© 2009 The Runner

The Run, Episode Eight

Door closed, suit off, window open, curtains shut. Mirror’s Edge. The game has its faults, but they’re far enough between to make them negligible.

1

For all the praise and worship I give Mirror’s Edge, it is just a game at its base. This episode is a good reminder of how that affects the game, both positively and negatively. We’re finally going to get a good look at what Pirandello Kruger, the private security firm with ties to Ropeburn, are up to. On our way, we’ll meet two of the game’s key facets – combat, and platforming.

2

The infiltration of Pirandello Kruger has several sections, moving more and more towards the centre of their operation and shutting down Faith’s freedom of movement. Mirror’s Edge is classified as a “first-person action adventure” which puts it in a pretty rare club, as well as being a choice that drew a lot of criticism from some gamers who found the proximity to the action to be confusing. Nevertheless, DICE persevered in the name of immersion, hoping that seeing the world of running and leaping through the eyes of Faith would provide more of a visceral experience. They were right, I think.

Pirandello Kruger’s borders are patrolled by a host of soldiers. For a runner like Faith, finding the fastest route through the complex is key. When we talked about momentum and stopping, I said the combat was a problem for Mirror’s Edge because it disrupts the flow of the game, the flow of running. It’s a problem that runs throughout the game – I can spend time taking out a sniper and using their rifle, but it’s time I shouldn’t really have. Instead, I dispatch the sniper and make a leap for it.

3

“Tacked-on” is a favourite reviewer word; god knows I’ve used it. The combat isn’t quite tacked-on in Mirror’s Edge, but it does feel unwelcome. It’s a temptation that sits in on the action, for the sake of tradition. Guards drop their weapons, and you can pick them up. The game does its best to limit this with some beautifully apt mechanics – Faith doesn’t carry ammo, so when the clip’s empty you’ll just ditch the gun. Similarly, Faith is much slower when carrying anything heavier than a pistol, and some acrobatics become impossible. So there’s a penalty. But nevertheless, you’re still left with the choice of guns blazing, in a game that’s all about being weak.

4

Once we’re inside, there’s more guards to contend with. This level is a good example of the full spectrum of combat in Mirror’s Edge. Here’s, Faith is shut into a series of walkways – the emphasis is pushed even further towards evasion over confrontation, because the long approaches mean that charging a soldier down is met with a sharp put-down. I manage to disable one of the patrols before dashing through the offices into the storage.

5

When I’m leaping between buildings, shimmying up drainpipes and tumbling down the slopes rooves of skyscrapers, it’s hard to think of the word ‘platformer’. ‘Action adventure’ is obviously just a grown-up euphemism for it, but even that doesn’t sit right. The rooftop freerunning vibe seems completely at odds to what the word platformer conjures up in my mind. But when we’re inside, Mirror’s Edge has a tendency to lose it. And suddenly, the label seems more appropriate.

6

There’s still a certain elegance to parts of it – the next episode in particular features a few beautiful platforming challenges. But rooms like the warehouse come off as very simple platforming sections. Crates and shelves – solve. They’re a rarity, but they stand out against the very natural pace and flow of the open air levels. This continues into the next section, where I’m tasked with descending a deep shaft in several small stages.

This is slightly more taxing, but every fall and broken bone and quickload and repeat of it all begins to grind down. This is Mirror’s Edge at its worst, it’s the Mirror’s Edge that a lot of people remember. Because if you can’t do a section, unlike many other games, things do tend to slip into a cycle. It’s a symptom of being a skill-based game – creativity can’t help you solve this tricky jump.

7

This episode is where the combat and the platforming show through the strongest. It doesn’t leave a great taste in the mouth.

8

After making it to the bottom, we’re into the main complex. It’s bright, beautiful, clean and there’s a bit more space. It’s all back into the usual Mirror’s Edge feel. We’re here to find out the truth behind Project Icarus.

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Project Icarus, it turns out, is designed to shut down the runner network for good, by training and turning a series of runners loyal to Pirandello to hunt down people like Faith. Her discovery of this is broken up by something else – two Icarus runners themselves.

12

This is more familiar. It’s time to run.

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It’s an abstract collection of blocks, walkways and leaps. Just basic platforming, a lazy reveal of what’s humming underneath the crisp white veneer. Not that we notice, because the Icarus runners are frighteningly fast. But once we break out of the Pirandello building, we’re in more familiar territory. We’re back in our comfort zone.

16

There are valid criticisms to be made of Mirror’s Edge, but it’s important to realise them in context. It fails at the things that, broadly, it doesn’t need – the fiddly puzzle-based jumping, the need to engage soldiers in combat. It fails at them because of a hesitance to leave them behind – once we hit the rooftops, it’s a rush of fresh air and we’re in the open again. Pathways and obstacles and running and movement.

17

It’s not an excuse, but it helps to realise what Mirror’s Edge is evolving from, in order to appreciate what it is.

18

3 Comments

  1. Atlantic
    Posted September 4, 2009 at 4:30 pm | #

    I agree that the game-ness does poke through once you go indoors. The maddening frustration that people remember is definitely inside, though there are a couple of sections outside that do it as well. I suppose it has to do with the level design.

    When an area is design for the player to be able to move through it using their instincts it all comes together. Puzzle platforming in first person is rubbish, and WE ALREADY KNEW THAT.

  2. Posted September 5, 2009 at 3:36 pm | #

    Hey Atlantic.

    I’d agree, a lot of the really bad moments that people hate the game for are internal, definitely. Because the game’s best when you’re free, out in the open! I’m hoping Mirror’s Edge 2 will learn from it.

    A lot of the internal sections in the early game are well-placed, because they’re slower and used to pace the game out. But the late game stuff is duller, alas.

    Thanks for reading!

  3. Mike
    Posted January 8, 2010 at 4:07 am | #

    Didn’t you like the part where you had to find your way up inside that yellow building? It was just puzzle, for me it was magic with the feeling brought by the music playing and I had to think…for me, the thinking part of the game was intricate and beautiful as well.

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