Mirror’s Edge is that game, but it’s presented from a 3D, First-Person viewpoint, and if you have any interest in games that have a steep learning curve and require concentration and dedication to get the most out of them, you may already be playing it. If not, you should give it a go.
Unlike normal FPS games, the enemy to be conquered in Mirror’s Edge is the environment, and the yardstick is not frag-count, but time. How fast are you running? How consistently has momentum been maintained? How quickly has each level been traversed? Imagine playing Prince of Persia looking through the eyes of the Prince. Whilst the standard controls for basic movement and looking around (thumb-sticks) are retained, the ability to do various other moves is mapped to the left bumper and trigger. The bumper initiates 'Up' moves, like jump, wall-climb, wall-run, swing, slide or vault. The trigger sets off 'Down' moves like slide (along the ground under a pipe), or forward-roll (after a larger than normal drop), or when combined with a jump, lifting the legs to hurdle a bit of barbed wire. These controls are so simple, but yet so versatile, and they work perfectly – any error will be because the buttons weren’t pressed at the right times. Additionally, there’s a 180° move on the right bumper, so that wall-climbs can quickly turn into an easy way to get up a completely different obstacle behind you.
There’s an extra factor that elevates this control scheme to greatness: speed. Your runner has a speedo, not that you’ll get the chance to look at it often. Top speed is achieved gradually, as in real life, rather than just by pressing a button to run, and speed matters at all times. When learning the ropes, clambering around the rooftop and office/shopping mall scenery will be a slow and noisy affair, with lots of huffing and puffing. However, get up to speed and time that jump just right and suddenly the wire fence that clattered during previous climbs will be vaulted quickly and silently.
Keep this speed up and suddenly the next section is dispensed more easily and a previously unobtainable ledge is within reach. Imagine Metroid Prime, but having to practice to reach the higher pathways rather than just finding power-up boots; and it will take practice. The exact distance away from obstacles to press the buttons for optimum parkour-fun varies according to speed, so with improvement also comes re-learning. If swinging faster, perhaps you don’t need to swing so much and you can still grab that ledge. Or perhaps you can swing even more and land on top of the ledge. Faster breeds faster.
Your arms and legs are clearly visible at all the right times, doing all the right things, which is notable because it reinforces the feeling of actually being there. This is further reinforced when you jump off a 100-storey skyscraper, be it accidentally or on purpose!Falling to one’s doom has never been so exhilarating, with a real heart leaping into mouth feeling, backed up with shaking vision, wind rushing past and the ground rushing up to meet you. Perfectly executed and morbidly fascinating, like the rest of the movement, it’s convincing and superb fun.
If this sounds like the best thing ever, then the Time Trials (TTs) will be enough for you to get complete value for money. Downloading the ghosts of friends or top players might leave you wondering how on earth someone managed to do a level in 45 seconds instead of the 60 seconds you thought was blindingly quick, but conveniently the ghosts also leave footprints. Whilst there is an optimum route through each level, finding them is the puzzle. The level design is mostly exquisite, with painstakingly put together routes, catering for various levels of ability. Hats off to whoever designed and tested them.
Additionally, Mirror's Edge features a story mode. Some time in the future, in a clean but surveillance-obsessed society, Faith is a “Runner”, essentially a courier who lives on the edge of legality, transporting stuff that might otherwise be frowned upon by the authorities. She’s happy as long as the route involves death-defying drops and walls to bounce off. That is, until her most recent delivery resulted in a rooftop chase by armed police, not holding back on their triggers. The story unfolds both with cartoony and game-engine cutscenes, with the climatic vista being worth the journey alone. The look is very fresh, giving us an overly clean, white or brightly coloured playground, capped by blue skies with jets moving by high above, and sun washing in wherever possible. Sometimes it manages to look far more familiar and real than lots of games that default to murk and grime.
The story mode introduces some basic combat, including punching, kicking and shooting back after grabbing a gun, be it from a downed policeman, or from a sneaky disarm, be it in slow-mo or real-time. The combat is fairly inconsequential and isn't as pin-perfect and intuitive as the leaping around sections. However, it can often be bypassed completely – there’s even an achievement for completing it without using a weapon. Maybe no one would have bought it if it just involved jumping around on the roof, but it manifests as tacked-on. Luckily it only takes up a small proportion of game-time and, if you choose the pacifist route, running away while being chased by a horde of SWAT guys is top entertainment. The story requires a greater suspension of disbelief than usual, and is sometimes laughable, but it’s short-lived and the skill set needed to finish it provides a head start for the TTs.
There are a couple of options that can be turned off to get the full puzzle experience and purify the feeling of running around in a blind panic, desperate to find an exit before being caught. The first is “Runner-Vision”, which highlights (in bright red) various bits of architecture that can be used to reach level goals. The other is pressing B which literally points you in the right direction. For many people, using either of these will make the experience too guided, missing out on the whole exploratory aspect, but it’s great that they are there if needed.
If Mirror’s Edge had only provided the TTs, it would have been perfect for skill-game addicts. The story mode isn’t quite as polished and critics have tended to focus on this mode’s foibles rather than on praising the real highlight: the TT mode. It is also worth noting that the excitement comes not from shooting or killing, like the majority of first-person games, but instead has been achieved through a new look, a new control scheme, and the top notch challenge of spending hours and hours conquering the terrain. The DLC TTs are a dream come true of impossible airborne structures and increase longevity even further.