It gets better after the first time: Mirror’s Edge impressions

If you were reading this blog last year, you’ll know I was pretty excited about early glimpses of Mirror’s Edge. When reviews of the full game started cropping up, however, my enthusiasm subsided. People booed the title for being too difficult, too confusing, too short, and too frustrating. Geoff echoed some of those criticisms after playing the console version last year, and I ended up buying the PC version some time after its release, largely because I was getting bored with Left 4 Dead.

As I finally started playing earlier this month, I could definitely relate to some popular complaints: certain parts of the game felt needlessly frustrating, requiring perfectly timed acrobatics in the midst of enemy fire. I found combat awkward, and I could never get the hang of some moves, like disarming bad guys. The PC controls did feel right, like this was an original PC game and not a console port, but that didn’t make it any less difficult. (Disclaimer: I’ve never played the console version.)

Still, something about the art direction and the overall feel of the game enthralled me, because I felt compelled to start a new game almost immediately after blowing through the main campaign. Suddenly, everything seemed to feel right. It’s like the first playthrough was a sort of practice run, and I was finally experiencing what the developers intended. I could effortlessly disable armed foes and lunge my way across rooftops, timing jumps perfectly and chaining wall-runs with lethal kicks.

I’ll be the first to admit that Mirror’s Edge is difficult and unforgiving no matter how much you play. The story feels convoluted and cliched, the voice acting is awful, and the whole thing could be a bit longer. However, whereas my first playthrough was a mix of fun, awe, and frustration, my second one was pure enjoyment. Almost to an intoxicating degree.

In fact, I started a third game on the highest difficulty setting last night after completing my second playthrough. With the exception of some racing titles and Lucas Arts adventure games, I’ve almost never picked up a game again after completing it. I often mean to—like with Fallout 3 and Portal—but I either don’t follow through or get bored a couple of hours in. And generally, the more frustrating a game is, the less likely I am to play it more than once. What makes Mirror’s Edge different, then? Why am I still looking forward to beating it a third time?

Somehow, I think there’s something uniquely satisfying about leaping across rooftops in first-person perspective in a brightly lit proto-utopia. Maybe it’s my body telling me to get more sunlight and exercise, but the visceral feeling of speed and motion, the beautiful art direction, the sound effects, and the music all add up to create something really special. Some folks criticize Mirror’s Edge for not being a third-person game, but I think that misses the point—if it were a third-person title, it’d just be yet another Tomb Raider clone (albeit a very pretty one). In first-person mode, this game really makes the player feel like an integral part of the running, leaping, close combat, and fleeing.

Even aside from the well-implemented free-running and art direction, there’s just something unique about Mirror’s Edge. How many games encourage running over combat? How many games penalize players for carrying weapons? For once, you’re not a walking gun shop wrapped in a hundred layers of Kevlar. You can still take a beating, but forget about trying to take on multiple armed enemies at once—you’ll get shot or pistol-whipped before you can say "how do you do." Tackling the touchy subjects of civilian surveillance and the surrender of civil liberties is unusual for a video game, too, even if the story is clumsy at best and cringe-inducing at worst.

With all that said, I think my failure to enjoy the game fully the first time highlights a real problem. Mirror’s Edge has a somewhat uncommon control scheme, and it requires very precise interaction with the environment. Why couldn’t DICE make the training a little longer, or better yet, integrate it into the early levels like an increasing number of titles do nowadays? I expect many players don’t even feel like playing a second time, and they retain a negative impression of the game as a result. That’s a shame.

Before I sign off, I’d like to say a word about PhysX. Nvidia showcases Mirror’s Edge like an example of PhysX integration done right, but it didn’t take me long to turn that feature off. Simply put, it induces a significant frame rate hit, and most of the PhysX additions are barely noticeable—more realistic broken glass after shattering a window, fancier smoke effects, random debris, etc. DICE also added destructible pieces of cloth, tarp, and translucent plastic sheeting throughout the game, but those often look out of place. In one instance, I found a small crawlspace where a pristine plastic sheet was separating a ventilation fan and the switch controlling it. Is that really the best PhysX has to offer?

Comments closed
    • zqw
    • 11 years ago

    The controls are also very responsive on 360. And, the time trials are really where it’s at – On XBox Live anyway. …loading ghosts from the leaderboards, and learning new routes and techniques. (You gain a little speed by lifting your feet at the right time during a jump, you can speed up while vaulting, etc.)

    Sometimes their ghost gets away from you so fast, you can’t tell how they did a section. Then you just restart and head to a high vantage point to watch. Sometime their run has a “1 in a 1000” jump that isn’t worth trying to do, but you can watch in amazement.

    I think they should market it to hardcore/realistic racing game fans. It’s the same mindset.

    • Swampangel
    • 11 years ago

    My roommate bought Mirror’s Edge for the PS3 and beat it on release day. I got to watch him play through a couple of sections, and decided I was interested enough to try it out, so I picked it up a few weeks ago.

