In the wake of the devastation caused by Electronic Arts in the media lately, I think it’s time to look at some of the more positive aspects of the company and what the talented (and presumably held by ransom) team at DICE have brought to gaming. Mirror’s Edge flew under many radars when it first launched, mainly due to some poor marketing on EA’s part and the wholly different approach the game took from DICE’s standard and already established Battlefield brand – not to mention it was one of the most experimental videogames to date. The first-person freerunner perspective that Mirror’s Edge prided itself on was alien to audiences, and I’m sure didn’t sit well with those who suffered from acrophobia. Despite the initial mixed reactions, Mirror’s Edge has grown over many years to become a true cult classic of a sub-genre that it could call its own.
Mirror’s Edge debuted on November 14, 2008, to mostly positive critical reception. Critics praised the first-person freerunning gameplay, unique visuals, and clever platforming sections, but didn’t take kindly to its relatively short, weak campaign and characters. Players assume the role of Faith Connors, a courier who carries packages and intel around a utopian “Glass” city through unconventional means: parkour. Her agility and skills eventually catch the attention of a revolutionary group, who want to bring down the totalitarian government controlling the city. Faith is fueled by her resentment towards the government too, who killed her mother during peaceful protests when she was a child. Faith befriends the revolutionaries and begins an onslaught against the government.
The themes of rising up against a totalitarian government is no new concept in both gaming and film. George Orwell’s novel, 1984, went on to inspire a handful of games and movies that followed similar plot points and structures. Mirror’s Edge falls short of the mark from a storytelling point because of how underdeveloped its characters are. Faith, as the games protagonist, is naturally given the most development, but supporting characters are depleted to nothing more than walking archetypes. The revolutionaries are especially guilty of this. In a story about rising up against a tyrannical government, one should at least feel an emotional attachment to the group responsible for opposing them, but in Mirror’s Edge, they’re simply a tool for Faith to progress through the plot and occasionally point her in the right direction.
However, I can’t fault the games undercooked characters because everything Mirror’s Edge gets right, it absolutely nails and overshadows the flaws. Some might not take a liking to the intentionally linear level design and telegraphed action set pieces – which one can argue ultimately limits the amount of freedom usually expected from a game about doing parkour in a city playground – yet it continuously feels refreshing and exciting to dash through, executing perfectly timed leaps and navigating the eye-popping and immersive City of Glass. There’s never a dull moment when the game picks up momentum, and thankfully, you’re always moving at a relentless pace; something that I could not stand about Mirror’s Edge Catalyst, which stilted a lot of great freerunning moments only to drop you into a painful, clunky hand-to-hand combat sequence.
On the subject of combat, Mirror’s Edge Catalyst may have done away with guns in favour of melee, but the first game let players go wild with a heavy arsenal if they desired. It wasn’t always necessary to engage in combat at all throughout the campaign, giving players another level of freedom and choice that very few games offered at the time. As expected from the developers behind Battlefield, the gun combat felt satisfying, powerful, and destructive, and thanks to DICE’s Frostbite engine, highlighted the staggering amount of damage you could do to the environment alone. Some players criticized the shooting for breaking the speed and flow of the freerunning, but I adored letting loose on a squad of angry soldiers once in a while to add some variety to the gameplay; and that’s an option that the sequel threw out of the window. As a result, Catalyst suffered from feeling too repetitive, but the balance in the first game was fine-tuned to near perfection.
Of course, one can’t talk about Mirror’s Edge without mentioning its incredible aesthetic and sound. In a time where games like Portal were just beginning to toy around with visually unique and quite daring visuals, DICE boldly stepped up to create a somewhat iconic identity for Mirror’s Edge. Simply put, the architecture, environment design, and eye-catching colour palette in the world of the game is an architect’s wet dream. As someone who took an interest in architecture for most of my high school years, the amazing design of Mirror’s Edge inspired me to think out of the box when coming up with sleek, beautiful building designs and how colours play a very important part in the visual appeal of an object. Graphically, it has fallen victim to age, but it remains one of my all-time favourite game worlds.
Mirror’s Edge is also boosted by a fantastic soundtrack. The theme song, “Still Alive” by Lisa Miskovsky, is one of the most euphoric and uplifting pieces of music ever attached to a videogame. The infectious, simple tune and memorable melody still rings in my head whenever I see the game. The score itself, a mix of upbeat electro, strings, and a bombastic orchestra, blend well into the high-strung tension of the action too.
Mirror’s Edge may not be to everyone’s taste, and understandably so. It is a divisive and headache-inducing experiment in how well you can keep your lunch in your stomach, but there’s a charm and appeal to it that I cannot get enough of. DICE’s freerunning magnum opus remains one of the most unique and memorable gaming experiences of my past, and has certainly earned the right to be called a true cult classic and flawed masterpiece now.
Writer. Enthusiast of all things geek. Legend has it he completed Final Fantasy VII without a memory card.
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