Everyone's got that game they used to love but nobody else seems to remember it. This site it dedicated to those games. Check in each week for a fresh look at another hidden gem and weigh in on whether it should be remembered as a classic or not.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Mirror's Edge

Year: 2008
Developer: DICE
Publisher: EA
Platforms: PS3, 360, PC
Metacritic score: 80 (cross-platform average)
VGChartz sales to date: 2.2 million 

Hey, you got first-person shooter in my platformer!  No, you got platformer in my first-person shooter!  Wait a sec...this tastes great!  That is the internal monologue that must have played out in many gamer's minds when they first sat down to play Mirror's Edge.  Developed by Swedish team DICE, whose Battlefield series proves they know how to cram much more then just simple gunplay into an FPS, Mirror's Edge was an attempt to reinvent the platforming genre.  Mario 64 had demonstrated that platformers could be just at home in a 3D world as the 2D realms they had been born in, but it still stuck to a traditional 3rd person perspective.  DICE figured the time was right to bring gamers into the protagonist's head by building a game around an offshoot of parkour known as freerunning.  Combined with a bold artistic style, a strong female playable character and it's emphasis on speed and agility over firepower Mirror's Edge immediately stood out from the crowd.

Faith's routes run both on top of and inside the city's many skyscrapers, but the cold steel and blue color palette gives the city a very uniform and sterile feeling.
You play as Faith, a courier for an underground resistance movement who oppose the strict order and fascism that keeps the gleaming city of glass and metal so shiny and clean. Since every form of transportation and communication is tightly controlled, the only way to pass important messages or supplies is by hand-delivering them across a natural obstacle course that runs under, through and on top of the city's skyscrapers.  Faith seems comfortable living at the margins, but all of that will be upset as the totalitarian government becomes increasingly determined to completely eliminate everything they regard as criminal behavior.  That most certainly includes Faith, her friends and her family and you can bet the government has no qualms in pressing their advantage in numbers and firepower to the fullest.  They'll send waves of armored soldiers packing assault rifles, attack helicopters and their own highly trained counter-runner agents at you, and all Faith has to respond with is her own physical skills and abilities honed from a life of freerunning.  

Don't look down...don't look down...don't...aw crap, I pooped myself again
That's right, your best defense against the most serious hardware a totalitarian dystopia is you own hands and feet.  In an interesting twist on typical first-person gameplay, guns actually play a very minimal role.  You're welcome to pick up guns from fallen foes, but doing so will break your momentum and slow you down.  You'll have to carefully weigh whether the long-range lethality is worth losing speed, but in Mirror's Edge the name of the game is fluidity.  When you take off running you will gradually build up to your maximum momentum which allows you to leap farther and hit harder, but that edge disappears the moment you slow down.  To keep your speed up, you'll need to actively look ahead and scout the best path through a set of obstacles while carefully timing your acrobatics to preserve speed.  Carrying a gun with you will make that job harder, while larger guns will prevent many of your moves entirely.  Fortunately Faith is adept as moving like water both while running and fighting, an activity made more immersive by being able to actually see your own limbs.  Being able to look down and see your feet might seem like a small detail, but it helps immensely in being able to nail the timing for difficult jumps or tricks.  And being able to watch from 1st person perspective as you disarm and beat down an opponent, seeing the flowing motion of your arms and legs working in perfect synchronicity, and then continuing to haul ass down the side of a skyscraper at top speed is a feeling few other games can match.

Most guys would kill to have Faith's legs wrapped around them, but I don't think this is what they have in mind

Finding the path that allows for the best running line could have been challenging in such a clean, polished cityscape.  Fortunately DICE made the smart move to integrate the game's artistic design with the practical need for pathfinding.  The color red plays an important role in this design, highlighting different parts of the environment in a way that draws your attention to natural routes through the urban obstacle course.  Extending the concept further, the color red is used as a highlight to story elements, characters and other aspects of the game the developers want you to notice.  Because you are constantly looking for the next direction to run in, this element has the effect of making certain things really pop out at you and enhances the overall artistic design.  And there are plenty of eye-popping moments to be found, from Faith's wall-running, back-flipping traversals while under heavy fire to some truly acrobatic moments at about 100 stories up.  Seeing all this from Faith's own eyes is unnerving at first, but once you become comfortable you realize it's a whole new way to view platforming.

Motion blur not only adds realism, it also makes the chase sequences seem that much more frantic
Some mashups, like peanut butter and jelly, are instantly recognized as a hit while others, such as pineapple and pepperoni pizza (trust me), are slower to catch on.  MIrror's Edge made bold choices when it came to just about every gameplay and design decision, so naturally it was bound to polarize audiences.  Most critics were highly positive, citing the groundbreaking 1st-person take on platforming and the visual style as strong redeeming qualities.  Game Informer called it "genre-defining" and compared it's intense first-person action to Call of Duty 4.  Coincidentally, Mirror's Edge would release on the same day as another CoD game.

The cutscenes were animated instead of being rendered in the Unreal Engine 3 the game was built on, a decision that some enjoyed while others found it distracting
Call of Duty: World at War returned the series to it's WWII roots and was the first to feature the popular Nazi Zombies mini-mode, selling nearly 2 million copies in it's first month of sales.  EA was hoping to put a dent in Activision's CoD juggernaut by siphoning sales with it's highly unique and anticipated Mirror's Edge, but this strategy tends to benefit Goliath over David.  No doubt many CoD fans would have been willing to give Mirror's Edge a try, but when faced with where to lay down their $60 most will bet on the known quantity.  Some negative reviews also sent a mixed message about the game, such as the 5/10 from Edge magazine whose main complaint was not having a more open-world design.  The game was by no means a flop, but it's sales fell well short of the projected goal of 3 million copies

If things go according to plan, the we can most certainly expect to see the series return.  Without giving anything away, I can say that Faith's future seems set on a path toward greater danger.  An EA senior VP confirmed the game in 2009, only for a rumor that development had stopped over concerns about the early builds to spread in 2011.  However, as of 2012 there have been more rumblings from both current and former DICE developers that the game is in the works.  DICE has certainly been busy with Battlefield 3 with End Game, the final DLC, ready for release and recent confirmation that BF4 is already in the works, so there might not be time to switch the focus back onto Mirror's Edge.  After all, DICE's on executive produce has said the series is "too good to kill", so hopefully we'll get more word on we break out the split-toe running shoes and hit the pavement.

If you really can't wait that long and you've already mastered the incredibly challenging time trial modes, you can always check out the 2D side scrolling version for iOS.  It does a decent job of mimicking the look of the game but feels distinctly more like Sonic then Mirror's Edge.  Also, putting ads in a game that costs $10 for the iPad version is just low class.  But at least it demonstrates that EA believes there's money to be made off this series, now let's all hope they do it right with a fully-fledged sequel.  Maybe with a sweet online mode that goes beyond chasing time trial ghosts.  However they decide to build upon the first game, it will be great to be reminded once again just how far platforming has come from it's humble origins.  

It's your city.  Run it.
Have you played this game?  Is there a game you remember being great but no one else has heard of it?  Sound off in the comments below, and be sure to Like us on Facebook or Follow us on Twitter!

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