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Mirror's Edge
Score: 95%
ESRB: Teen
Publisher: EA Games
Developer: Digitial Illusions (DICE)
Media: Blu-ray/1
Players: 1
Genre: First Person Shooter/ Platformer/ Racing

Graphics & Sound:
First Person games have long been associated with shooters. You run around with a gun sticking out of your chest and blast anything that moves in front of you. Usually, there was little focus on creating a unique environment to travel in, but Mirror's Edge turns all those preconceived notions about FPS's on their head. Essentially a first person platformer, Mirror's Edge is the most innovative game I have seen this year and is proof of concept that not every game needs to resort to violence to resolve conflict.

There are two contrasting art styles in Mirror's Edge. First, the story narrative is told through hand drawn cutscenes that resemble a certain auto insurance agency's commercials. These vignettes are pretty short and merely set up the story in between chapters, but there are animated really well and have a clean aesthetic.

The other art style that will impress most people is the actual gameplay. Sprawling 3D environments are presented with a dystopian sterility, meaning that Mirror's Edge uses a very limited color palette. All of the locations are impossibly clean and the visual style is saturated to the point that everything feels like it could be a mirror. Since it is mostly cool colors, like blues and greens, when "Runner Vision" is activated, it makes a huge difference. "Runner Vision" is basically a path-finding tool in Mirror's Edge. Key objects will be highlighted in bright red so that you can find your way around the level. It may be a little hard to accept at first, but the simple style is important so that you can focus on the core gameplay.

The audio and sound design is also top notch. Each character's voice actor is convincing and appropriate for the character design. The main character, Faith, breathes heavily as she runs and every footstep sounds different and paying attention to little auditory clues like that is important to timing certain jumps. This is the type of experience that needs 5.1 surround sound or 5.1 headphones. It is fine if you don't have those, but it will enhance the entire package so much more.


Gameplay:
Mirror's Edge is the story of a young woman named Faith. She is a runner, in this world that means she is a courier that transports information. In this dystopian world that Mirror's Edge creates, runners are hunted down by the police and already exist on the wrong side of the law. Soon after returning to her job after an injury, Faith has to deliver a package to the mayor, but finds him dead in his office. The only other person in the room is her sister who is a cop. Faith believes that she has been set up and her sister has been framed for murder. Faith takes it upon herself to uncover the truth about this mystery and enlists the help of some of her runner friends.

Mirror's Edge is at its heart a platformer. There are guns, and you can shoot people if you want, but it is designed so that you never have to and quite honestly, the gunplay is intentionally bad. Finding the quickest route through a troop of officers or chasing down the suspected enemy is so exhilarating anyway that on my first play through, I did not kill anyone with a weapon (I have the trophy to prove it.) Mirror's Edge is all about using the environment to your advantage and paying attention is the only way to pull off those sweet moves that you had previously only seen in the movies.

Most of the game takes place on rooftops and the thrill of jumping from building to building never got old for me. The action moments are so tight and refined that I wasn't disappointed when I had to stop to ride an elevator or turn a valve; it was a welcome break because I had been concentrating so hard on my next move that when the breaks came, I was grateful. Unfortunately, that same feeling doesn't carry over the second time through. Once you have beaten Mirror's Edge, you can beat it again in less than three hours.

There are 10 sections that are fairly short if you didn't fail anything, but for most people, it will take about 7-10 hours getting through the story mode. After that, there are 2 places that you can go, either try the time trials or attempt a speed run. Time trials are, for the most part, race tracks. A series of checkpoints will appear in a level and you must run through all of them in the fastest way you can imagine.

Then there are the speed runs. The simple fact that DICE included this already set my heart a flutter. Speed running is a scene in the gaming community where players try to see how quickly they can beat a game by using physics-defying maneuvers or exploits that cut out pieces of the level. Each level has a speed run attached and you can replay each level hoping to shave down the time to qualify. Honestly though for most people, they won't care, but in both time trials and speed runs, you can download a ghost of your friends or the best in the world and compete to see who is the fastest. For super competitive people, this is where most of your game time will be spent.


Difficulty:
Mirror's Edge isn't a hard game by any stretch of the word. There are times where it is tedious, frustrating, or confusing, but it never feels that way. Every time that I had to replay a section or start over on a time trial, I thought to myself, "It must be something that I am doing wrong." I never felt that the game was unfair, but I did feel that I wasn't fully prepared for what would come next.

There are three difficulty modes: Easy, Normal, and Hard. Hard turns off the "Runner Vision" and the enemies are tougher to kill. I recommend putting the difficulty on Hard though. While the "Runner Vision" is a nice hand-holding technique, I found more satisfaction and enjoyment out of navigating the levels on my own.


Game Mechanics:
Since Mirror's Edge is such an unconventional FPS, the controls reflect a lot of differences in the play style. To jump, you have to press (L1) and to crouch or slide, you press (L2). Attack is (R2) and quick turn is (R1). All of the essential tools are located on the shoulder buttons and for good reason. The entire game is about building and maintaining momentum. You are encouraged to keep moving, which means keeping your thumbs on the analog sticks. If you had to take your thumb off of the stick to press (X), it would break the momentum and you would lose your sense of space.

Along with momentum is technical mastery. There are more moves to pull off than the controls appear to have. Learning these skill moves isn't essential to the main story, but is vital to earning the best speed run or time trial. Learn 'em and love 'em. To give a brief example of what I am talking about, there is a certain time trial called "Playground 2" that at one point has you running up a wall, vaulting over a barbed wire fence, coiling your legs so you don't hit the barbs, rolling onto a group of steel beams, and hopping out of the roll across a gap onto another building. To clarify, this is the second area in the time trials section.

At the end of the day, Mirror's Edge won't be for everyone. It is really unconventional and innovative to the point that it may turn some people off altogether. If you are a fan of platformers, or even racing games, I guarantee that you have never played anything like this before. Mirror's Edge is fun, it's exhilarating, it's gratifying and it is definitely worth owning.


-HanChi, GameVortex Communications
AKA Matt Hanchey

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