A Gaming Education: Mirror’s Edge

I work in a bar. The first thing you learn working in a bar — even before you figure out how to do the Guinness — is that everyone has an opinion. The second thing you learn is that they’re usually wrong.

We’re a confused people. Builders think they’d be better equipped to deal with delicate diplomatic matters and tangled budgetary concerns than political leaders. Unemployed alcoholics seethe with fury at MP expense scandals, while simultaneously blowing the last of their job seeker’s allowance on yet another pint of John Smith’s. Pituitary meat-heads shout that Britain is broken and life here is now worse than in a third world country, unaware that being charged three pounds for a beer is not the same thing as having your face hacked apart with a machete.

Perhaps most dishearteningly of all, if you ask the average FPS-loving, corpse-humping, leet-speaking video gamer what he thought of Mirror’s Edge, he will tell you it was a Bad Game.

Don’t trust Johnny-Gamer-on-the-Street. He’s a moron.

Mirror’s Edge is a patchy game — flawed and imperfect, like any new IP finding its feet — but it is far from bad. Frequently enjoyable, often exhilarating and once or twice breathtaking, it sure beats the usual trudge into jock-shooter territory that constitutes the average first-person title.

And no nodding along with those who tell you it has a Bad Story, either. It may not be skillfully told, or easy to follow, but I find its central theme — that a society too obsessed with order and control will choke the lifeblood from itself — a compelling one. The stark, clinical dystopia that Mirror’s Edge presents is reminiscent of a lightweight Brave New World, and a nice change from the post-apocalyptic fare common to every other game since the dawn of time.

My only serious concern with the story, in fact, is the lack of character — a failing I would blame for the game leaving so many players cold. The city is bland for a reason — the sharp, colourless right-angles of its architecture providing a foreboding contrast to the lines of excitement you’re asked to cut through it. But the people who inhabit this city shouldn’t be so dull. For the narrative to work, Faith and her fellow runners need to embody the beating, subversive element of chaos that gives life its spontaneity. Instead they come across as the most boring anarchists you’ll ever meet.

Compare the approach of Mirror’s Edge to that of Portal. Both twists on the first-person game, both concerning the value of the individual trapped by a controlling higher power. Yet where Portal contains flashes of humour and a surprising emotional resonance as cracks begin to show in GLaDOS‘s regime, Mirror’s Edge remains staid and detached throughout.

There’s the whole repetition thing, as well. The early promise of wide-open environments to bound across — lost in the flow like a free-running Tony Hawk — is quickly downgraded to tightly focused physical puzzles with little variance. As interludes, the better pieces would have been a good change of pace, but making up the meat of the game they leave the experience feeling frustratingly reigned-in.

Yet Mirror’s Edge isn’t a Bad Game. The moments when it clicks are something else. Racing down a corridor, sound of gunfire behind — to the left — shit, guards — to the right — smash through a door, dazzle of sunlight and empty rooftop — wall-run over the gap, vault the pipe, up, up — guards still behind — duck, jump, roll — a ledge, sacking waaay below, get some momentum, and — a leap of Faith …

The rush is intense, the vicarious thrill exactly what games are about.

And failing that you have the time trials — abstract obstacle courses providing a pursuit for the perfect racing line as rewarding as any driving game you’ll play.

So ignore the man in the pub. Beneath the impersonal exterior of Mirror’s Edge lies a virtual city of chaste beauty; behind its restrictive pathways lies the potential for frantic chases up there with the best the medium has to offer. Mirror’s Edge sells for less than a fiver nowadays. You owe it to yourself to give it a whirl.

As for me, I’m off to figure out how to pour that Guinness …

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4 Comments

Filed under Game Ponderings

4 responses to “A Gaming Education: Mirror’s Edge

  1. Colin

    Very well written.

    I personally LOVED Mirrors Edge (especially with a nice smoke if you know what I mean :P)

    You’re totally right about the “man at the pub” by the way, I have a few friends who game but they are the type who play Call of Duty, and they played it for 30 mins and branded it a crap game.

    Personally I feel sorry for them. I really do.

    • Rob

      I hate men in pubs. Unless I’m the man in the pub, in which case everyone has to shut up and listen to what I say because I’m OBVIOUSLY RIGHT.

  2. Will

    Good read, you have inspired me to play it again! Now try and convince people that Halo is not the greatest game ever and is at best an above average shooter with a phenomenal advertising campaign and budget 🙂

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