Art And Motion In Mirror’s Edge

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PC Gamer’s wildly inaccurate review of Mirror’s Edge went up recently, in which Graham Smith criminally under-rates the game at 83%. My own review, for PC Format, gives it the score it so obviously deserves – 84%. Unfortunately they don’t put their reviews online, so run-don’t-walk to your local newsagents – or to the United Kingdom if you’re not already there.

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The colours in Mirror’s Edge look like the cordial from which normal hues are diluted. They’ve found a new way of rendering them that dazzles, almost glows. Even when it’s just a warehouse or factory you’re clambering through, every surface has that fresh paint smell, newly dried matte too smooth and lustrous to have ever been touched. There’s the sad sense of a city gleamingly maintained but otherwise unused.

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But beyond that, the design of the place constantly excites me. It’s the burden of level artists that they can’t just be level artists, they have to be architects, interior decorators, graphic designers, key grips, feng shui consultants and engineers. The buildings of Mirror’s Edge suggest its level artists actually are architects, interior decorators and graphic designers, moonlighting at DICE for some extra cash. If there are real offices that look this hip, I’m applying.

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The game’s acceleration-based first-person parkour movement system does scratch the N itch, as I’d hoped. The second time through, with the route-highlighting Runner Vision off, is a new experience. This time you speak the language of the levels, and can pronounce your responses with new and fluid verbs. What I appreciate most about it, over third-person platformers, is the freedom of direction when launching myself from whatever wall I’m clung to, running along or flipping from – it gives scope for an elegance that isn’t pre-orchestrated like Prince of Persia’s.

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I’m not keenly interested in major shortcuts – the fastest possible routes skip large chunks of the levels, but they’re large chunks I like. For me the finesse is in corner-cutting on a smaller scale: jumping to the center of a high-beam instead of tip-toeing its whole length, tucking to clear a huge jump fully rather than hauling yourself over the threshold, wallspringing to avoid a slow pipe clamber.

Strung together, flourishes like this surf the game’s acceleration mechanic and cannon you into a hurtling pelt. The little thrill of extra speed you get for vaulting an obstacle is a subtle but satisfying pat on the back for mastering the game’s unique nuances of environmental interaction.

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The main thing wrong with the platforming is the grabbing logic – it’s inconsistent, and it can’t afford to be. Some objects, like bars, can be grasped when your hands are more than a foot away, other ledges I’ve physically hit and still wasn’t able to hang onto. The platforming was never too difficult, to me, but every time I died without knowing why my character didn’t grab the ledge to which I’d propelled her, the irritation was vast.

Of course, that’s not the main thing wrong with Mirror’s Edge. Find out what is in my next post: The Combat In Mirror’s Edge And Why It Fucking Sucks.

P.S. If you hear any drilling, notice any scaffolds or strange new constructions around here, it’s because I’m tinkering behind the scenes a bit. James 2.7 will, I think, go up bit by bit over the course of this week. It’s too hard to prototype most of this stuff offline.

50 Replies to “Art And Motion In Mirror’s Edge”

  1. You should find extranormal phenomena last only a few seconds while I’m tinkering. If something in particular stays screwed for more than a few hours, let me know.

  2. So, is Mirrors Edge one of those games that does actually look as good in the game as in the awesome screenshots? I mean, you obviously took them all yourself…but it makes me wonder if they spent a third of the budget on some doodad to polish up screenshots as theyre taken, they just look so god damn good.

    As much as im not into this type of niche platformer thing (i said that before i got Portal too), those shots are mouthwatering. Im thinking of buying it just to gawk at it.

  3. Just some friendly comments on the way the site is now, disregard if this becomes irrelevant, or you don’t like them:

    I’m sad that there are only two posts on the main page, and no ‘next page’ button at the bottom. When my browser is full-screen (as it rarely is), the important part of this site, with the posts and comments, could take up more horizontal space. I noticed that there are only two links on the upper right now, there’s plenty of room for four. And it changes to three, which works fine.

