Mirror's Edge is a bit like a platypus; its component pieces are all familiar, but when assembled, they create something altogether new and wonderful. It's played in first person, and has some guns, but certainly isn't a first person shooter. There's plenty of jumping and puzzles to solve, but it's not a platformer. It has a breakneck pace and time trials, but it's definitely not a racing game. It's all of these and none of them, a bizarre amalgamation of style and speed that will leave you breathless and perhaps even a bit dizzy. Yes, Mirror's Edge is many things, but boring sure ain't one of them.
In yet another dystopian future (seriously, someone make a game where the future is a happy place, please), the government has begun sticking its nose into electronic communication so frequently that anyone wanting to keep their messages private uses a messenger called a runner instead. You play as Faith, one such nimble bag-carrier, who uses her athletic prowess to spring from rooftop to rooftop as she eludes the authorities and generally helps stick it to the man. She's content to Fight the Power in her own small way until her policewoman sister is framed for murder by a mysterious conspiracy of someones.
Faith could take on the establishment guns blazing, but she's not that kind of girl and besides, you've played that game before. Instead, you'll use Faith's skill as a runner to access areas and information that would be off-limits to the status quo who restrict themselves to street level. What this means in practical terms is lots of running and jumping from roof to roof, crawling through countless airducts, access corridors, and tunnels, to track your quarry and obtain the info you need to clear your sister's name.
The police naturally aren't thrilled with your interference, so you spend much of the game running for your life full-tilt as they attempt to gun you down. You could stand and fight - Faith has a number of sweet combat moves at her disposal - but the wiser move is almost always to turn and run. Whether you put up your dukes or take to your heels, you'll have to make split-second decision after split-second decision in order to succeed. Knock the cop out or shoot him where he stands? Run for the ledge or shimmy up the pipe? Whatever you're going to do, do it fast; stop to take a breath or get your bearings, and you'll likely end up dead.
This frenetic pace is, ironically, both a huge part of the game's appeal and its frustration. The gogogo nature of the levels is a perfect fit with the plot and your character, especially given the game's first-person view. You truly begin to feel like a runner, pushing your body to its limits to stay one step ahead of the law. The world around you blurs as you pick up speed, sounds dies out until all you can hear is the rattling of your own breath. All that matters is the next jump, the next slide, the next door. It's exhilarating, but it doesn't leave much room for exploration or planning. Players that like to check out an environment's every last nook and cranny will howl in frustration as they're forced to overlook huge sections of the city in order to make their escapes.
Fortunately, you're not barreling through a level completely blind. Most of the Mirror's Edge scenery is stark and pristine, as though the entire city has been dunked in a bucket of whitewash, but bright and bold swaths of color accent the landscape, including the vibrant red that your "runner vision" uses to nudge you in the right direction. A bright red door might mark your entry point to the next part of the level, or red pipes will lead you to higher ground. It's a beautifully seamless and nonintrusive way of pointing you towards the current goal, but if that's not quite enough, you can also hit the B button to automatically look in the right direction. The two systems combined work very well at preventing you from ever feeling lost or confused about where you're supposed to go.