Mirror’s Edge

Mirror's Edge

Mirror’s Edge was developed by Stockholm-based Digital Illusions Creative Entertainment (DICE) and published by EA Games (EA also owns DICE). It is set in a near-future city governed by an oppressive, totalitarian administration. Many citizens have either rejected the false, controlled perfection of mainstream society or are excluded from it. The the city monitors all electronic forms of communication. However, healthy underground communications network sprouted up, demand fuelled by citizens who want to communicate discreetly. Faith is a Runner, a courier who traverses the city’s skyline and rooftops, physically delivering messages on behalf of clients.

Rooftop Seen from Shinkansen

The premise of the story is that Faith’s sister, Kate, is framed for the murder of a politician and taken into custody. Faith embarks on a mission to bring the real murderer to justice and save her sister. However Faith discovers a plot more complicated than just dangerous political ambition. The story sounds really promising, but I think it’s actually one of the weaker aspects of Mirror’s Edge. It is not particularly innovative nor unpredictable. Having said that, the ending is satisfying and has far-reaching consequences for the city as a whole, though the player must stay through the end credits and make inferences from information given. I really liked the fact that the player has to draw connections and conclusions on their own, rather than being spoon-fed. The ending definitely leaves it open for a sequel, and indeed it was announced last year that the story of Mirror’s Edge was planned as a trilogy.

I respect DICE’s decision not only to feature a strong female protagonist, but also their conscious decision to deviate from the industry standard — typically white, hyper-sexualised women created with the male gaze in mind and marketed as sex objects. Faith has an athletic body — realistic for a woman who’s profession involves a lot of physically demanding activities.

Faith is attractive and while she is sexualised, I did not view the marketing as particularly objectifying, nor did I regard her treatment as sexualised to a ridiculous degree.

I wish more developers thought along these lines, as the people at DICE did for Mirror’s Edge:

We really wanted to get away from the typical portrayal of women in games, that they’re all just kind of tits and ass in a steel bikini. We wanted her to look athletic and fit and strong [enough] that she could do the things that she’s doing. We wanted her to be attractive, but we didn’t want her to be a supermodel. We wanted her to be approachable and far more real.

I suspect that the DICE developers faced some resistance from EA or the marketing department, who probably wanted to market Faith in a way that would sell more boxes — by pandering to the sexist, juvenile mentality of what they see as their target market — straight, white, young, males.

Another noteworthy aspect of Faith is that she is a woman of colour. Not only are positive, non-exotified, non-stereotypical representations of people of colour uncommon in videogames, it is even rarer to find the same in a woman of colour in games at all, much less in the lead role. As an Asian woman, Faith has meant a lot to me personally. I rarely ever see anyone like myself represented in the media, and when I do, she is typically hyper sexualised, and hyper-exotified, like Nariko from Heavenly Sword. I didn’t view the marketing or portrayal of Faith, in terms of her race, to be particularly problematic, and I was definitely looking for it. I fully expected the marketing for Mirror’s Edge to be alienating and aggravating to me as an Asian woman, but I was happy to be proved wrong.

Buildings in Akihabara

I love how urban spaces are depicted in Mirror’s Edge. I absolutely love the art direction and modern design aesthetic. Due to the strength of the art direction, the city is itself is a prominent and vibrant “character” in Mirror’s Edge. Bright, vivid colours stand out starkly against the clean, white rooftops. Indoors, colours are strong, but not overwhelming.  I think the DICE team made very good use of colour to bring the city to life. Many settings, such as office spaces, seem touched by Scandinavian design sensibilities. The exteriors, particularly rooftops and distant buildings may be reminiscent of densely-populated East Asian cities like Tokyo or Hong Kong. You can often see signage written in Japanese (possibly) scattered throughout the environments in the form of warning signs or billboards.  There were many times throughout the game where I just wanted to explore the city, to see what was out there. The DICE team did not model the unnamed city in Mirror’s Edge after any one city, but it’s clear they drew inspiration from different places. Altogether, these  visual design choices create a unique urban world.