    I am not a console gamer. I play party games like Rock Band and Super Smash Bros and so on, but I can’t stand console shooters. I just don’t get along with dual analog sticks, and especially not with silly control scheme quirks, like how in Halo’s default setup you have to move your right thumb off the analog stick to hit jump.

    But I thought Mirror’s Edge played great and was really easy to control. Sure, there’s the frustration of missing a jump and having to re-do a section, but the controls are fluid enough and the gameplay enjoyable enough that I never got really mad at it (I definitely got a little mad, over and over again). I usually felt that when I screwed up and died, that it was my fault, not the engine or the controller’s fault. I finished the story mode in a few days (on Normal mode) without much struggle.

    As a result, I was totally amazed to see all the complaints leveled at the controls and the frustration of repeating sections over and over. I thought that if I could finish this game, when I HATE playing FPSes on consoles, that everyone would love it.

    On the other hand, I can understand feeling frustrated at spending $60 or more on a game that short, with a story that really isn’t great. At least time trials and repeated playthroughs provide for some variety.

    • silent ninjah
    • 11 years ago

    I really enjoyed this game. The control scheme didn’t bother me, I picked it up pretty quickly. The only slightly frustrating part was to hit my head against a wall for 10 minutes trying to figure out what I was supposed to do to get past a certain area.

    Sometimes the thing that points you in the right direction isn’t enough.

    Game looks great and played really smoothly. I wasn’t sure about buying it, but I knew I wanted to try it. Luckily it came free with my xfx gtx 260 black edition (as well as farcry 2, which I haven’t installed yet).

    I didn’t notice the physx at all really. It didn’t lag me at all with max settings at 1920×1200, and it was only really plainly visible in the cloth and plastic sheets. They did look really good though, I shot and jumped through some stuff just to see how realistically it tore.

    The soundtrack cd came with the download of the game. It’s just the same track remixed a few times, but the original is a pretty good piece of music. I thought the shoes squeaking on the ground was a nice touch as well, although sometimes it sounded like it was a sound card bugging out.

    Some of the heavily armed areas I found easier to just shoot my way through. There’s a sequence after you get out of the van in the car park, and there’s a bunch of swat guys. I just took the gun from the first one and shot the rest. Tried running a few times but it was a pain.

    • AxMi-24
    • 11 years ago

    Too much money for too short a game. I it was 15€ new (since they expect to produce 3 parts) I would try it out. but as it is now and with publisher whining about people not buying their half product I’ll just keep my cash.

    Also putting the atrocity that is Fallout 3 in the same post as Portal is just wrong!

    • Rakhmaninov3
    • 11 years ago

    I’ll get it when it’s $5 on eBay.

    • Barbas
    • 11 years ago

    The part i like most about this game is the time trials after completing it, no enemies just trying to find the fastest route is boils down the game to it’s essentials

    • Pax-UX
    • 11 years ago

    Love this game! I just wish there was more of it to love.

    • 2cans
    • 11 years ago

    i think ill pick it up on sale

    • odizzido
    • 11 years ago

    I found the exact same thing. While my first play was just okay, I loved the second time around.

    I initially only loaded it for a second play to see how much better I got but I found I was enjoying it so much I went all the way through.

    The game is kinda like donkey kong where things can go really smoothly if you know how to play.

    • clone
    • 11 years ago

    r[

    • Vasilyfav
    • 11 years ago

    This game really needs antialiasing though. All those straight edges look absolutely terrible if they are all jagged like hell.

      • Cyril
      • 11 years ago

      4X AA works fine for me with a GeForce 8800 GT. Runs great at 1920×1080, too.

    • Meadows
    • 11 years ago

    “Simply put, it induces a significant frame rate hit, and most of the PhysX additions are barely noticeable—more realistic broken glass after shattering a window, fancier smoke effects, random debris, etc.”

    To its credit, this was the first time I’ve seen “cloth-type” meshes done correctly in practice, but glass doesn’t look very real at all. As much as I’ve seen of this title, sometimes it stands out painfully. I do agree with the sound department – I’ve heard the most realistic gunshot effects ever while watching Mirror’s Edge.

    Developers and nVidia need to find a way to optimise the extra objects, simulation and effects that “PhysX-enhanced” gameplay incurs. Not only does it hurt framerates no matter how hard the videocard is trying, it also plants the false assumption in people’s heads that PhysX is all about performance reduction and it’s something to get rid of. This, of course, directly causes nVidia’s efforts to support intel’s Havok in popular media.
    _[

    • DrDillyBar
    • 11 years ago

    Your description of the enjoyment of round 2 and 3 reminds me of my play time with Oni. I said it before in Mirror’s Edge blogs, but it still holds true. (I wonder if it’ll install on x64…)
    As for PhysX, I think we hashed that one out quite thourouglly last time there was a Mirror’s Edge blog. Many people love it because it’s nVidia, while others find it more or less useless because it’s not really bringing anything interactive to the table other then visual effects. I think I recall Geoff saying in a podcast he’d rather have it now then not at all. I think as long as nVidia keeps PhysX close to its chest and makes no effort to deploy it on “other” GPU’s it will remain a polarizing topic.

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