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Mirror's Edge: Parkour for the People!
Welcome to the present day in the city. While it is unknown what city this is, especially since the name of the place is never mentioned once, it is quite a large and formidable city. It stretches across multiple peninsulas and is compared to such marvels as Singapore, Vancouver, and Hong Kong.
Due to governmental programs, and a hefty wad of capital, we have been able to eradicate crime, homelessness, obesity, and rampant littering. Just be sure to keep your mouth shut and your head down, and don't ask questions.
The city is constantly in a state of construction, and the buildings stretch high into the heavens, however don't even think about climbing up there as that is how the runners travel. Oh, you haven't heard of the runners? They're a terrorist organization that is determined to undermine the citizens' peaceful and just way of life.
The story so far...
Several years prior to the events of the game there was a law movement known as the "Citizenship Program", which was designed to present easier lives for the citizens at a cost of more government oversight. Those who had what were considered "alternate lifestyles" to what the city recommended found living difficult if they were not simply blocked or silenced outright. It was not uncommon for people who voiced an opinion against the government to simply "disappear".
Those that chose to fight back against the growing establishment had to form underground groups to support their way of life, and risked arrest for their illegal acts of dissent. This all came boiling to a head during the events of what were known as the "November Riots".
In Mirror's Edge the protagonist is Faith Connors, a girl of unspecified Asian descent. Her parents were very involved in groups that actively opposed the government. At a young age she and her sister Kate were brought to the protest rallies with their parents. During one of the rallies that broke out in violence her mother was trampled. Faith ran away from home at the age of 16 to become a petty thief. It was during this time she met a man named Mercury, who trained her to be a "Runner", an illegal courier group that uses free-running to deliver their packages as they go above and below the complex network of the city.
At the start of the game she is 24-years-old and has just gotten back from recovery for a falling injury.
The story unfortunately is a rather minor part of the game, and while it's easy to follow I didn't find myself getting too emotionally involved with the characters. When I saw the murdered corpse of a major character, who could have been a voice of the people, I said to myself "Oh, that's too bad." The story didn't give me enough exposition about the character to give it more than a passing glance. There were however some nice touches scattered around the levels relating to the events that happened before the start of the game including spray-painted logos and graffiti.
So pretty... DEAR GOD MY EYES!
Mirror's Edge uses Epic's Unreal Engine 3 to build the environments with a new lighting solution developed by EA Digital Illusions CE (DICE). With a strangely minimalist color pattern the game feels like you're walking through a modern art gallery with an environment assembled in a way to resemble parts of a real city that is constantly under construction.
Most of the surfaces are white, with accents in vibrant and bold colors. There is no room for pastels in this neo-totalitarian city, instead the non-white surfaces are mainly primary and secondary colors. The chosen color palette may be unrealistic, however it does not disappoint in the visuals as the environment they painted is gorgeous!
There is a slight problem with the use of so many whites and bright colors, besides giving the appearance that you're in a laundry detergent commercial. The onscreen activity is often oppressively bright, and often times the light change can be sudden. Unless you're fond of terrible ocular pain under no circumstances should this game be played in a dark room. Please keep a lamp or two on just so you don't blind yourself when the screen suddenly flashes white, as it does quite a bit.
The sound effects do help to enhance the immersion. Most of the time you'll be hearing Faith's footsteps as she runs and her grunting while she tries to make it over a ledge. There are other environmental sounds, but they are kept to a minimum.
The music is minimalist, only coming to the forefront when Faith is running away from a pack of armed guards. Most areas where Faith has to figure out a parkour puzzle there is little to no music. The sparse music that is there does add to the mood and is pleasing to the ear.
Between the action scenes of the bouncing parkour people in this massive megalopolis we're treated to a series of animated cut-scenes depicting our heroine's journey to unravel the mystery of the interchangeable plot. Instead of using the rather pretty in-game engine to tell the story they instead decided to use cell-shaded animations, taking their already minimalist modern art look and making it even more so. There's nothing really wrong with this, however it looks ugly and cheaply-made by comparison.
I played this game with an XBox 360 controller on a Windows 7 PC, so I don't know how it handles for the Playstation 3, however the control is slick! Button presses are responsive with no noticeable lag, and the joystick controls are tight. Like most recent games ported to the Windows platform the game recognized my XBox 360 controller and automatically configured the in-game tutorial specifically for it.
In each level there is a set path you're supposed to take. Sometimes there are several pathways close by you can take to reach the same spot, however the game does not let you stray too far from the predetermined route. It'll often remind you of this when you fall several stories and hear a disheartening *crunch* as you hit the pavement. Thankfully the game's checkpoints are closely spaced together. There is a button you can press to show you the path you need to go. As the game progresses the button gradually becomes less and less helpful until all it does is show you the distant target to reach and leaves you to your own devices to figure out how to get there.
Several of the levels are designed as climbable puzzles. Often times you'll be tasked to guide Faith across what looks like an impassable chasm or up to an opening at the top of a very tall courtyard. it's quite rewarding to look down and see how you have successfully climbed up a seemingly impossible network of support structures stretching to dizzying heights.
The camera makes use of motion blur and selective focusing to give the impression that you're seeing through Faith's eyes.There is no heads-up display apart from a small dot to help you aim the few times you're firing a gun. While climbing you'll see Faith's hands and forearms move and if you point the camera down you'll see Faith's lower torso and legs, as you would in real life; the game doesn't have the mysterious floating head and hands that are prevalent in many first-person games. The camera will realistically move to see what Faith sees as she moves through the level with blinding speed. This certain gives the player a sense of immersion, however it may also give the player a sense of motion sickness as it replicates everything Faith sees. If Faith rolls after a fall you will see the entire screen rotate.
Since the game is heavily centered around free-running it falls apart when it comes to combat. Most of the time you can dodge or run away from the police or soldiers running after you, and they do that a lot. However, there are times when you're forced to engage in hand-to-hand combat. This mostly consists of pressing a button at exactly the right time to grab their gun and knock them to the floor. This is harder than it sounds. Unless you time it just right you'll miss them entirely and they'll knock you in the face with their gun. Two hits and you're dead There is a feature that will periodically let you slow down time to hit that critical window of opportunity, but it's still a major annoyance.
There's a few enemies in the game where the standard grab-n-bonk isn't going to cut it and you'll have to resort to punches, flying kicks, and sliding kicks. This doesn't work very well with the control scheme involved.
There are also pre-scripted events that require you to press the action button at the right time to avoid another pre-scripted event that involves Faith getting killed. Often times it's difficult to determine when you need to hit the action button in the event. I had one incident involving a thug with a pipe that I had to go through about fifteen times before I got lucky with the buttons.
Frankly I could do without the forced combat as it just seemed to slow the game down.
So what's the verdict?
Let me say that the game is short. Once you know the controls and pathways you're supposed to go you can play through the entire game in an afternoon. This may turn off some players that were hoping for a long lasting parkour-filled experience.
You can pick up a copy of the game pretty much anywhere for under $20, so it'll shouldn't hurt the pocketbook too much.
Despite the minor annoyances in the game and the short single-player campaign I would definitely recommend picking this game up. It offers a refreshing look at the first-person genre, and once you get past the vertigo and blinding bright colors it's really a nice game.