Mirror's Edge™

This article was originally published in issue 288 of Edge in December 2015. That means below you'll find some forward-looking references to Mirror's Edge Catalyst, which we've kept here for context. You can subscribe here for more great features like this.

Mirror’s Edge arrived in 2008 as a searing white riposte to a just-ended generation of over-brown WWII shooters and firstperson trudging. It was different, and new—different partially because it was new, forming a partnership of opposites with fellow EA newcomer Dead Space. Both were fresh IP, released a month apart in a publisher’s schedule otherwise dominated by licences and sequels, and both were built upon contrasting foundations of meaningful design.

Dead Space, made in California by Visceral Games, encapsulated a grounded American industrialism, a practical celebration of blue-collar capability that informed everything from its violence to its visuals. And Mirror’s Edge, built in Stockholm by DICE, was almost comically Scandinavian, a bright, minimalist vision of sleek architecture and graceful action—part parkour playground, part Ikea dystopia.

Mirror’s Edge is a game about movement. Its heroes are ‘runners’, athletic outlaws who carry off-grid information in a spotless future of oppressive surveillance and security. This is movement as morality; in a society built on passive obedience, speed is rebellion and flawless agility is freedom. It’s a game about energy and creativity, and how these are expressed from the confinements of a perspective and a genre more normally given over to destruction, a window for lining up targets and admiring their ends.

If the game’s setting—known simply as The City—has aged well, it’s because it was always designed for beauty rather than realism. It’s not an as-best-we-can interpretation of reality powered by 2008 hardware, but a geometric impression of totalitarianism, a sanitised vision of brilliant white pierced by urgent primary colours (strident and unambiguous, like diktats) and ironic glass transparency. On the outside, it’s shiny, empty and pointed; on the inside, it’s all stark corridors angling to an overexposed vanishing point. At the centre of it all, a looming point of orientation, is a vast watchtower called the Shard, an imposing, eminently visible testament to the power of observation.

The Shard, which predates its equally sinister real-world counterpart by London Bridge, is a good example of what Mirror’s Edge does well. It is a game of design, in as much as everything it shows us is far more interesting than anything it tries to say. The gap in sophistication between the elegance of The City’s composition and the heavy-handedness of the game’s script (“It’s not the news any more… it’s advertising”) or its clumsy animated cutscenes is extraordinary. Mirror’s Edge creates an environment that tells a better story than the posturing speeches of its try-hard characters ever could.

The City’s immaculate coldness invites intrusion and physicality, the way a concrete square attracts skaters or a blank wall invites graffiti artists. The only reason we need for doing the only thing the game asks—to flow across its hard surfaces—is written into the surfaces themselves more profoundly than can be explained in words.

This is also the reason that our hero, Faith, is so much more interesting as an image than as a character. Faith is a perfect fit for fuzzily defined anti-authoritarianism. Primarily, because she’s female, in a gaming world and a generic space dominated by shaven-headed men. Everything potent about Faith can be gleaned at a glance. All she says thereafter—the family drama, the underground society of people whose idea of nonconformism is split-toed shoes—diminishes that initial impact of the lithe placeless somebody running from power to survive. Perhaps that’s why Mirror’s Edge generated such buzz before release: Faith is a soluble meme, an instant hit.

These failures of story and character are not Mirror’s Edge’s only problems. It is a fascinatingly flawed game, whose absences (the paucity of weapons, the empty space of the environment) are often more successful than things positively featured. The decision to limit the scope of the shooting in what consequently can’t really be called a firstperson shooter is particularly key. The defining triumph of Mirror’s Edge might be the recognition that running away from guns is more interesting than marching around clutching one like a metal comforter. This is a reconfiguration of the central kinetic premise of firstperson games: that they’re about moving, aiming and shooting; that we run and jump quickly, but we fire, and fire at, things that move faster. In Mirror’s Edge, we’re the speeding object, and it’s our velocity and precision that matters.

