Mirror's Edge - 4 Years Later Review
Reviewed by: Guest_Jim_*
Reviewed on: August 21, 2013
When a new intellectual property (IP) is released, you will typically see one of three things happen to it: it will succeed; it will fail; or it will survive to become a cult classic. The latter has occurred with Mirror's Edge. Given its somewhat unique gameplay, which focuses mostly on running and leaping instead of combat, this outcome is not completely surprising. Four years after it was released, EA has officially announced another game in the franchise at E3, and at the time of my writing this, Mirror's Edge is also part of the Humble Origin Bundle, allowing you to pay what you want for a copy on Steam and Origin.
Mirror's Edge is a first-person, action-adventure title where you play as Faith, a runner. As a runner, you are tasked with delivering messages between people who desire more secure communications than the city and its totalitarian leadership can offer. However, shortly after the game begins you discover your sister has been caught in a conspiracy and is being blamed for a murder she did not commit. Naturally you put your runner-talents to work to fully uncover the conspiracy and free your sister.
With another game in development and a great sale, should you have some 'Faith,' or parkour away?
When considering the graphics and performance of Mirror's Edge, there are three things to keep in mind. First is that it is four years old, second is its minimalist style, and third is its use of PhysX.
Being four years old, Mirror's Edge obviously does not look as good as many modern games. Many textures and meshes are of a low enough resolution that you can see vertices and pixels being blurred. Graphics have improved quite a bit since this game has been released, but despite that, these graphics still hold up well. The reason for this is its minimalist style, as the simple color palette of primarily white, red, blue, yellow, orange, and green makes many imperfections from age unnoticeable, without looking for them. This style is also present in the cel-shaded cinematics.
When I think of Mirror's Edge I cannot help but think of PhysX as well. This is because I have always thought of it as one of the earliest games to use the technology, after NVIDIA acquired it. Of course it is not the earliest, but you can still see its age. For example, windows shatter into larger pieces than you would expect. Cloth flapping and tearing, as well as fog being disturbed, though, look very good. As always, it is little more than eyecandy, but if you can run it, turn it on and enjoy. Running through a glass walkway as bullets fly past you is just much more intense when glass is flying around as well.
Computer specs and performance time:
- Processor: AMD A10-5800K @ 4.40 GHz (44.0x100)
- Cooling: Corsair H110
- Motherboard: ASUS F2A85-M PRO
- GPU: EVGA GTX 570 1280 MB
- PhysX: MSI GTS 250 1 GB
- G.Skill Ripjaws 4x8 GB (32 GB total) at 1866 MHz 10-10-10-27
- PSU: OCZ Fata1ty 750 W
- OS: Windows 7- Professional 64-bit
Discussing performance for Mirror's Edge is going to be a bit more complicated than for most games. To achieve the best possible performance, developers will optimize their game or engine. There are different ways to do this and sometimes this leads to white-listed resolutions, meaning the list of resolutions the game can be set to run at are limited to only those the developers allow. As most monitors have a common, standard resolution, such as 1920x1080, this is not an issue. My monitor, however, has the uncommon resolution of 2048x1152, so sometimes a game will not list it as an available resolution. Mirror's Edge does list it though, like many modern games, but unlike many modern games, this slightly higher resolution has a dramatic effect on the game's look and performance.
One would normally expect that when running at a higher resolution, a game will look sharper, as it takes advantage of the addition pixels. That is not the case for Mirror's Edge apparently. The best example of this is the text throughout the game, such as in the main menu. This text is being rendered from a font, a vector graphic, which means that it can be scaled to any resolution without artifacting, unlike image files that will become blurred as they are scaled up. At 2048x1152, the text in Mirror's Edge did have the definite appearance of being scaled up, which should not happen. I decided to ignore this though, thinking it to just be some weird quirk, but really I just did not think about it. I then played the game and in some areas I noticed mild frame-rate drops, probably into the high 30s and 40s, almost always near PhysX objects. Looking back at the screenshots, though, to write this review, I took a closer look at the text and noticed that the scaling is too severe to just be 1920x1080 scaled to 2048x1152, which would have made sense if the text was being scaled. To investigate this I ticked the resolution down one notch to 1920x1080, and suddenly the text became as crisp and sharp as it could be. (By the way, I have my drivers set to not scale; the monitor does the scaling if it does not letter and pillarbox.) Having an idea for what was happening, I went back into the game where it had previously slowed down, greatly. Now I was able to run through the PhysX-heavy areas with almost no FPS drop.
