You've all no doubt seen the original trailer for Mirror's Edge (and if not, where've you been?), which means you know the first part of this Mirror's Edge level pretty well. Looks easy, right? I thought so too, until I had my hands on the controls and I was plummeting to my death for the fifth time. Mirror's Edge looks incredibly stylish in the trailers, but it's easy to assume there's not much actual gameplay there. The reality is, this is one of the most intriguingly controlled games that you'll play this year.
The controls essentially boil down to two buttons and two analogue sticks; L1 is the "up" button, L2 is the "down" button and the sticks do exactly what you'd expect. This rather bizarre control set up takes some getting used to, but after a little while feels very fluid. Everything's context sensitive, so pushing L1 as you're running, standing, in mid-air or against a wall will result in different actions. Pressing L2 mid-jump, for example, will pull your legs up, allowing you to jump further. Pressing the same button just before you land after a long fall will preserve momentum by allowing you to execute a forward roll.
Preservation of momentum is vital in Mirror's Edge. It's the difference between missing a jump and wall-running straight over it. The best way to keep running is to take advantage of Faith's "Runner vision," which highlights potential paths in red. Again, this sounds like it might make the game too easy, but from what I experienced whilst playing the game at PAX, without Runner vision there would be a lot of trial and error. Without it there's no way of knowing for sure where to go next, which makes keeping up the momentum a difficult task.
The controls will take some getting used to, especially when it's hard to know whether you're supposed to be holding the up/down buttons or pressing them repeatedly. No doubt this will take longer than the 20 minute demo I played. Obviously the graphics are gorgeous, as you've seen from the trailers, though there was quite a bit of aliasing. This isn't a deal breaker, however, especially since Mirror's Edge shining gem is its unique gameplay. My major concern is whether the novelty will wear off. Can always-moving-forward style gameplay support an entire game? I'm hoping for some more exploratory areas, which are less about running away and more about using my acrobatic skills to reach difficult areas.
Having said that, it's clear that there are different ways of playing through the game. There's a point in the demo I played where you run into a room containing four cops, who pull out their guns and prepare to fire. I chose to run away, up the stairs and out onto the roof, not intending to get into a fight (there's a trophy for completing the game without firing a single shot, by the way). Alternatively, I could've picked off one and disarmed him, then picked up their gun and made short work of the others. Though DICE are keen to state that combat is a secondary part of the game.
Getting my hands on Mirror's Edge confirmed my suspicions, but it also surprised me. The game is going to be a lot tougher than I thought, but it's also going to be a lot more fun. All I want now is to see more of it. I feel like I know this cityscape level like the back of my hand. There's no firm release date, yet, but it's definitely near the top of my list for games to grab this holiday season.