This, even more than for staring at The City, is where the game’s widened field of vision and HUDless appearance come into their own. With the background of The City in place, matched by a rhythmic lo-fi soundtrack, the joy of Mirror’s Edge is in freedom and flow. What replaces the destructive power of other shooters is a more nuanced physical interaction with the world around us, a fleet-footed agility that links ground slides, wall runs, impact rolls and zip wires with an accumulated, vision-blurring momentum. Environments are no longer arenas and killboxes, but puzzles with physical solutions.

There’s an exquisite thrill to sustaining a top-speed run that incorporates the fluid negotiation of various obstacles—hurdling a fence, bouncing between parallel walls with a 180-degree whip turn, nailing a landing and barging through a door. The fluency is compulsive, and the action matches the game’s bleached authoritarian theme: running is an essentially subversive act of escape, of expression, and of not prioritising violence above all else.

But Mirror’s Edge is a flawed game, and these moments of harmonious fluency are fleeting. The freerunning can be brutally frustrating, partly because, while nothing feels better than intuiting a route and the manoeuvres needed to glide through it, there’s an unavoidable degree of trial-and-error to certain areas and arrangements. There is no pleasure in failing, just flow-crushing thuds and clumsy collisions, or Faith-crushing falls from rooftops that end with a rush and a crack. More damningly, even perfect runs entail stop-start traversal that robs the game of its kick. Ladders, pipes, air ducts and heavy landings are all built into pathways and act as bottlenecks for the speed that defines the joy of Mirror’s Edge, a self-defeating approach to design that leaves the game at its exhilarating best only in brief, powerful bursts.

This accounts for the divided opinions that met Mirror’s Edge on release, of course. Now it’s easier to see that, if anything, it didn’t go far enough. The inclusion of a stunted melee attack system and take-it-or-leave-it gunplay added to the rough edges and to the sad feeling, when they were deployed, of having slipped off the elegant intended path and having to clamber awkwardly back on. Better not to have them at all—to make a principle of nonviolence, to further streamline the game’s action and ideas.

This might explain the constant buzz of sequel chatter that has circulated since Mirror’s Edge first appeared. If any game design could benefit from a second shot, surely it is this one—imperfect, but with a strong and clearly articulated philosophy at its core. While fellow EA fresh face Dead Space went on to iterate itself into the kind of mediocrity it initially stood against, Mirror’s Edge simply disappeared. DICE and EA doubled down on Battlefield to fight a much more conventional war with Call Of Duty, and Faith was lost.

For a while, anyway. A new Mirror’s Edge was eventually announced in 2013, and DICE has signalled its intention to address many of the flaws of the original. Faith won’t use guns; her melee attacks are sharp and decisive; and the new open world removes the problem of trial-and-error progression. But while we wait for Faith’s return next year, the ideas of Mirror’s Edge have already resurfaced. During pre-release interviews, Mirror’s Edge senior producer Owen O’Brien said it was hard for him to see how some of the lessons of manoeuvrability learned by the game’s team wouldn’t eventually migrate, in some way, to the studio’s more traditional firstperson shooter, Battlefield. Squarely clunking through warzones just wouldn’t cut it any more after this glimpse at a deft, dancing future.

Seven years later, Battlefield is the only notable FPS not to have incorporated a set of advanced traversal mechanics. Starting with Titanfall in March 2014—which offered wall runs and double-jumps—a new standard of manoeuvrability has seemingly been established, one which also appears in recent Call Of Dutys, Destiny and Halo 5. Sprinting, clambering and various degrees of verticality: the basic relationship with space within the firstperson shooter has been renegotiated, a layer of dexterity and physical articulation added between the aiming and the firing.

This, more than the success or failure of the forthcoming reboot-prequel Mirror’s Edge Catalyst, is the real legacy of DICE’s game of dystopian parkour. It proved that even the most familiar and rigged-for-war perspective in games can be about something other than violence, and that with a focused, intelligent design, wordless agility can say more than a thousand scripted pages. It might be imperfectly executed, but Mirror’s Edge permanently reformulated the way we move in the biggest, loudest games we play.

