© 2009 The Runner

The Run, Episode Nine

On the commute home today, someone shouted at a woman so loudly she stumbled backwards off the tube just as the doors slammed shut. We spent the next ten minutes in stony silence as the train driver threw us back and forth into each other. And they say the city is stressful.

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Faith has made her way to the docks, where a ship belonging to Burfield is sitting. We’re hoping to find some information about Icarus there; maybe even track down the assassin who killed Ropeburn. The docks are entirely fenced off, however, so we’re going to take a ride inside a truck. Every gamer’s play through Mirror’s Edge will vary in style. This is the level where the game starts to get to me. This is the level where I kill.

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The truck drops me off inside the tanker, with several armed guards nearby. Gone are the light rent-a-cops with pistols asking you to slow down; for the rest of the game, it’s body armour and assault rifles. Mirror’s Edge was criticised for the way its fight-or-flight mechanic descended into tight combat situations towards the end, but it’s as good a tonal shift as any. I’m not delivering a package here and I’m not running away. I’ve come for something specific. And I’m going to get it.

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This is my first kill of the entire run so far. Every time I’ve played Mirror’s Edge, it’s always been this soldier. His friend gets disarmed, and he gets two in the chest. The guns seem oppressively huge, swamping the screen as Faith lumbers along holding them. They slow her to a crawl – cutting out most of her acrobatic abilities and massively reducing her running speed. But there’s a payoff, because they’re frighteningly accurate, and everything in Mirror’s Edge is extremely fragile.

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The guns don’t make the game easy, make no mistake. You’re a sitting duck while armed, and since you’ve only got one clip it’s easy to find yourself drawing out enemies as you might in a regular FPS, only to be thrown back into the world of The Runner after firing thirty rounds. Faith won’t pick up ammo, or reload a weapon from other ones fallen on the floor. Once a gun is finished, she stylishly chucks it to one side and resumes her everlasting sprint. After clearing out the first soldiers, backup arrives. And sprint is exactly what I do.

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The opening of this level is a series of these encounters – beautifully-designed areas with a variety of gaps and walls for Faith to use to her advantage when faced with large numbers of armed enemies. Whether you gun your way through or fight, you’re going to have to use force. If you don’t, this section quickly becomes frustrating, so learning to overcome it either through martial arts or weaponry is crucial, and sets you up for the final few runs to come. It’s these fights that show you how well Mirror’s Edge can do high-speed combat, even if it’s not what it does best. Sliding under closing doors, disarming people with a flying kick – it all adds to this feeling of power and movement, all feels like it’s coming directly from you. Which, by this part of the game, it almost certainly is.

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After passing through this section, and further on through two jumping puzzles which are among the hardest in the game to pull off, you emerge on the deck of the ship. We need to make our way to the other side of the deck, but there’s a sniper waiting to pick us off, so Faith has to pick her route carefully using cover and avoiding the laser trail showing the sniper’s line of sight. This is extremely frustrating at times, as the sniper will use explosive barrels to try and push you out of hiding, and if he lands a shot on you it’ll knock you down to walking pace again.

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By the time I reach the end of this section, I always feel energetic and angry. The sniper is irritating, preventing progress from the very first step outside, and as you move closer to the hiding spot you begin to prepare yourself for taking him out. It’s anger. It’s a desire to kill for once. Instead of the sniper, though, you’re intercepted by something quite different.

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It’s the assassin that we saw running from Ropeburn, who we chased through the New Eden Mall. There’s no way you can be holding a gun right now – the acrobatics put paid to that – so you’re stuck with hand-to-hand. In contrast to the earlier gunplay, this is part-celebration, part-test of your knowledge of blocks, disarms and fighting. The rogue runner is extremely powerful, the setting is beautiful, and you’re probably still pissed off from a half dozen quickloads. It’s a frantic encounter.

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Once you land a disarm on your opponent, they’ll make a break for it, leaving you on your back. The ensuing chase is a fluid one – always making you feel like you’re one step behind (indeed, fall too far back and it is possible to fail) and yet hitting the balance between cinema and challenge. It’s certainly not simple, but it’s easy enough that you’re likely to succeed and feel good about yourself. Being able to run the entire course in one go makes you connect with Faith far more strongly than a thousand hours of exposition would.

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When you finally pin down the fugitive runner, another fight breaks out. Hand-to-hand with guards and police lasts for just a few punches, at which point they’ll either go flying or you’ll be shot dead. This fight stands out in Mirror’s Edge, because it works on an entirely different level. If you don’t disarm, you can’t win. So the punching and kicking become part of a toolkit, rather than a button to hammer. Your opponent has special moves, including a stun and a knockback, and getting caught by these too many times can spell the end of your run.

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It’s this ending fight, rather than the encounters earlier, that show the promise of the combat in Mirror’s Edge. The sequel need not contain any more need or opportunity to duke it out with the police or the special forces. But a few focused, elegant fights with strong characters that match Faith can really add something to the immersion, to the feeling of being The Runner. This fight can last for a few seconds, or it can go on for several minutes. Eventually, though, you have to be better. Once you’re better, you’re allowed to win.

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Apologies for the lack of update last week – life got in the way, as life often does. Hopefully the last two (or three) segments will be on time. Thanks for continuing to read along!

2 Comments

  1. Vanguard
    Posted September 19, 2009 at 6:27 pm | #

    Great series!

  2. Mike
    Posted January 8, 2010 at 4:18 am | #

    You’re absolutely right about the green area combat sequence where Faith gets out the truck and booms in on the unsuspecting guards. It certainly feels like she’s there for something, and she’s gonna get it. She’s not running anymore; she’s getting serious; she’s there for vengence, for truth. She’s overwhelmed by all that’s happened lately, now she’s there to finish her job. I am pretty sure you understand this feeling, as you’re the one who made me realize the importance and the greatness of this specific combat sequence.

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