Last Level Press

Nutshell Review: Mirror’s Edge

Reviewer: Cliff Davenport

I recall from my childhood the deep-seated rush and thrill of racing, sprinting, and leaping across playgrounds, forest hills, and the cluttered backyards of friends and family.  Every obstacle was a chance to plant a foot, kick off, and claim the sky for a brief instant, and every time I hit the ground running from such a leap, I felt a surge of satisfaction and exhilaration that I never thought I’d see replicated.  EA Digital Illusions CE, better known as DICE, proved that expectation wrong, however, with their mold-breaking title, Mirror’s Edge.

With its intuitive suite of free-running mechanics and iconic urban level design, Mirror’s Edge naturally inspires the split-second, creative problem solving of a parkour runner, and at its best, its gameplay leaves players’ hearts pounding and fingertips trembling as they pause for a breath between vertigo-inducing setpieces.  


Play this on a widescreen.  I dare you.  

The setting of Mirror’s Edge is approachably familiar; that of a semi-dystopic future city run by a monolithic, corporate-controlled government under which unfiltered messages may only be delivered on foot, by “runners” like the game’s protagonist, Faith.  However, the art style by which this clichéd setting is presented is a welcome departure from the genre-default of gritty darkness and neon.  Bright colors, an abundance of angular lines, and a minimalist palette lend Mirror’s Edge a very modern presentation that sits far apart from the gritty norm, and which lends a practical aid to players as it cuts out the white noise of a cityscape background during high-momentum gameplay.  The color red in particular is used to highlight possible paths across levels, and the game’s high-contrast color palette renders high-speed pathfinding nearly effortless.   On top of this, DICE and Illuminate Labs brought the Beast lighting system to bear for Mirror’s Edge’s Unreal 3 engine, giving it some of the most natural in-game lighting of any title at the time.  

Of course, without the risk of confrontation, even such an intense experience as roof-running fifty stories above city streets could slip into monotony.

Or free-fall.  Can’t forget that little treat.

To remedy this, Mirror’s Edge regularly delivers ample incentive for players to get moving and fighting, from law enforcement ambushes to helicopter chases high above the city. With only a few gunfight-heavy exceptions near the latter end of the game, Mirror’s Edge’s action balances forced confrontation with frantic evasion, and during the former, the game employs satisfyingly brief but effective melee mechanics.  Disarm techniques in particular merit a highlight, as they reveal a well-informed sense of combat choreography on the part of developers, and give Faith the feel of a practiced street fighter.  Aiding in the immersion is the game’s clean interface, devoid of any HUD or displays that might remind the player that they’re in fact playing a game.  Instead, only limbs are visible in the periphery, edges blur while the player is in motion, and a heartbeat builds to signal adrenaline and injury.  

Gameplay is only held back during those moments when players’ momentum is broken.  Strange as it is to say about a DICE game, pitched firefights are not Mirror’s Edge’s forte, as it sports a very limited selection of weaponry and very spartan gunplay mechanics beyond point-and-click shooting.  This might have been forgivable, since firefights aren’t central to the design and experience of the game, and Mirror’s Edge does possess a certain unapologetic difficulty, but since several such encounters are completely unavoidable, it lends those combat-heavy scenes a sense of tedium that quickly drains players’ sensations of tension.  Certain levels are also less intuitively designed than others, which can periodically bring gameplay to a stumbling halt as well.  

Multiplayer is another surprising letdown for Mirror’s Edge players, as time trials and high-score boards more or less account for its entirety.  Real-time racing against human opponents isn’t an option.  Yes, really.

The other issues with Mirror’s Edge lie more in its experience than in its direct gameplay.  Sublime freerunning and outstanding soundtrack aside (even if the best entries in the latter only made it to the game’s credits), the game’s guiding narrative is weak at best, and ramblingly nonsensical the rest of the time.  Players are only ever given the shallowest of glimpses into the lives of those living in this totalitarian society, and only play through a single level’s worth of Faith actually acting as a “runner” with a message.  They’re also never given much idea of who “runners” are even delivering such messages to, what those groups are about, or even what the general public thinks of them.  Compounding these shortcomings are Mirror’s Edge’s deplorably weak conclusion and lackluster animated cutscenes akin to the old Esurance commercials.  

You know the ones.  

These issues, paired with a lack of replay value and decidedly trial-and-error problem-solving inherent in many levels’ sequences and designs, keep Mirror’s Edge from becoming the mold-breaking genre changer that it could have been.  I deeply applaud DICE for stepping outside of their comfort zone to create this game, but I feel like it just wasn’t given the time or resources it required to truly shine.  I enjoy it for the visual treat that it is, and for the brief sensation of sublime poetry in motion that it has managed to capture in its most outstanding moments, but I can’t help feeling that something is missing.  That said, with rumblings of its once-cancelled sequel back in the works at DICE, I can only hope that a second outing into the world of Mirror’s Edge will do its name the justice it deserves.

Rating: 6.8

Visuals: 9

Audio: 7

Controls & Mechanics: 7

Atmosphere & Experience: 5

Entertainment Value: 6

Where was this takedown ingame?  What’s that?  

The red light?  Oh.  …Ooh.

  Consoles: (PC), PS3, Xbox 360

  Developer: EA Digital Illusions CE

  Publisher: Electronic Arts

  Release Date (U.S.):  Jan 13, 2009

  Release Date (U.K.):  Jan 16, 2009

  Release Date (JP):  N/A

Final Verdict:


Last Level Press © Copyright Cliff Davenport  Est. 2013.  Links | Legal Notices

Share this page:

Share on Facebook
Share on Twitter
Share on Google Bookmarks
Share on Reddit
Share on Stumble Upon
Share on LiveJournal
Share on Digg
Share via e-mail
comments powered by Disqus