Mirror's Edge™ - contact@rockpapershotgun.com (Brendan Caldwell)

Tactical retreats

Cowardice is a virtue. So says the team on this week’s RPS podcast, the Electronic Wireless Show. That’s because our theme is “running away” – games that encourage you to flee from danger, or that give you a choice between fight and> flight. Adam will run from the soldiers of Arma or the post-apocalyptic antagonists of S.T.A.L.K.E.R. Brendan will scarper from poor odds in For Honor or Overwatch, while Alice only pretends> to run away in Playerunknown’s Battlegrounds, tricking her foes into giving chase before ambushing them like some kind of velociraptor. (more…)

Mirror's Edge™

Jackknife is the second and longest level of Mirror's Edge, and is a chapter that Lorna Reid spoke fondly of last year. The following video isn't the best way to revisit its twists and turns—but it is a world record-breaking speedrun that was two years in the making, covering the entire game in just 22 minutes and 40 seconds. 

Beating the previous record by almost six minutes, the following is 'segmented' wherein 11 players contributed specific sections of the run. A description below the video states it has "been a project of the Mirror's Edge community for the last two years", and that "while the possibilities in Mirror's Edge are almost endless, this is as close as we have ever (and potentially, will ever) come to presenting a run which truly bleeds the game dry."

Onto the run itself:

The video description continues, suggesting the above is the result of nine years worth of practice without mods, hacks or external aids. "Everything that you see in this run is done by exploiting in-game mechanics," it continues, "and can be performed by anyone with a copy of Mirror's Edge [on] PC."

Now, if you'll excuse me I'm off for a lie down. 

Thanks, Polygon

Mirror's Edge™ - Valve
Today's Deal: Save 75% on Mirror's Edge !*

Look for the deals each day on the front page of Steam. Or follow us on twitter or Facebook for instant notifications wherever you are!

*Offer ends Monday at 10AM Pacific Time
Jan 13, 2017
Half-Life - contact@rockpapershotgun.com (Alec Meer)

So often the bleeding edge of games tech, yet so often fundamentally the same underneath: there’s a reason we can’t get enough of pretend shooting pretend people in their pretend faces. It is a pure test of skill and reflex, a game about movement at least as much as it is about violence, and done right it is absolutely delightful>. And hey, sometimes you get a decent gimmick or story thrown into the mix.

These are our favourite 50 first-person shooters on PC, from 1993-2017. Your favourite is at number 51.

… [visit site to read more]

Mirror's Edge™

There s something about trying to wrestle a monitor from your desk with the express intention of hurling it out of a window, only to find said window has long been painted shut, that really makes you stop and think: what am I doing? Mirror s Edge inspires many such moments. Moments of pure rage. But in among them, there s something else. Something special that keeps you from drowning this game in acid.

In a game of (often literal) highs and lows, Jacknife, Mirror s Edge s second chapter and its longest, remains a flawed gem for me. It has made me angrier than any level bar the last, but when I sit back and regard the game in its entirety, it s always Jacknife that I come back to as the standout.

While a good slice of the action of this game takes place on rooftops, Jacknife offers a blistering run through some truly memorable alternate locations. From the streets and the depths of the storm drains back up to the heights again, diversity is shovelled at you like coal into a fire.

I think that s what appeals to me the most. As beautiful as the rooftops are, some breathing room is always a good thing. And what better way to contrast the sharp, primary look of the roofs and pristine offices than going down to the streets and underworld. Alleyways and cement trenches lead to grimy maintenance rooms, there s a brief taste of the clean outside world, then you plunge into the maw of the storm drains.

The chore of getting down there while a helicopter vomits bullets at you is infuriating when you re exploring and pathfinding for the first time. If you re masochistic enough to be speed-running the level it s ten times worse. And that helicopter seriously? Can those guys spell waste of public resources ?

At first I was appalled at where I found myself. What the hell am I supposed to do here? Where are the rooftops? Where are the brilliant dashes of colour against the sea of white? What have they done? I despised it. I hated struggling to navigate the perilous gantries of the imposing underground chamber, with its glistening columns stretching to infinity, let alone avoiding the searching beams of the snipers on the upper levels.

Struggling and feeling lost here feeds your resentment. But then, slowly, as muscle memory developed and my pathfinding improved (often thanks to some useful YouTube speed-run videos) I started to appreciate the location. Despite it being such a dank, lonely place, in which you re made to feel so small, I began to enjoy the little touches. The lighting, the water, the scuffling and squeaking of my shoes as I wall-ran and short-cutted, and occasionally managed to double jump beams.

