© 2009 The Runner

The Run, Episode Four

When I get home in the evenings, I’m sick and tired of everything and everyone. The bag gets thrown down, the suit and tie come off, and I relish the taste of non-conditioned air. This is what free time is for, this is what the Run is aimed at. Relaxation. Release. Rest.

4-1

I’m looking to find a man named Jack-knife. He used to be a Runner, but he got a better offer so now he spends his time leaping around rooftops for someone else. He should be able to help me find out a little about what happened to Pope, the dead politician. If you’ve decided to play this game, this will be the first level you swear at.

To get to Jack-knife I’m going to take to the canals. The waterways, which run underneath the city through a vast system of pipes and tunnels, can be entered by running down a long channel. As I leap down into it, a helicopter veers over, and a guard opens fire on me.

4-3

This is not the playful helicopter I ran with a few episodes back. This one is happy to shoot you if you don’t get moving, and so I immediately start pounding concrete to get to the other end. Ultimately, though, it’s still a long, narrow corridor with only one exit and little cover. I get shot. I fall over. I try again.

4-4

Mirror’s Edge tries to be your friend, and the best friend it can be at that. And it is a good friend – it doesn’t let you get lost, it doesn’t overwhelm you with backstory, it doesn’t overburden you with a clunky control system. It will, however, get you killed a lot.

The trick, for those playing along at home, is to take breaks during your run to hide behind pillars and alcoves. They’re few and far between, but it’s just about possible if you’re quick. I only know this because a friend of mine has started running Mirror’s Edge too, and when I told him about how I find this section of the game, he explained his technique.

So is this a case of poor design, or does the problem exist on the other side of the monitor? It’s both. But we’ll come to that later. We’ve still got to find this guy.

4-5

The gutter-like canal leads us to some maintenance access ducts, which in turn lead us to a resevoir-like structure. As Faith carefully makes her way down to the bottom, Mirror’s Edge presents a series of walljumps of increasing difficulty and complexity. But it’s only a small step each time, enabling even first-time players to breeze through without much thought. This is where the game shines. You’re learning how it works, and you barely even have to think about it. It just happens. It flows along with your natural progression through the level. It feels great.

4-8

Passing through the underground systems and climbing out of an identical reservoir into the daylight again, I’m presented with something a bit different to what I saw coming down. Five shotgun-toting policemen. Worse still, my exit is blocked off by barbed-wire fencing, meaning I’ll need extra height to make it over the barrier – I can’t just run and vault over. I have to do that thing that I’m not supposed to do on a Run. I have to stop.

Mirror’s Edge is such a special product in what it aspires to be. It’s astoundingly unique, it tries so hard to do away with the things that many games include out of nothing more than a sense of duty. Guns have no ammo – once the clip’s been fired, you have to throw it away. There’s no on-screen HUD; not for health, not for waypoints, not for anything. But every now and again, something slips in. Something that they felt the game needed, to make sure players still felt at home. Stopping is one of them.

4-10

Because there aren’t many games solely focused on movement. But Mirror’s Edge is so close to one, that when you’re forced to stand still and consider your surroundings it’s like coming down off an adrenaline high. You don’t merely come back down to where you were before, you actually crash a bit lower. The frustration that kicks in is almost immediate. Why do I have to stop? I’m running.

It’s why hiding from the helicopter, as well as trying to ambush the policemen I now find myself faced with, is intrinsically less fun than, navigating the aqueduct. Because although the dangers of death were the same, the solutions to the former involve stopping and waiting, while the solution to aqueduct jumps involves running and moving. Running and moving is what Mirror’s Edge is all about. Remember when I said the game’s major resource was Momentum? Asking you to stop is the equivalent of cleaning you out.

4-11

I bluff my way through, knocking a few guards out and then vaulting three trucks to get over the fence. I get some buckshot in my back on the way out, but it’s worth it. I’ve found Jack-knife.

4-12

This is your reward for everything that’s gone before. A reminder for why you played this far, why you were playing the game in the first place. Jack-knife runs off, and it’s up to you to chase him. Fall behind, and it’s game over – but as I said before, the punishment here is bearable, because the solution is just to be faster. Be better. The answers lie in the Running, not in the waiting. And so you’ll try, and try, and try again until you know every hop, skip and leap necessary to nail the bastard down.

And you’ll feel satisfied. Not cheated, not challenged, not even triumphant. You don’t feel any animosity towards the game, any more than you’d feel animosity towards your gym equipment. It just asked you to be faster. And you did.

4-13

Frustration in games is a funny thing. You’d think it was all down to the design of the game, and not doing stupid things that feel unfair. But really, it’s about staying true to the philosophy of the game. Frustrating games aren’t badly put together, they just aren’t telling the player what’s expected of them clearly enough. Mirror’s Edge tells you to run. Yes, it’ll let you down sometimes. But you’ll forgive it, each and every time it lets you off your leash and lets you breathe.

4-14

6 Comments

  1. Atlantic
    Posted August 7, 2009 at 10:38 am | #

    Yay! Good stuff! Combat is no good in Mirror’s Edge! Yay!

    Run,
    Atlantic

  2. Posted August 7, 2009 at 2:43 pm | #

    The combat’s a funny beast, actually. Sometimes I really like it; there are a few quite nice pieces in the final level where shooting adds something really special to the running.

    But in general, yes. It’s a bit awkward. I kind of wish they’d found a better way to do it, really, because the feeling of being acrobatic and such is really nice. Perhaps if the combat was simpler, a sort of one-hit disarmament of guards as you ran along, it might set in with the flow more.

  3. Mike
    Posted January 8, 2010 at 3:14 am | #

    You seem to be a lonely person; or a person who feels lonely. If that’s the case, I understand you, and I understand why Mirror’s Edge left such a mark on you. It left the same on me I think.

  4. Mike
    Posted January 8, 2010 at 3:21 am | #

    Stopping wasn’t bad to my taste. Sometimes I even stopped on purpose just to admire everything and even the small corners and the back streets and small and quiet tunnels behind the buildings

  5. The Runner
    Posted January 8, 2010 at 10:01 am | #

    It’s true, I enjoyed the feeling of isolation that the game brings. I think you’ve got me pegged!

  6. pacific
    Posted June 9, 2010 at 6:06 pm | #

    I am glad I’m not the only one who was moved to poetry by this game, I am a pretty diverse gamer, and usually I don’t like first person games, but this one hit a nerve. Some of the levels were almost like flying, and when I really got going I was visualizing how much fun it would be to actually be able to do some of the things faith can. Keep up the good work!

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