A recent GameSetWatch post, “Design Diversions: The Video Game as a Picture Book”, by Andrew Vanden Bossche discussed how Mirror’s Edge could have been a stronger game overall, art even, had it not been for the tacked-on plot:
There is more emotion in a half second of Mirror’s Edge gameplay than in its entire script. While it’s disappointing that the dialogue couldn’t live up to the standards of the art direction and gameplay, this is DICE’s success, not their failure. Faith’s movements are highly detailed, from the impact of landing to blur of acceleration, and it is these little details that bring the exhilaration, panic, tension, and joy of flying from rooftop to rooftop to life. This wordless story was the real Mirror’s Edge.
I noted in my review of Mirror’s Edge that the environment, the city, was a prominent ‘character’ in the game, and I think the urban landscape and environmental details contribute to a story told through game play. Mirror’s Edge, when I wasn’t screaming at its frustratingly difficult game play, delivered a particularly immersive experience. All the details of that game world, conveyed in Faith’s breathing, the sensation of running and jumping, the background chatter on the radio, posters displayed on the walls—provided a more compelling and emotive experience than the narrative itself.
This paragraph gave me pause for thought:
Faith herself was supposed to be a bold step forward for heroines; tasteful, independent, and not overly sexualized. While she is these things, she is ultimately just built out of less offensive stereotypes rather than the depth of real person. Her somewhat irrationally violent personality is, disappointingly, all too common in videogame heroines. Again, Mirror’s Edge seems to step forward only with its visuals: Faith’s character design is far more revolutionary than her personality.
Faith is indeed “tasteful, independent, and not overly sexualized”, but is Faith “built out of less offensive stereotypes”? I’d argue that the charactacterisation of Faith having an “irrationally violent personality” as an example of a common trait amongst videogame heroines isn’t entirely inaccurate. I feel that the majority of videogame protagonists, male or female, seem to have “irrationally violent” personalities. To specifically call out videogame heroines and citing Faith as an example of this obscures this key point.
The article goes on to critique Faith as a character, stating that she lacks iconic status and is not memorable, which I completely agree with. Faith is not a very deep character. Whilst she has a driving motivation in the game, unfortunately it falls into tired story modes: her sister is in danger, and Faith must go save her. Whilst Mirror’s Edge is quite unusual in that we have a woman saving another woman, bypassing the disturbingly common videogame trope of a man saving a woman, it is still something we’ve all played before.
Getting back to the main point, while Mirror’s Edge disappointed on the writing and the character side, the incredible game play (apart from the unforgiving design and crushing difficulty) and art direction are unique in games.