Looking Back on Mirror’s Edge
If there’s one thing that sets DICE’s 2008 parkour-action game Mirror’s Edge apart from the crowd, it has to be the art style. A dystopian society, set against a misleadingly stark and beautiful skyline.
It’s a city torn between the elegance of high-up skyscrapers and the dark, dingy side-streets lining the ground level. It’s truly one of gaming’s most instantly recognizable locales, and it’s one I recently revisited in anticipation of the upcoming reboot, Mirror’s Edge Catalyst.
Faith Connors is a Runner; part of an underground courier service that transports illicit documents and the like across the city. She’s absolutely set against the corporations who have stripped the citizens of free will and created an unbreakable reliance on what they provide. She’s hell-bound to resist the quiet, obedient life she’s expected to lead.
Given context, Faith is an incredibly strong character; fast, agile and powerful, and among the few non-sexualized women in games. Even more rare is a female lead of Asian heritage, just one of the many things that made Mirror’s Edge a sharp detour from games of the time. In a landscape of dreary shooters, EA greenlit a game about movement; a game about running from the oppression of capitalism gone wrong and from the kind of Orwellian society we all fear.
The story of Mirror’s Edge is nearly as minimal as its environments, yet it serves a purpose. Faith’s sister, a Blue (the nickname for the city’s cops), is taken and held hostage; and Faith is willing to give up anything to get her back. It’s fairly generic, but at least the game doesn’t need to force-feed you line after line of dialogue, opting to get you back into the action as soon as possible.
No, the real focus is gameplay. The parkour itself is, upwards of nine years later, still thrilling. Jumping, hurtling, rolling and sliding are just a few of the many moves at your disposal to traverse the world; and they all flow seamlessly to give you a rush as you chain move after move into a flawless display of skilled bumper and trigger presses.
Of course, the gameplay’s biggest (and most widely-documented) weakness is DICE’s decision to include guns at all. You can fight enemies hand-to-hand by awkwardly waiting for a QTE to engage, or you can pick up an enemy’s gun and shoot with what I can only describe as the most out-of-place first-person gunplay I’ve experienced. It’s slow, cumbersome and completely ruins the idea of cutting through enemies with the same grace you do over rooftops.
One of the game’s best decisions was to move away from the popular (and cheaper to produce) method of first-person animation at the time. As you pick up speed, Faith’s hands whip in and out of vision, and rolling will give you a glimpse of her legs and feet as you impact. It gives so much more intimacy to the gameplay, and makes every move feel much more grounded; you aren’t just a floating head. You are Faith, and every button press gets a weighty, tactile animation in response.
Her red glove and shoes are the only real color on the basic black-and-white Runner’s outfit she sports, red being the trademark color of the faction. Like everything else in the game, Faith herself is starkly designed. Her hair is short and cut at a sharp angle. Her grunts and shouts as she jumps and takes damage cut through the wind and clapping of shoes on pavement. Her takedown moves (if you manage to time your button-presses right) are quick and sparse.
And then, there’s the music.
Oh man, is it good.
Solar Fields was tasked with the production of the OST, and the mix of electronic and ambient tracks all suit the game perfectly. Subtle, digital pings in calmer moments, and intense electronica ratcheting up during chases and enemy encounters.
The game’s theme, Still Alive, is a perfectly modern and catchy bit of electropop with vocals by Lisa Miskovsky. The track’s airiness compliments the game’s wide urban landscapes, the freedom of using the very environment built to oppress the humanity it houses as a playground for feats of momentum.
Solar Fields is returning for the Catalyst soundtrack, and CHVRCHES has created the new theme, Warning Call, both of which are shaping up to be great successors to the original game’s compliment of music.
So that’s my two cents. I love Mirror’s Edge; and upon replaying it just days before the long-awaited sequel releases, I’m more than confident in DICE’s ability to provide the franchise’s bold initial installment with a worthy next chapter.
I’ve played both the closed beta and Origin Access trial, and can confirm that the gameplay is vastly improved, the graphics are gorgeous and the city is really something to behold. Faith’s story was long-thought done as the original’s unimpressive sales figures became known, but EA’s decision to continue it with a reboot might just be the kind of decision they need to take some of the bad publicity they’ve been getting out of the minds of gamers around the world.