I would like to induldge in a little personal history a moment.
See, I've always been a skinny guy. As a toddler, to elementary school, throughout high school, I never had much meat to me.
Oh yes! I was made fun of. Not an enjoyable youth. But let's not get into that. I still thought myself a fast person, able to run quickly and move quickly, but never for very long. Endurance was always my weakness. Years after graduating high school and working in the real world, I was still no better. I tired easily, yet still believed myself as quick.
Ah, the follies of youth.[[cuTofF]]
But then, whilst I was reading a game magazine, I saw it. A small preview article for a game called Mirror's Edge. The screenshots enticed me immediately because it was a first person game, but you could see your legs. The article was favourable, and it stated that a demo for the game was available on the Playstation Network. So it happened, I was visiting a friend that weekend and he had a Playstation 3.
To say that Mirror's Edge changed my life would be an exaggeration. More accurately, it changed my lifestyle. Suddenly, the quickness I thought I had prided myself on seemed insignificant. Sure, going fast is one thing, but using that momentum to more productive means was another. It was Mirror's Edge showed me how. It was the first instance I had seen of Parkour. It's much more commonplace nowadays, but back in the olde dayes of later 2008, that shit was new-fangled and amazing. At least, it was to me. But I knew I wasn't in proper shape to pull that kind of stuff off. So, I started running. Getting in shape. Building my endurance.
Some time later, I had moved from a smaller town filled with single-story quare buildings to a big city filled with vast and interesting architecture. Not long after that, for unrelated reasons, I became unemployed.
That time was very bad on my bank account, but oh my lord it was grand for my body. I would often go running for almost an entire day at a time, and most notably, since I finally had an area of which I could properly do it, I was running UP things. No roof was safe from my escapades. I got in trouble more than once, but finally, I had a body I could be proud of. Unemployment disheartened me in one way, but that was more than made up for with the self-confidence that came with a strong body.
But I digress.
So, the big catch with Mirror's Edge is the parkour style movement. You can run along walls, leap off them, grab onto a ledge, pull yourself up, and keep on going with nary a beat skipped. Your manueverbility in this game is unmatched in any others I've seen. (Assassin's Creed and its over-simplified controls can go suck it) It can be quite daunting when you start trying to run around, but it comes to you. In time, you get much more familiar with just how far you can jump, the ways the controls allow you to move around, y'know, the usual things that come with playing a game more and more.
Here, though... Mastering the game has its own kind of reward. Sure, you can get better times in the time trial mode, but also, the game itself and the levels feel more... Rewarding? Special? I don't know. The levels become even more exciting when you have such a grasp of the controls and an idea of how the level design is. You're dying less often and you're zipping past parts that in previous playthroughs had you frustrated and floundering. The game itself rewards you in little ways for going through quickly. Whether it's zipping past a tough enemy blockade before it's set up, or even just a compliment on your speed from your eye-in-the-sky recon friend. (who is often quick to chastise you if you're taking your time)
One thing I noticed about the gameplay only after taking up Running was the... Feel of the game. Sure, it seemed amazing when I was a skinny and unfit git, but after taking Running up as a hobby of sorts, the game does an amazing job of recreating the experience of Running for real. Maybe I'm a better mimic than I thought, but leaping over a fence, running up a wall, jumping a ledge and rolling with the landing all feel so similar to the game that it's uncanny. So uncanny I didn't notice it until months afterwards. During the making of the game, I wonder if the entire development team for Mirror's Edge had gone for Runs themselves, to better make a game about it. It would definitely think so. There's no way the game could have a feel like this and not be have at least one Runner deeply involved in the devteam.
Usually I find a game gets a bit more boring as it's played more often, but Mirror's Edge, like a fine wine, seems better after time goes on and it's played through a few times. And I certainly don't mind playing through it multiple times. Sure, the main story is roughly.... 8 hours at most? Roughly. Less if you get the hang of it quickly. The story itself is kinda willy-nilly and certainly doesn't leave much impact, though it does sufficiently motivate me onwards to see what will happen next. (though it's far from the nail-biting OMG WHAT'S GONNA HAPPEN that a really good story can get me into) It's not the best story, heck, it's kinda in the lower spectrum in all honesty, but at least it tries something a bit different, and somehow manages to justify having a game where Running around is the whole point of the gameplay.