The simplest explanation I can think of is that the developers optimized white-listed resolutions, but did not institute a white-list of selectable resolutions, which would have prevented my 2048x1152 resolution from being listed. That could explain why the performance was significantly better at a slightly smaller resolution. The issue with the text could be some engine-glitch tied to the lack of optimization for my resolution.
So what does all of this mean to you? If you also have a non-standard resolution, it could mean quite a bit, but if all you have is a single 1920x1080 monitor, then it probably does not mean a great deal to you. As I at least alluded to earlier, at that resolution, the game ran very well at the most intense action sequences. There was some minor stuttering, but nothing major and it was not very common. This is at the highest settings the game has to offer, including the highest anti-aliasing.
As the game is so action oriented, I have to admit I failed to notice the music much, as I focused most on what I saw and the sound effects of gunfire and shattering glass. The gunfire sounds quite forceful, especially when you are firing, and the shattering glass has that very noticeable tinkle that you can always hear, no matter what else is going on.
When you see a game set in a city filled almost exclusively with white buildings, you can interpret that as the game's artistic style or as an indication that the city is under a totalitarian regime, forcing such conformity. I am certain the former is true for Mirror's Edge, and I strongly suspect the latter is as well (should be if it is not).
Indeed the setting of Mirror's Edge is a heavily restricted and monitored city with totalitarian leaders. It is this climate-of-control that has created the 'runners;' people who run messages across the city's buildings for people who are concerned about the city monitoring their communication. Naturally this puts Faith and her parkouring partners outside of the law, which is useful in the sense that the police cannot chase after you very easily. Before long though, you find that your enemies are more than just the police, as the conspirators that are attempting to frame your sister for murder prefer to trust a private security firm.
Your most important ally is Mercury or Merc, who is in almost constant communication with you. He organizes the group of runners you are in, getting them jobs, and occasionally calling them in to help one another out. You will also meet Celeste and Jackknife, runners too that can help you out of some situations and provide you with useful information.
Overall the story is surprisingly complex for such a linear game. Character interaction is not always that involved, but the twists and turns of the plot are intriguing. The focus is on you and your efforts to save your sister, not much more, and it works. It is an action game story, and a pretty good one at that. There may be some questions left unanswered, but your goal is not to answer them; it is to save your sister.
Platforming in many first person shooters really annoys me because it is often not done that well. The first-person camera makes it hard to see where you are going and the jumps occasionally require you stop after each one to align the next. Mirror's Edge, however, is not nearly as irritating or frustrating, even though it uses a first-person camera.
I am not entirely sure what specifically makes first person work for Mirror's Edge so well, but the environments certainly are a major part of it. Instead of being built for people to make the correct jumps in, Mirror's Edge is designed for you to run through the environment, leaping over and sliding under obstacles. No stopping required to align yourself, and in some cases stopping will lead to your death as you lose the momentum you need to make the jump.
While the environment is definitely well designed for this kind of gameplay, it is worth noting how linear it is. This is not a playground set on rooftops. There may be a multiple paths to get from point A to point B, but each one was designed and placed there for you to find. To help you find them, the game will actually color objects a bright red for you. Perhaps this takes away some of the game's challenge at times, as you can plainly see the path you need to take, but the enjoyment comes from the running, and having to test potential paths will stop the running.
