Developer: DICE
Publisher: EA
Engine: Unreal Engine 3

Parkour is a skill or a discipline that allows you to move efficiently and fluidly over natural obstacles from one point to another. Heard of it? Me neither, but thankfully, Mirror's Edge, which uses this type of free-running as a springboard for its gameplay mechanics, does not require such foreknowledge, or an affinity to such physical activities for you to enjoy playing. If nothing else, it's an interesting - and perhaps a bit risky - premise on which DICE has based its latest game.

Mirror's Edge takes place in a city in the grips of a totalitarian regime and invasive electronic surveillance has forced citizens wishing to be discreet to resort to alternative means of communication. That's where you, Faith Connors, come in. Working in a team of runners, she depends upon her eye-in-the sky, Mercury, to guide her via radio transmission across the city rooftops and through sewers to her next "drop". However, things have gone horribly wrong, as they often do, and Faith finds herself drawing on her talents to exonerate her sister... and just to try and stay alive. The Police force, called "Blues" by Faith's running buddies, has always kept a keen eye on the underground network but have suddenly become lethally aggressive. Story advancement mostly occurs through a series of anime-inspired cut scenes, though some of it also occurs in-game via non-controllable interaction with NPCs. Minor bits are dropped here and there in the form of graffiti and radio-chatter.

The rooftops throughout the city are your playground and you have nearly every surface available to you from which to leap, climb, cling, and slide. Pipes, fences, walls, boards... they're all fair game. You are given a brief tutorial to help get your bearings, but it will take quite a while to fully grasp your capabilities. More and more unlikely scenarios, such as multiple floors of abandoned scaffolding and perfectly placed beams will put your mettle to the test. To aid you in your quest, many essential surfaces or key items are colored red or fade-in their color as you approach them. The fade-in option is called runner-vision and can be turned off, but first-timers will find it is useful; that is until they become more and more infrequent and you have to resort to trial and error. It seems as if it's meant to teach you to rely on your own instincts, but more consistency with this feature would make things much less frustrating, particularly in some of the jumping puzzles.

In a nutshell, running away and running away fast is what this game is all about. You are rewarded for swift and fluid movement and your timing is critical. It can make the difference between you catching the edge of a building by your fingertips and spending valuable time pulling yourself up, or a smooth landing that allows you to bypass the next obstacle in your pathway more quickly. You can even do a limited wall-run, reminiscent of famous scenes from The Matrix. DICE obviously spent a lot of time with the interface and it has paid off. Your limbs are all very visible at the appropriate times - your arms swing into view when you pick up speed and your vision blurs at the edges to represent the runner's focus. Look down at the traffic below, which you'll often do when crossing narrow beams, and you'll see your legs. Even the control imparts the feeling of momentum of a real body - it's not the typical stick-like feeling you get in most first-person-shooters. Word is that DICE even added a centered dot on-screen to take away the sense of nausea that its testers were reporting.

If you're expecting Mirror's Edge to be your typical first-person-shooter, then you're going to be disappointed as there's precious little shooting. You are rewarded for running because that is your area of expertise. Faith can handle a pistol well enough, but picking up anything heavier saddles you with serious handicaps: you move slower and cannot jump and targeting an enemy becomes much more difficult. You'll run across portions of levels in which either running or shooting it out are viable options, but heavy weaponry targeting is often shaky and imprecise and you've got a fair number of impressive hand-to-hand moves that makes running away and taking on Blues one at a time - or avoiding them altogether - much more attractive. To melee, you can use your movement keys in combination with your Mouse 2 button to yield quite a few kung-fu-tastic takedowns. A nice touch is the brief detailed cinematic that shows you dispensing of your foe in a very elaborate manner.

The unnamed city through which you run, is sparkling clean and jolly on the surface, but underneath it's much grittier. DICE has portrayed this quite well in the design of its levels. Buildings are mostly glitteringly white with bold splashes of lime, orange, red, and blue. All public areas are designed similarly, with appropriately modern furnishings. Venturing down in the sewer or behind the scenes is where you're going to notice that the shine is only surface-deep. Graphically speaking, the levels are not overly-complex - probably in an attempt to make it runner-friendly - but are very attractive, nonetheless. All the typical shiny surfaces and details are in place. Similarly, the voice acting, music and sounds are all quite good. Ambient sounds, like birds and traffic, along with the sound of your own breath and footsteps really help immerse you in your surroundings.

The most enjoyable gameplay aspect of Mirror's Edge, for me, was running with mad abandon across rooftops. While the ultimate pathways are predetermined, at times there are multiple ways to get there and the fluent action is very satisfying. Where the game falters, in my opinion, are the areas that are broken up by Tomb Raider-esque jumping puzzles. The gunplay is also mediocre and uninteresting. Yeah, okay, I can buy that Faith just isn't very good with guns, but why make something less fun for the player just because the avatar isn't up to snuff? Sure, it's possible to bypass guns altogether, but they are there and they should entertain. It's really ends up being more of a distraction from what I want to be doing.

