This week Zero Punctuation reviews Mirror's Edge.
The trouble with being a freelance game critic is that no one sympathizes with your problems. I could complain about how working from home, playing video games, reading porn, and eating M&M's is doing terrible things to my self-esteem and waistline, but you tell that to, say a fireman, and he won't sympathize for an instant, the selfish, child-rescuing fuck. And no one seems to care that it's proving very difficult to keep up, when by the time I'm finished reviewing a game, six more have popped up like wooden ducks at a target range. No one, that is, except EA, who have been kind enough to provide Mirror's Edge, a game that I finished in a day, thus freeing up loads of time on my schedule for playing other, less horrible games.
There's a reason I never play demos, besides the fact that I spend most of my life in a vegetative state of "cannot be arsed". Demos create expectations, and expectations color your opinion of the final product. For most people, the demo for Mirror's Edge colored their expectations a shimmering gold, only to realize, once they bought the full game, that they had been seeing the light reflecting off a stream of piss. If you liked the demo, just play it again three or four times, and maybe make yourself some little cinematics with paper cutouts, and you've pretty much played the full game. And it also wouldn't hurt to pay someone to stand next to you, jamming shards of glass under your fingernails. . .actually, I guess that would hurt. Quite a lot.
So here's the gist. It's the future (again), and the government are evil because they have a lot of money and wear suits. This isn't very well explained, to be honest. You play a member of an underground courier organization who operate over the rooftops, ironically, who do jobs for. . .someone, or other, delivering packages containing. . .that's never really explained, either. The police apparently have nothing better to do than send several armed platoons after you, with helicopter support, so either no other crime ever fucking happens, or you're delivering something really amazing, like the Dead Sea Scrolls, or a wireless blowjob dispenser.
I remember when everyone was first getting giddy about the gameplay trailers, and I, being then as now determined to bring everyone down, pointed out that platforming from a first person perspective has worked about as often as Western-European peace treaties (highbrow joke). You can't see your feet without looking straight down, so it's hard to judge your jumps, and when you dangle from a ledge or pipe, you're going to be treated to a face full of wall, at which point you either break game-flow by slowly looking around for the next ledge, or, because the game asks, nay, demands a quickness of pace on your part, you can take a wild guess and jump straight off, hoping that solid ground can be willed into existence from the land of dreams. I turned out to be absolutely right, as always, but it seems I was being uncreative in my naysaying. I should have also realized that the engine would be plagued by collision detection difficulties, leaving you hopping furiously up and down in front of a three-foot-high ledge, hoping the game will realize you're trying to climb onto it before the enemy is done turning you into a rousing game of Bullets KerPlunk.
Speaking of, Mirror's Edge can't seem to decide what it wants to do with the combat aspect. Obviously, anyone who takes on armed platoons of burly soldiers empty handed would have needed to have had his brain and his scrotum switched around, so half the time the game will tell you to just run your stupid arse away, but at other times it will be, for various reasons, impossible to proceed until you've murdered all the decent, hard-working, married police officers who are forced to open fire after you've refused to cooperate. Because we really only have the main character's word for it that the government is evil. About the only evidence presented is that they keep everything looking extremely clean and shiny. So, OK, maybe they run their janitorial services a bit dictatorially, but for all we know you're delivering mailbombs to terrorist groups so they can plant them all under somebody's doting, silver-haired mother.
I do like the starkness of the visual aesthetic, if you'll forgive the degree of fagotry in that phrasing. The bright colors against uniform white make an appealing change from gun-metal gray or dystopia brown. Effort has been put into realistic visual effects, like blurring and changing of light levels, like you're actually looking through real human eyeballs as opposed to a camcorder zipping along about five feet above the ground. And yeah, maybe it would be realistic for all that white scenery combined with bright sunlight to bleed together into a big blinding blob, but it doesn't help to avoid dropping off a building for the umpteenth bazillionth time. "Oh!" says Mirror's Edge, here manifesting as a designer with a bicycle pump embedded in his skull. "Well, since that's your problem, I guess I'll just set half the game in linear claustrophobic tunnels that undermine the very concept of free-running, and then fill them with excessive bloom anyway." So he did. And then he ate his own shoes.
So, essentially flawed concept, dodgy detection, indecisive design, muddy story, unlikable characters, shocking brevity, put them all together and you get essflawcondodgeckindesimudstorliketersockity. And, of course, Mirror's Edge. But while being, in itself, an eight-hour fecal waterslide, it's very existence is evidence of something positive. It's one of the few original IPs coming out this year, flanked on all sides by old-hand titles with increasingly large numbers on the end. It was experimental! Sure, it didn't work, but that's what experimentation is for. Maybe the next combination will be a revolutionary, diamond-farting wonder. I, for one, am gratified to have been part of the scientific process. Just a shame that I had to pay $100 for the privilege. They'd have paid me in a laboratory, and all I'd have to do is let them put wires up my dick.
- Pubic enemy number one: Ben "Yahtzee" Croshaw
- Someday I'm going to invent a time machine and fine a way to erase the concept of the lens flare from the minds of game designers
- But of course I'm more than just knob gags and a voice