Colour also plays an important role in game play. “Runner Vision”, which highlights objects you can interact with in red, gives the player clues as to possible routes and hints on what to do.

DICE tried to capture every aspect of the physicality of parkour, or as much as they could in a videogame. I think the DICE team did a great job of conveying the physical experience of being Faith, whether it is through hearing Faith breathe in exertion as she runs, the chaotic first person view of the world as she tumble to the ground to cushion a fall, or her vision blurring for a moment when she’s hit by gunfire. I’ve read some reports where players became dizzy or motion sick whilst playing Mirror’s Edge, but I had no problems myself.

One of the underpinnings of this game’s design is freedom of movement. It is an absolute joy to run, build up momentum, and execute a successful combination of moves that get you past obstacles.

Faith has to be unencumbered to perform her fantastic feats of agility. Weapons slow her down. Faith has some martial arts training and can handle hand-to-hand combat with one, perhaps two enemies, but any more than that and she’s most likely a goner. This is realistic compared to other games, which feature nigh invincible characters capable of shrugging off dozens of rounds of bullets without dropping. Faith can disarm enemies, steal their weapons, and shoot everyone up. Mirror’s Edge is very deliberately not centred around a character who is an expert at wielding weaponry or fighting off hordes of enemies in melee. Speed and evasion, not brute force are the keys to success in Mirror’s Edge. These were conscious design choices that provide the player with challenges based upon a logical premise. A game based upon freedom of movement and avoiding combat is all well and good, but there are some bits that almost require you to fight, and it’s those parts that prove frustrating.

Stairs in an Osaka Train Station

The game focuses on running and running away from conflicts, but there is a heavy puzzle element in the platforming game play, with the environment acting as the puzzle. You know you have to get somewhere, but you have to figure out how. Many of the environmental puzzles are quite challenging and often frustrating and adding enemies to the mix ratchets up that frustration.

My skills at 3D platformers, from Star Wars: The Force Unleashed to any Lego game, are mediocre. I am even less good at 3D first-person perspective platforming games (like the Metroid Prime series). I am still worse at 3D first-person platforming games that require your character to engage in all sorts of funky acrobatics and the player to perform precise button combinations, like Mirror’s Edge.

The learning curve is steep and the unforgiving controls force the player to have a high degree of precision. These design choices, coupled with difficult physical obstacles and many encounters with heavily-armed enemies, make for an often frustrating game play experience. The free running and parkour elements are incredibly fun, but there are just one too many moments where there are 950 squillion riot cops in heavy armour, wielding machine guns, between you and the the exit and you need to figure out a flashy parkour method to get there because taking the stairs or the elevator or another direct route would be way too easy. There were several parts like this that I was able to get through only after a half dozen or more tries. There were certain obstacles that were really difficult to get past without the worry of enemies shooting at you, yet still caused almost as much stress as having to find a path under fire. The controls require you to precisely execute moves and if you are just a millisecond too early or too late, you plummet to your death. There were more than a few moments where I wanted to throw my controller at the screen or where I swore aloud in frustration and anger.

Escalators in an Osaka Train Station

Why do I like this game so much if it’s so bloody hard? It’s the feeling of satisfaction after I finally get past a difficult area or shave a few seconds off of my time in Time Trial Mode. While that feeling of accomplishment is enjoyable, other games have given me far more satisfaction after meeting their challenges than Mirror’s Edge. The sense of satisfaction I felt when overcoming obstacles was stained by a lot of frustration. The joy of parkour and free running isn’t enough to compensate for much of that in Mirror’s Edge. I think the game should have been a little easier, the control requirements less precise, the moves easier to execute. However, when Mirror’s Edge is fun, it’s really fun.