But since the story is so lackluster, at least it's made up for in the backgrounds. There's much more story to be had in the surroundings than in the narrated cutscenes. Here is where the game truly shines. The gameplay people can argue about how good it is, the story pretty much everyone agrees is meh, but no one can dispute the beautiful setpieces. This is the best damn looking modern city I've ever seen. (one can argue that it could count as a future city, though it lacks many of the strictly far-future elements that other games like Human Revolution have) I'm not sure what Yahtzee didn't see to decry the level design as he did, but personally, it's all wonderful to me. Office cubicles that bear many signs of frustrated and overworked employees, scrolling messages in the elevators that speak of a world harsher than its beauty shows, little notes stuck to the walls near the locations of the bonus message bags (though I think those only appear in the PC version, I never saw them on the PS3 at least), and of course, the Janitor's Office.
Heck, take a look. Go to google images and punch in 'mirror's edge environment'. Look at those screenshots, especially in full size. Look closely at at least five of them. Go on, take a moment away from all this reading hullabaloo and induldge your eyes a moment.
Ain't those some good looking city environments? For the most part, each and every one of those is an in-game screenshot. Of course, it's one thing to look at them and another to be there in the game, soaking in the ambience, listening to the calm music, after having just outran an entire SWAT team. Your heart is still pounding from the adrenaline, but the calm of the moment still seeps in and permeates your subconcious.
Oh yeah! The music! Very good stuff. Rather than some of the more usual styles of music we see in games, Mirror's Edge goes for much more of an ambient style to it. (before Human Revolution made it cool) Composed by the guy who does Solar Fields. According to Wikipedia, his music has been described as "electronic ambient, atmospheric, deep, ecstatic, industrial, yet organic.". Y'know what? Convoluted as that sounds, it kinda works. His other stuff sounds like.... That, and the music in Mirror's Edge rings similar. I like it a lot, personally, but that could just be me. The trance-like sound of the music fits well with Mirror's Edge, for the calm and environmental moments, and it kicks up a notch once the combat gets going.
I first played this game on my friend's 42 inch HD LCD TV. The first few levels, at least. After that, I only had the change to play on another friend's standard definition TV. I beat the game for the first time on that old clunker, sitting by myself while said friend was at work, all alone in his dank and unfamiliar basement place, Running through the game in a trance-like state. Some time later, I played the game through again on the aforementioned HD LCD TV, and this time noticing many, many more things in the game this time around than before. Some time later still, I played through it again when my friend bought himself an HD Projector. He had a large, wide white wall, absolutely perfect for displaying this game across its width. I noticed more things still on this giant 'screen'. Anyone who has access to this game and a friend with an HD Projector owes it to themselves to play Mirror's Edge in this way.
I like me some Hi-Def gaming, but usually I'm okay without it. Mirror's Edge, though, benefits so strongly from it. It couldn't have been made in any other time period without having near as much effect.
I say that, and yet, it feels like a fish out of water. Somehow. It's not a feeling I can really nail down. The closest I can say to summarizing or explaining or even putting SOME form of words to this feeling is that the game is too.... Inventive. It kinda feels like it was supposed to be from a different era.
My poorly informed and inferred theory?
This was supposed to be a game released on the Sega Dreamcast.
Do you remember when the Dreamcast came out, and all these really amazing, inventive games were made for it? If you don't, just look up Space Channel 5, Crazy Taxi and Jet Grind Radio. Sega was at the top of its game in this period, and even though it was kind of a bad time for them financially, you can't blame them for going out on one hell of a grand final note. Somehow, amongst this almost cataclysmic era for Sega, I see there being a Mirror's Edge. Even though I haven't even played a Dreamcast game, I somehow see Mirror's Edge in this list.
Crazy? Absolutely, but don't tell me it wouldn't have been cool back then.
All in all? I love Mirror's Edge. It's a mixed bag, to be sure. Just because I love all the elements to it doesn't mean that someone else will. Still, it's worth at least a try. It did something new in a genre that was rapidly growing stagnant, and I would love to see more games take some cues from it.
Mirror's Edge is available on X-Box 360, PS3 and PC. Tracking an old copy down might be hard, since it's out of print, but it's always available on Steam for a decent price. Be warned, though, you may need a fairly hefty computer to run it, especially if you want to have the full graphical fidelity that it deserves.