    Of course I love your site no matter what.

    Also, what happened to your “Trust me with your ears” segments, I’d like more of those.

    As for Mirrors Edge, it’s not worth my money at $50, and I have other stuff to play. I might pick it up sometime in the future. Its faults certainly do not lie in its graphics though.

  4. Interesting. Most of the stuff you mention is addressed in the redesign or won’t be relevant after it, but I hadn’t thought anyone would want it wider. I tried it on a 1920×1080 screen recently and actually wondered if I could make it narrower. The issue is the images, of course – I’m constrained by Flickr to keep those at 500 wide, and the main column starts to look wrong if the images are dramatically narrower than the paragraphs of text. Which is how it was with James 2 at any reasonable res.

  5. I played through the story mode with Runner Vision off and focused on finding the right path and climbing rather than keeping my speed up. This was extremely satisfying and eliminated the “loss of fluidity” gripe many critics had with the game. It’s just like Sonic: unless you know the level ahead of time, you’re not going to be able to run through it in one go. That’s what time trial mode is for.

    (I also didn’t mind the combat. If you don’t try to disarm everybody, the kung fu actually works pretty well.)

  6. I’m trying desperately not to pick up yet another game at the moment but this is triggering all my screenshot addiction buttons. It’s a shame there’s no demo though, as I really want to know if I can run it well but keep it looking pretty.

  7. I miss the overuse of the colour brown in games. :(

    Seriously, I think those screenshots are awe inspiring and I’m happy the reviews are positive. I’ll definitely give the game a shot. Perhaps this will herald in a new era of games using a much more vibrant colour palette.

  8. Yea good point. Question barrage! how does that work Tom? You are employed by Future so you have to write for whoever they tell you to write for? Was it a one off freelance type thing? Do you have to now write for both magazines to help keep costs down from hiring freelancers?

    Clearly you need a great graphics card and at least 4gig of ram to play this game to make it look worth playing, curse the skies!!

  9. Future employees can take freelance work for any Future magazine or site, with a few exceptions: we don’t use PC Zone writers and they don’t use ours – not for games – and it’s best if one person doesn’t review the same game on the same platform for different mags if it can be helped.

    My specialities are games I wish I was reviewing for PC Gamer but can’t because of the timing and console ports of RTSs no-one else wants to play. Lately I’ve done Tomb Raider Underworld for PC Format, Supreme Commander and Red Alert 3 for Xbox World.

  10. A feed that keeps a reasonable number of comments! Horray! I’d been hoping for that for a long time.

    Rei, I do take a little objection to that ‘brown’ statement. I love Blue Sky Games and their allies, but it seems to me that many people are beating a strawman. So many reviews or posts on any game with a bright palette include this backhanded ‘and it’s a bright spark in the sea of brown’ remark. Let’s say grey is an honourary brown. What titles that anyone cares about are brown? I see Resistance and Gears. What else? Half-Life 2 is the brownest thing I can think of off the top of my head. Actually, TF2 is probably the brownest game in the world on average, but it’s got phong shading so let’s give it a pass. Armageddon Empires and Fallout 3 have brown desert wastelands… Oh, and Motorstorm. Its desert dust and mud is brown rather than the correct choice, chartreuse.

    I can understand this from professional reviewers/critics, whose paychecks demand that they play Budget Firearms of Conflict 2 – that kind of thing can give you a skewed perception – but is there really an epidemic of brown among games we care about, people? Has there been one in the last ten years?

  11. I personaly like the combat. But I’ll wait intill you put up that new page first before I try to win an argument I’m bound to fail.

  12. I think it’s not just “brown”, but that a lot of games nowadays are trying to be gritty and “realistic”. ME definitely has a different feel from most of them. It’s almost Nintendo-like.