The game shines in Time Trial Mode. Here, Mirror’s Edge becomes a first person parkour racing game. Apart from some certain sections, where you need to be absolutely perfect with your controls, it’s a lot of fun. It’s pure parkour without the encumbrance of story or enemies. The downloadable Time Trial Map Packs have you running through an abstract environment of brightly coloured blocks, floating above an endless ocean. I played through the free map on the PlayStation Network, and it was great fun. I’ll be getting the full Map Pack at some point in the future.

Mirror’s Edge
gave me a mixed game play experience, but I enjoyed the game as a whole. Mirror’s Edge has some serious flaws, and for many those flaws were deal breakers. They weren’t for me.

  8 comments for “Mirror’s Edge

  1. 1 March 2009 at 19:25

    Nice review! It seems that I had pretty much the same experience with the game as you did.

    It’s unusual for me to bother with time trials in games, as my main focus has always been on stories, but with Mirror’s Edge, I was enthralled. The sense of movement when you can just run without having to evade gun-toting rent-a-cops makes slogging through the story mode seem like a fair trade.

    I also agree that it’s nice to see something different from the normal male wish fulfilment in terms of the main character. Hell, it’s nice to see a character that actually has some sense of physicality, rather than just being a hovering gun.

  2. Jon Lupen
    2 March 2009 at 09:38

    Throwing in a few comments here:

    “…women created with the male gaze in mind…” Well, actually a little but, I mean, Faith actually looks rather good for herself, and is rather attractive. They did, however, play her up any, as she is of a rather trim and athletic build, so she is not really over glamorized or anything, so I see where you where coming from with that. Heck, in just about every game, most of the characters are going to be at least somewhat attractive looks wise.

    “Faith is attractive and while she is sexualised, I did not view the marketing as particularly objectifying, nor did I regard her treatment as sexualised to a ridiculous degree.” There we go, that lines up with what I was getting at above. Valve did a really good job with their creation of Alyx in that she feels more normal and believable. She also shares the same build as Faith, being rather trim and athletic in her own right, as well as being rather good looking. She’s also a woman of color, as she is half African American, and her father, Eli Vance, is African American. The voice actress of Alyx Vance is also part African American, part Japanese/Korean. Random fact there. Alyx seems to share a few aspects with Faith. If you have player Half-Life 2 and it’s two, soon to be three, episodes, I would love to know your take on Alyx.

    “I respect DICE’s decision not only to feature a strong female protagonist, but also their conscious decision to deviate from the industry standard — typically white, hyper-sexualised women created with the male gaze in mind and marketed as sex objects.” Try Alyx from Half-Life 2 + Episode 1 and 2 on for size? She seems to fit the same mold as Faith, except as a support character instead of a role being filled by the player.

    “…the unnamed city in Mirror’s Edge…” It’s actually New Eden, I think. I picked up on that from chains of elevator dialog and advertisements, as well as the fact that you where going to the New Eden mall in one level. I had to piece together bits and pieces to pick up on this though.

    “…choices create a unique urban world.” Except for the part where The Shard felt like it was heavily inspired by The Citadel from Half-Life 2 XD

    “I’ve read some reports where players became dizzy or motion sick whilst playing Mirror’s Edge, but I had no problems myself.” Me either. Although I’ve heard that people that encounter such problems will run into them with most games. I could have heard wrong though, idk. *shrugs*

    “A game based upon freedom of movement and avoiding combat is all well and good, but there are some bits that almost require you to fight, and it’s those parts that prove frustrating.” Idk, I kind of liked some of the combat bits. It was a lot of running around, drawing enemies into favorable spots, separating them, and picking them off one at a time. But then again, I’ve always had a place for stealthy combat. Part of what drew me to Crysis was that it combined a typical shooter with heavy stealth as an option, but not always required. Eh, different strokes for different folks.

    Looks like I conjured up a wall of text there. Anyway, looks like you made some pretty good points there, and hit almost everything on the head. Some of your opinions where just drawn from someone of different tastes, experience and skill is all. I was pretty happy with Mirror’s Edge as well in the end. Sorry I’m not logged in at the moment, having a little trouble with that. :P

  3. 2 March 2009 at 17:19

    If you have player Half-Life 2 and it’s two, soon to be three, episodes, I would love to know your take on Alyx.