Of course there is a fair amount of trial-and-error anyway. Sometimes the path you have to take is hidden away, or just complex enough that you will likely make a mistake on your first try. Situations like these can be frustrating in most games, but largely are not in this game. The red coloring helps you find the less-than-obvious paths, and it rarely takes more than a few tries to figure out how to get where you want to go. Sometimes though, you are left wondering why it was designed like this or why there are no cues to teach you what to do. Thankfully, these areas are not the norm, so failures feel more to be your fault than the game's fault, encouraging you to try again.
Combat, however, is not always so well balanced. Almost all enemies you come across have firearms of one kind or another, and have no issue with shooting at your unarmed character. If you can get close enough to them though, you can disarm your enemy and take their weapon to use on other enemies. Be careful though, because if those other enemies are nearby, they will attack and kill you while you disarm their friend. This will force you to think strategically whenever you encounter enemies you cannot simply run from, and if you die you will almost certainly have to adopt a new strategy or have to repeat yourself, hoping for some better luck.
The most frustrating part of the combat, though, is with certain enemies that seem to be able to counter your attacks, while you cannot counter theirs. While there are not many of these enemies in the game, you can be required to fight them, which is hardly an enjoyable experience. Just grind it out against them and move on.
As Mirror's Edge does not use a HUD, taking damage results in the classic audio-visual cues of a red border to the screen, loss of color saturation, and softening audio. Escape danger long enough and your health will quickly regenerate, allowing you to re-enter the fight or continue on your way.
If you do die however, you will be respawned at a checkpoint, as that is the save system this game uses. Actually it uses a major/minor checkpoint system, as you can choose to replay levels starting at major checkpoints, with minor checkpoints between, keeping you near a dangerous fight or tricky obstacle. Personally I did not experience any poorly placed checkpoints, which is certainly good, and occasionally appeared to take advantage of checkpoints. Sometimes I would miss a jump to the next platform, and fall to my death, but I would be respawned at the checkpoint located on that platform. Not sure if that is intended, but it is useful.
In case you are curious, falling to your death entails loud noises of air rushing by, as well as a screeching sound, along with a shuttering camera. Striking the ground comes with the sound of bones breaking and an undesirable squish. Though a satisfying effect for the situation, it is not very pleasant, especially if it happens to you a lot. Good thing it does not take long to restart at a checkpoint, so you can try again.
It took me roughly three hours and 44 minutes to complete this most recent playthrough, with all of my falls and deaths across the prologue and nine chapters. That time does not include the cinematics, though, because I did not start a brand new game but instead replayed each chapter separately, which does not include the cinematics. The reason I did not start a new game is because I am not sure how much of my progress doing so would wipe. To determine game time, I recorded how long each chapter took me and added it up. Looking at the different times now, I can see that the average length of the chapters is just under 25 minutes, with the prologue taking just five minutes to complete.
To add to that game time, each chapter has messenger-bag collectibles for you to find. Typically there is a red-eye mark, matching the tattoo on Faith's eye and featured on the box art, near the collectibles. Also you are able to run time trials and speed runs of the chapters and other maps, to compete with others and hone your skills.
Altogether, the experience of Mirror's Edge is quite good, though its quality may be subtle at times. High speed platforming is not necessarily something you want to do in first person, and with as tight a field of view as this game has, but you can quickly adapt to it. You naturally learn how to progress in the game, so eventually you forget that you had to learn anything at all (at least until the next challenge). Of course there are some issues, such as combat, but once you escape those, you get to experience a rather well-designed game.
Additional Game play Images:
Mirror's Edge is a somewhat unusual game. Officially it is an action adventure game, but the action is running and parkour, not taking cover and making headshots, like many other games of that genre. This uniqueness makes recommending it a little more complicated than most other games. The experience itself is different to the point of being refreshing, in a sense, but without escaping intense gameplay. However it is also different enough that I am not sure if everyone interested in action adventure games will enjoy it. The game is still of high quality, though with some flaws, so play it if you have it, but if you do not own it yet, you may want to ask yourself how much a new experience is worth to you. With the Humble Origin Bundle going on now, you can pay that much and enjoy a fun game.