  13. As for “brown”, I see Resistance, Gears, Fallout 3, FEAR, maybe Bioshock, GTA, UT, CoD and other war games.

  14. So very tempted to get this. But would you say you need a monitor larger than 20 inches to get the best experience?

  15. Oh, no no no no no. Go back to the old “previously on James” thing. I absolutely despise having to cycle through pages of posts, to find the single one I was looking for. Plus, I enjoy randomly clicking an old post and reading it. Damnit, Pentadact!

  16. Mike, yes: it looks as good as it looks.

    Cloak, the main thing is you need a widescreen monitor. It forces letterboxing on 4:3 displays, which makes the viewing area almost unplayably small. If I ever meet the Vice President of Idiotic Decisions at DICE or Ubisoft (Assassin’s Creed committed the same crime), I’m going hit them with the nearest conventional flatpanel.

    J-Man, the post cycling’s not a replacement for the archive, it’s just something I never had before because I thought somehow it would be hard to do. The archive can’t stay on the main page because it meant every pageview of every page was calling on my SQL database to access every post I’ve ever written every single time, which occasionally gets my site suspended for excessive CPU usage. I’m going to make a separate page one. There’ll also be a search bar.

  17. Interesting, I’ll be on the lookout for your newer post on the fighting – it will be good to bring up the comment “Does a poorly done, but optional component of a game make the game actually be worse?”. If it brings the average down just by being there, and the alternative of removing it entirely still keeps the gameplay intact, isn’t it odd criticising it for being poor? :)

    It’s tough when it’s a game, since you choose what to do. TV and film reviewers don’t have to worry about that kind of thing.

    Also, your last comment on the lack of non-widescreen support is bizarre, but with Ubisoft’s woefully lacking PC support from any game released in the last few years, not utterly surprising. Never heard of it myself, either, I wonder if many reviews mention it.

  18. I second RoadRunners Commment, I like being able to read all the comments when i visit a post.

    But no matter, do most of the Games writers agree on if a game is good or bad? Though of cource im taking your 84% review because you are award winning. Good luck with the changes, though of cource people will critize them no matter what.

    Rightly so though, you do the same to games, lol only joking, can we have bullets flying across the screen in the same manner as the snowflakes for christmas.

    Ive just realized that this is a mirrors edge post: The screenshots youve given do make the areas feel like a city, but are still somewhat surreal.

  19. Popping up a controversial opinion here, based on playing the (shock, horror) PS3 versions of both games…

    I prefer “Prince of Persia” over “Mirror’s Edge”. Vastly.

    It could simply be a control issue, that ME with its first-person perspective works better on a PC, and POP is clunkier and more awkward with a mouse and keyboard.

    Personally though, I found that ME had too many instances of sloppy collision detection and clumsy controls, coupled with tiresome scenes where you were being attacked by enemies, and could only really proceed by trying to map the area you were in by running around it for the three seconds before you were ventilated. Then you had to sit through the damned loading screen again, plus make your way back from the checkpoint.

    POP on the other hand… Whilst I can agree it could have stood to be harder, I found that I preferred being able to fly around the levels at top speed with little challenge, rather than the die-reload-retry-die-reload-retry of Mirror’s Edge.

    Okay; it’s possible I just suck, but even so, I think that for freerunning games like ME and POP, it’s far far better that they be too easy than too hard.

  20. I played it a bit yesterday, and besides making me feel nauseous it didn’t feel like a full game to me. I would enjoyed it more with a better combat system which was used more.

    Also,talking about letterboxes


  21. Wow, whatever you’re typing it’s absolutely not allowed.

    Crane, it’s true Mirror’s Edge’s checkpoint system isn’t good. It’s not terrible, but Prince of Persia previously had the best possible failure system: rewinding. The new PoP’s magic-hand is okay by me, I never much cared about difficulty, but it’s weird that they would invent a new and inferior one when they had a near-monopoly on the holy grail of frustration avoidance.

