When Mirror's Edge Catalyst was released, I thought it was time to dive into the first Mirror's Edge and discover what this series was about. At the time of its release, it was viewed as something unique due to its emphasis on a particular mechanic that focuses on a free-running style called parkour, which is a training discipline that defines any type of movement required to navigate through an environment without the aid of devices. Although many games might utilize some form of parkour, Mirror's Edge differs in that parkour is the main attraction with a few short, and in my opinion mechanically weak, combat opportunities thrown in. With only a few cut scenes to tell the story and relieve the pace, the game is unrelenting in that one thing. Whether this holds the game back from appealing to a larger audience is a matter of opinion. Although this type of can be fun, it makes Mirror's Edge rather a niche game, designed for people whose main interest lies in the challenge of mastering that one feature.
The setting is a future dystopian society in a city called Glass, which is ruled by a totalitarian government that monitors all communication, controls the media, and spies on its citizens. That gave rise to an underground communication system that utilizes runners to transport clandestine messages between parties who want to circumvent government scrutiny. Our protagonist, Faith, is one of these couriers who works for Merc, a former runner who now hires, trains and sources jobs while also providing radio intelligence for missions. The story is formed around Faith's sister Kate, a policewoman who has been set up to take the fall for the murder of the mayoral candidate Robert Pope, a vocal advocate for deregulation. The balance of the story is to find out who organized this plot and why.
Unfortunately, the train of the story is really not very clear. It's minimalistic and to tell the truth I was unsure of what it was all about by the end of it. It's sort of structured like a comic where you are given snippets of information meant to convey a tale within a few words. As such, like a comic, details are missing. For instance, Faith would head for a destination to gain intelligence, but from there she would be discovered before gaining said intelligence. This would end up making the level all about the escape while adding very little to the furtherance of the plot. At least, it seemed that way to me. In an interview, the producer talked about the great story and our character Faith's view of the dystopian world. However, although I don't fault developers for being enthusiastic about their creations, having insider understanding of the character and plot is not the same thing as doing a good job of conveying that understanding to the audience. In this I feel that part of the game failed.
For the most part though, they have done a very good job with the parkour mechanics. A lot of the difficult jumps are a case of timing. I found this game a little different in that regard as usually long jumps require going past the point you think you should jump. In this game, it's a case of jumping sooner rather than later. I spent a lot of time unlearning the way my brain had been trained through past experiences. However, mastering the runs really follows a pre-determined path and veering from them usually does not pan out. A lot of the survival rate relies on finding these correct routes while being chased. As a result, with much of the timing being tight, you could be replaying these areas till you become very familiar with them.
The graphics are actually fairly basic. The characters are comic book style in the cut-scenes and the ingame interior environments are fairly sparse with lots of vivid lime green and yellow coloring. The exteriors are more detailed, but use a lot of whiteness that can actually be quite blinding at times, obscuring your vision. Red colored objects are clues to interactive areas and indicate jumping off points or climbable pipes. This aid, called runner's vision, can be turned on or off.
Combat consists of some melee and some gunplay, but there are only a few places where it is unavoidable. For the most part, the game is about the parkour with evasion being the main tactic. Faith's offensive arsenal consists of a slide kick which can sometimes be followed by a punch. If you're going to stick around and fight, the best course of action is to split the enemy and tackle them one at a time. There is also a mechanic called disarm, however this is a case of some pretty stringent timing and Faith is vulnerable to fire while attempting it. Other moves consist of a slide combo, a wall-run kick, and a jump landing. I dare say, you could eventually gain some mastery over these moves, but they require practice and won't come easy the first time around. Although you can use guns, it's actually not recommended except in a few unavoidable circumstances as they slow you down and you are facing heavily armored enemies. Constant movement is the key.
The game uses a checkpoint and autosave system. Collectibles consist of bags other runners have been forced to abandon. Their locations are marked by a runner's glyph in the general area and strewn throughout the environment. There are thirty in total with three in the prologue and three in each chapter. Collecting them nets an achievement. Upon finishing chapters, time trial courses become unlocked.
In the end I'm going to say that this is the type of game that is best suited to people who enjoy the challenge of mastering moves through repeated playthroughs. Practice makes perfect. And just as a matter of interest, although this game is available on Steam, the sequel, being a newer Electronic Arts game, is not.
Mirror's Edge was a big departure for the studio and although it was considered a risk, the studio wanted to create something new. They opted for a first-person view in the belief that viewing the world through Faith's eyes would make the player more connected to the character. The story, however, is told in cut scenes through 2D cartoon animation.
In an interview with Gamasutra, the producer outlined some of the thinking that went into development stating that the whole concept was to build a game around movement and to make a first-person game that was unique and outside of the typical genre.
Although Mirror's Edge ended up selling fairly well, much of that came from purchases long after its release. Therefore, there was a lot of uncertainty about the viability of a sequel. Although intentionally eschewing an open-world concept in the first game, Mirror's Edge Catalyst embraces it offering the player side missions and activities. However, the story is still purposely linear based. Unfortunately, the game received mixed reviews being praised for the parkour, but generally found unfavorable in most other aspects with users deeming the game a step backwards in an otherwise unique IP.