Since immersion is so well done throughout most of the game, I question the decision to alternately switch between an in-game cinematic and a stylized cartoon to tell the story. The animated cartoons are great, but they feel more narrative and constantly break the engrossing nature of the game. To make matters worse, at least one portion of the game kicks in a cinematic, only to hand the control over to you at a crucial moment, and you either have to be lucky or on your second run through the level in order to survive. You're given a brief visual cue if you have "runner vision" enabled, but since it appears to be non-interactive, you're really not expecting it. Mirror's Edge is not a very long game - between six and eight hours with an average amount of exploration and restarts - so each break from the game like this feels like an opportunity lost.

Once you've finished the singleplayer story, you can always run through and attempt to find all of the hidden runner packs, which unlock additional "tracks" for use online and other minor rewards. On the PC, you won't get any achievements or trophies as there is no Steam achievement integration. You will, however, get small (I mean very small) tidbits of story and a sense of accomplishment. It would be nice to see the PC version get achievements too, since mouse/keyboard control and higher resolutions make this the version to own. A small online component allows you to race through portions of the game and post your best times, or even race a "ghost" of some of the best times to pick up some pointers. Dedicated gamers could easily get a few more hours of play from the online mode. UnrealEd is not available for Mirror's Edge, which is a shame since it could greatly extend the life of the game.

If you are a die-hard first-person-shooter fan, approach this one with caution. Tomb Raider fans, and those that don't mind running away instead of gunning-'em-down, may find a game that has some truly addictive and immersive moments. The story, though skeletal, is plausible enough to be enjoyable. There are more "hits" than "misses" and it's unique enough to warrant a recommendation.

Visual: 90
Striking contrasts, solid level builds, good animation and effects

Audio: 90
Pleasant, but subdued tunes, engrossing sound effects and solid voice acting

Gameplay: 70
Good running, hand-to-hand, and jumping controls, jumping puzzles break the flow, mediocre shooting action

Value: 70
Short singleplayer, no achievements for the PC, limited online component

Bias: 80
Plausible storyline, slick visuals and immersive Parkour action draw you in. When you're moving you're grooving.

Second Opinion

by: Sir_Brizz
Mirror's edge is a game that will both take your breath away and proceed to bore you. I don't mean that philosophically, EA DICE nailed this game in immersiveness, real gut-wrenching tension, and the visuals and sounds to back it all up. By the second level I was completely drawn in and immersed in, what I felt was, a living, breathing world. I was white knuckled with my mind reeling. How did DICE do this?

I think it's important to note that Mirror's Edge on the PC includes several PhysX decorations, including the windows. One of the most gripping moments in the whole game for me was running across an indoor sky bridge with so-called "blues" shooting at me from all directions with the windows shattering around me. You'll quickly find in the game that running is awesome and jumping gets boring. There are several places in the game where nobody is after you and you have to do jump after jump onto pipes and ledges to get where you are going. While it helps to connect the rooftop jaunts, it gets a little tiring as these are also the parts you will find yourself falling the most and having to start over from sometimes aggravating locations.

Still, the thrill of feeling like you are free running across rooftops in a massive city is one like no other I have ever had in gaming. In addition to the running, additional graphical and sound features really bring you into the game. While running you hear Faith breathing heavily. If you look down or do various kinds of jumps you can see her legs and feet. All of these aspects of the game thrown together make it very engrossing.

This is not to say the game comes without problems. With nothing else to do once you finish the game except time trials, the 6 or 8 hours you will spend in-game seems pretty short. They certainly could have beefed it up some more. Additionally, there are several times where the game rips Faith out of your control to show you a short "cutscene" or to indicate where you are trying to go. This theft of control can easily break the immersion and disconnect you from the game world. There were at least two times I could have done without it completely. There are also a few spots where the game does not do much to help you along your way.

The controls for wielding and firing guns is also very clunky and unintuitive. However, I didn't find the gun play anything more than a necessary evil as it completely ruins the flow of the game by completely changing the gameplay anyway. In parts that are easier to do with guns, you'll find yourself trying to not use them as it is just more fun to do some tricky maneuvers than to try to wrestle with the guns.

Aside from these minor problems, Mirror's Edge is easily the most innovative game of recent time. In my opinion, it was very risky releasing a first person game that was not intended to be a shooter and as far as quality goes DICE made it really pan out. Still, it's safe to say that if you aren't a fan of platform-style gameplay, you will probably not enjoy Mirror's Edge very much. The game caters very much to a certain group of gamers, and for what it tries to do it nails it nearly 100%.


Visual: 90
Great visuals themes, incredible vistas, sleek and stylish.

Sound: 95
The sound is almost perfect. With my 5.1 headphones and hardware surround, the game went to another level.

Gameplay: 80
I want to rate this higher, but the gun play and jumping puzzles really drag it down.

Value: 80
Is it worth owning? Yes. Is it worth $50? That's a little more grey...

Bias: 90
There is so much about this game to love. With a little more length and a little less drabness in parts of the gameplay it would be a near perfect game.