    My problem with PoP, apart from wanting to stab the Prince in the fucking neck with a biro the second he opened his mouth, was that I didn’t feel like it was me doing any of the acrobatics. I just press space, then he goes off and does a whole long series of moves by himself. I don’t mind it being easy, but I have to feel like it’s me doing the easy stuff, not watching someone else.

  22. Crane:

    I think I’d probably agree with you. First person works well with a mouse, but definitely lacks with the analogue. Sometimes you just wonder, how the hell were we ever good at the old Rare classics? Third person, with the 8 compass points… that’s good. That’s acceptable, anyway. I think there’s something to be said for 3p=console, 1p=PC. Maybe they should just release a mouse and keyboard for the consoles. The Wii uses a USB keyboard, right?

  23. If you want my classically disconcerting opinion, there are too many toolbars on the side.
    Tags, about, maybe the RSS, and recent links seem sort of unneccessary :\

  24. Glad you realized the same thing about ME that I did, Pentadact-

    Great parkour, amazing setting, fucking terrible combat.

    Also, very short. And the time trials, unfortunately, don’t add much. What I envisioned for multiplay was something like a game of tag: Run around like crazy, “tag” someone by punching/kicking them (which staggers them to prevent instant-tagbacks but does no damage), and then run away. Now THAT would add replayability.

  25. I enjoyed Mirror’s Edge (despite being horribly short) quite a bit.

    Unfortunately, the part that now sticks in my head the most about the game is the fight sequence right before the final scene, or more specifically how I had to replay the same fucking fight scene about 50 times before I could actually get on with the damn thing, just to find out all I get for that grueling battle is an amazingly thin ending.

    I’m not one for replaying a single player game, as it greatly reduces all of what the game has to offer. If I was allowed to keep that machine pistol the riot cops had with unlimited ammo, I might reconsider though. I loved that thing, and how it didn’t impair my movement.

  26. Sentry: you mean you didn’t just jump on the chopper right away?

    I disagree with the checkpoint comment. Rewinding time would be horrible for a game like ME, and I think the checkpoint system was pulled off pretty well. It certainly makes difficult combos a lot more satisfying.

    ME reminded me a lot of NES/SNES era platformers. They’re not bad, but they’re certainly a lot less forgiving than modern games. I’d say it’s in a different genre from most other FPSs, where you’re encouraged to recover from your mistakes instead of formulating a new plan and trying again.

  27. Also, what’s with the combat hate? I mean, I was a *bit* frustrated with it, but that’s only because I tried to disarm everyone. Didn’t fire a single shot. Wasn’t nearly as hard as some of the other games I’ve played.

  28. @Pentadact:
    “I just press space, then he goes off and does a whole long series of moves by himself.”

    Could you perhaps give an example of this? On the PS3 version at least, it may not have been as interactive as it should have been, but I never got the feeling that pressing a button was doing more than one thing…

    Okay, wallrunning should have required you to actually move the analogue stick, and grabbing swing-ring-things needed a less generous time-window, but from what you’re saying it almost sounds as if they streamlined things even more for the PC version.

  29. Wallrunning’s one: because they don’t make you press the direction or hold any keys, I don’t feel like I’m driving the motion. And climbing up onto high surfaces: one tap of space makes the Prince jump up, dig into the wall with his claw, adjust his position, then jump up again, grip the ledge and pull himself up. That feels like a whole separate motion that I didn’t trigger, so again I’ve lost the feeling of control. I feel more like I’m instructing him, and since the level furniture so explicitly instructs me, I’m little more than a middleman between the two.

  30. Ah! Yes, that one was tough, but I was just using kung fu. If you steal the gun from the first guy, surely it’s a lot easier?

  31. I started out cynical – it’s still a disgusting marketspeak acronym – but Brink’s first-person motion middle ground is looking more interesting and solid the more I see. I wonder how much of it’s development actually derives from Mirror’s Edge lessons.

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