Mirror’s Edge review

Its showroom lustre is undeniable, and from day one it has seemed a great fit for Swedish studio DICE – the kind of laser-sculpted marvel that years of Battlefield have kept locked in the warehouse. But, alas, the package is far from ideal.

Those expecting a style-focused, seductively open parkour game like Rebellion’s Free Running are in for the biggest shock: this is more about basic environmental puzzling and rehearsing linear routes. Inspired by movies like The Matrix and District 13, it ups the ante by setting the dogs on you – in this case black helicopters, men with guns and ninjas in hockey masks.

To help you on your way, it daubs most of your escape routes in striking red, the idea being to take pipes, walls, jumps and ledges in your stride. Attackers, or ‘Blues’ in the game’s lingo, can be overcome with punches, kicks and button-press disarms – but engagement is discouraged. Still a great premise, perhaps, elevated by a viewpoint reminiscent of Breakdown, Namco’s trapped-in-firstperson beat/shoot/drive/vomit ’em up for Xbox.

Heroine Faith, furthermore, is a striking lead – as outwardly hip as the courier bags she collects for Achievements or Trophies. But the game makes a fool of her. Is it a Portal-style puzzler or a breathless steeplechase; an Orwellian parable or freeform Olympics? Unable to decide until it’s left the springboard, it tries to be all of them but manages none.

Faith’s movement system is fundamentally sound, the pitter-patter of her plimsolled feet rising as you pick up speed, well-timed button presses ensuring smooth passage over and under hurdles. Does it mitigate the innate clumsiness of firstperson platforming, though? Sadly not, as evidenced by the countless times you bang haplessly off the target of a lunge. Despite the hard sell of there being some grand technique to it all, the later level design isn’t nearly tight enough to convince. The time trials stress the importance of finding alternate routes, but once discovered they are as linear and inflexible as before. There’s no getting around it: the design foundation isn’t strong enough for this to be much more than a brochure for DICE’s tech team and environment artists.

Its story is so ethereal you barely know it’s there, and when you do you wish it wasn’t. Its puzzles scarcely evolve beyond the obvious, its combos beyond sequences its levels can’t sustain. Attempts to infuse the recurring, utilitarian environments with something – anything – dynamic produce disastrously signposted boss battles, bumbling arcade sequences and the gross indulgence of Faith’s lesser-known talent: turning valves. Run, grab it, run

But the real tragedy of the game, with its dedicated time-trial modes and leaderboards, is its failure to capture anything of what popularised parkour to begin with. There’s no freedom or empowerment in constantly failing to make a predefined jump hemmed in with dead ends. Nor is there sustained momentum, nor any real sense of verticality beyond what passes beneath your feet.

The game’s Unreal Engine 3 implementation is incredible, able to render everything from the rooftops to the street – but it ferries you between them in elevators. The flight-not-fight ethic of its combat, meanwhile, hides an inconvenient truth: it’s more enjoyable when taken at your own pace.

Aptly enough, there are two opposite ways to view Mirror’s Edge, ours obviously being the less forgiving one. Its ostensible break from the norm, its sparkling monoliths and its Nordic skies perform some kind of counterbalance, but there is simply not enough depth or reward to the realisation of parkour that lies beyond that sheen.

5
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