 at 1:14 pm | #

    I love this. Mirror’s Edge was probably my favorite game of last year, though I may be in the minority on that.

  6. Adventurous Putty
    Posted July 27, 2009 at 3:09 pm | #

    Excellent stuff. Good show.

    Hopefully this blog will get more coverage now that it’s been on RPS. I absolutely loved Mirror’s Edge when it first came out, sans the story — which, as you adroitly noted, hardly matters at all. The key to the game is the THING of running, the FEELING. Wonderful blog.

  7. Garnet
    Posted July 29, 2009 at 1:56 pm | #

    I am very proud of you my darling. What can I say? You are amazing!

  8. Mike
    Posted January 8, 2010 at 3:04 am | #

    Mirror’s Edge is the reason why I entered university in architecture and why I started doing parkour last summer.

    “you always seem to make the decision a second or two before you justify it to yourself. ”
    –> This was the heart-pumping drama of Mirror’s Edge that I enjoyed so much.

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