Before they had even laid hands on Mirror's Edge, a lot of journalists were ready to give EA and DICE the 2008 Brave Choice Award™ for taking the risk of crafting a AAA title in a completely new genre. And let's make no mistake, that's exactly what this is: Bold, fresh game design that feels like nothing you've touched before.
But we'd be remiss to forget there's also an act of faith required on the part of you, the player. You have to open yourself up to Mirror's Edge, to avoid playing it like a first-person shooter. You have to trust that if you take the time and the effort to learn this new genre, you'll receive something out of it that you couldn't have found anywhere else.
After finishing the 360 version of Mirror's Edge, I'm happy to report that those who can take that leap will find their trust rewarded.
The first way Mirror's Edge sets itself apart is in the visuals. It's a futuristic world that's light on color, but avoids the gritty realism that has plagued a generation of titles. It's a clean look, and one that serves the gameplay by allowing you to be guided from objective to objective with just the occasional splash of red.
There's a completely different look to the cinematics sprinkled throughout the game, but far from a welcome change it's just a sketchy, ugly reminder of how good the real world of the game looks. DICE would have been far better served moving the story forward entirely in-engine.
That story centers on Faith, a messenger in an oppressive future in which she represents the last remaining form of communication that's not under government control. You get little chance to do much delivery service, though, before you're embroiled in a corporate conspiracy and forced to clear your sister for a crime she didn't commit. No, not Earth-shattering stuff, but it's enough to lend a sense of urgency to the world, and, in that sense, it serves its purpose. With the government seeming to be everywhere, your one advantage is how quickly you can avoid them. With a series of death-defying leaps and wall-runs, you're able to get out of firefights you should never have been able to survive, and access secured areas you were never meant to see.
"The rooftop acrobatics are a thrill everyone should experience."
It's fluid, it's exhilarating and, most impressively, it's almost always intuitive thanks to smart button placement and subtle graphical hints. It's hard to really describe the way it feels when it works, without any other sort of touchstones from other games you may have tried. Suffice to say that the rooftop acrobatics are a thrill everyone should experience.
Yes, the rewards for learning Mirror's Edge are great, but they also make the few slip-ups, the few times your trust is violated, infinitely more frustrating.
Though locomotion is spot-on, combat simply isn't there. Hit detection is sloppy on the rare occasions that you're forced to use hand-to-hand combat and the (even rarer) gunplay feels worse. Avoiding fights altogether is more frustrating than it needed to be thanks to cheap enemies that have flawless accuracy (even though they occasionally won't take a shot at you when you're within point blank range). Next time, I hope that DICE just ditches shooting altogether and makes up for it by making Faith better at disarming foes.
Also, remember the splashes of red that were used to help you navigate the world? A couple of stages in the middle of the game are literally bathed in crimson, making finding your way through enemy-laden rooms just infuriating.
Keep in mind though, these stumbles are the exception more than the rule. And they shouldn't distract you from the fact that this is, without question, one of the most inventive and original titles of the past five years. More often than not, if you're willing to trust that DICE knows what it's doing, if you're willing to forget what you know and leap off the edge, fingers extended, you'll find something to latch on to on the other side.