    I haven’t played Half-Life 2, so I don’t have a comment on how Valve portrays Alyx.

    It’s actually New Eden, I think. I picked up on that from chains of elevator dialog and advertisements, as well as the fact that you where going to the New Eden mall in one level.

    I thought New Eden was just one district in the city? I got the impression that the shiny and controlled part of the city was once place, and from reading the comic book there are more rundown areas, which are also a part of the city. I’ll have to take a closer look at the interviews and articles in my Mirror’s Edge strategy guide to see if they mention it. As far as I remember from interviews, though, they didn’t give the city a name.

    Idk, I kind of liked some of the combat bits.

    I didn’t dislike combat. I just thought that they could have been more judicious about its use in the game. They should have made the combat encounter learning curve much more moderate. The first few encounters were relatively easy; you had the option to avoid. Very quickly in, though, you often have to get past half a dozen enemies and you have no options to evade and sometimes you’re in cramped quarters so separating them and picking them off one-by-one is a more frustrating experience than it really should be.

    I have to say, though, IMO the combat as a whole in Mirror’s Edge is anything but stealthy.

    In reply to Jon Lupen

  4. Jon Lupen
    2 March 2009 at 17:53

    *if you have played* Looks like I made a typo there :P

    “I haven’t played Half-Life 2, so I don’t have a comment on how Valve portrays Alyx.” That’s too bad. Half-Life 2 is sort of FPS meets scattered physics puzzles. If you like shooters, it’s a good find. Half-Life 2 its self is quite long, but the episodes are a shorter length, as they are finishable in one long sitting or two or three. Perhaps you could give it a shot some time.

    “I thought New Eden was just one district in the city?” I could have been wrong. I’m running off my own conclusions there, which could very well be right or wrong. Let me know when and if you pin down for sure the name of the city.

    About the combat: The combat on it’s own is pretty fluid, and rather well done for the most part. Some of it’s applications in the game are a different story though. The only thing I can think of that really is stealthy, was sneaking up behind a guy or two. Perhaps “stealthy” was poor word choice on my part in describing Mirror’s Edge combat :P I was often spending many parts running around, pulling people apart and such, but I do remember a small number of spots where that really isn’t an option however.

    “I didn’t dislike combat.” I’m sure you liked them for the most part, I just have a bit more positive of a disposition towards it than many people I know who have played Mirror’s Edge. Most neither like nor dislike the combat for the most part. I tend to often avoid guns though. Yeah, despite my much more favorable out-look on the combat end, they still stand to improve some of it.

    Over all, the ground they made with Mirror’s Edge in pushing forth a rather radical and different game type over-comes the few downfalls. For being the first of its kind, for the most part, it was quite successful. Here’s hoping they work out the kinks with the next two games, provided they stick with their plan and finish the trilogy.

  5. 6 March 2009 at 06:19

    Very good review, though i havn’t finished the game yet i would agree both on highs and lows. Though i think that “frustrating” elements should be toned down just like they did in new Prince of Persia- where frustrating trail and error parts are solved by Elika saving the prince almost everytime. Ok i am not best at platform games but dozens of deaths in every chapter in ME is a bit too much. I would love to see this solved like in PoP, especially since Faith is more then capable in parkour, so having her falling in abbys left and right ( by my mistake , though sometimes missing jump by few pixels..) doesn’t make too much sense.

  6. Wandering Sage (GW)
    24 November 2009 at 18:39

    I’ve been wanting to get this game for quite some time, but my 360 is broken. so I’m probably going to buy a ps3 and get this.

  7. vikki
    4 February 2010 at 14:45

    I loved this game, yes it’s hard but it’s a feeling of liberation once you are hurtling across rooftops in this beautiful cityscape. I can’t wait for the sequel.

  8. 9 February 2010 at 22:48

    @vikki: Same here. Really looking forward to that, though I hope they address the design issues I mentioned.

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