Gliding down a slope in a sheet of water cast in a Halloweeny green was one moment that became a favourite. Right up until I realised I d have to scramble back out of another drain, amid platforms and pipes. And then, bliss, I was back up to the rooftops with their jumble of air-con units and architectural bric-a-brac.

It isn t just the paying out of such contrasting places that stands out. It s the pace. Had I the chance to indulge my usual gaming habits and lollygag, meander, and generally faff about, the level may well have lost some of its charm. But taken as it is, at near breakneck pace, it transcends the string of locations to become a fluid, urgent tour, doused in panic.

The level practically drags you along before suddenly thrusting you into the role of pursuer as you set off across the rooftops after the titular Jacknife. This switch from hunted to hunter is masterful and exhilarating, used again later in the boat chapter, but to lesser effect.

The more I examined this chapter, and the more I allowed myself to become immersed (largely through self-imposed repetition) the more the negativity fell away, leaving only a deep appreciation and respect for the level design. A design that undulates beautifully through changing locales, playing with pace and testing your abilities at every turn.

Like the game itself, Jacknife isn t for everyone, and it will stretch your patience to breaking point, especially with the numerous glitches. But love it or loathe it, it remains the most memorable chapter in a flawed but brilliant and original game.

SPORE™

Mirror's Edge Catalyst was good, but not quite as good as we all hoped it would be: As close to a definitive version of a Mirror's Edge game as we're likely to get, Samuel wrote in his review, despite retaining some of the first game's issues. If you don't happen to be familiar with those issues, you might want to point yourself at GOG, which now has Mirror's Edge and two other not-exactly-recent EA releases, all of them currently on sale.

That means the original Mirror's Edge for $10, the Spore Collection for $12, and The Saboteur for $10. Mirror's Edge is probably the marquee game in the list, but Spore is the real deal: The regular price of Mirror's Edge and The Saboteur is the same on GOG as it is on Origin, but GOG's Spore Collection normally lists for $30, while the combined cost of the Spore titles on Origin (which doesn't offer them in a bundle) is a whopping $70. GOG's listing may be a sign that EA's prices are about to change, but unless and until that happens, if you want to buy Spore, you'll probably want to do it on GOG.

The only downside, at least when compared to classic GOG releases, is that the bundled extras are very spare. Mirror's Edge includes two wallpapers and two avatars, while Spore and Saboteur have nothing. (The manuals are listed as included goodies but I tend to view them as something that's included because they're part of the game. Call me old-fashioned, I guess.) Still, sale prices and DRM-free are nothing to sneeze at. All three games are available now, and will remain on sale until September 29.

BioShock™ - contact@rockpapershotgun.com (Alec Meer)

I’ve got two VR headsets in my inappropriately small home, and I spend more time feeling guilty that I’m not using them than I do using them. Conceptually I love the tech, and I sporadically have a fine time with ‘experiences’ – i.e. virtual tourism to real or made-up places – when it comes to games-games I’m yet to get all that much out of it. But what about non-VR games rendered after-the-fact in VR? Could this be the full-fat virtual reality gaming I’d imagined when these headsets were first announced? … [visit site to read more]

Mirror's Edge™ - Valve
Today's Deal: Save 75% on Mirror's Edge™!*

Look for the deals each day on the front page of Steam. Or follow us on twitter or Facebook for instant notifications wherever you are!

*Offer ends Friday at 10AM Pacific Time
Half-Life 2 - contact@rockpapershotgun.com (Graham Smith)

You might have noticed all your friends’ avatars and profile pictures turning into comic book drawings or impressionistic paintings over the last few weeks. That’s because of Prisma, a photo editing app for iOS and Android that let’s you apply a couple of dozen filters to images you feed it. The app goes further than simply messing with the hue like Instagram does, using a process similar to Google Deep Dream to warp and twist photographs – without shoving fucked up dogs in every corner.

I spent last night feeding it game screenshots, to find out what No Man’s Sky, Half-Life 2, SimCity and more would look like if their artists abandoned realism.

… [visit site to read more]

...

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