Needs More Cowbell

Needs More Cowbell
Stumbling Through Mirror's Edge

Michael Cook | 9 Mar 2010 09:37
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Mirror's Edge is plagued by this feeling of vague discomfort, and although it suits the story in many respects, it pops up in too many unwanted places. Last August, one of the game's writers explained how the plot was written after much of the game's content had been fleshed out or partially implemented; but it's hard to develop these elements out of order and find that the seams match up perfectly. There are simply too many breaks in the game's continuity and not enough of the flow that the gameplay thrives on. Faith is a runner; she lives off momentum. It's practically the concept that defines her as a character, yet the game is broken up into disjointed pieces. Are you supposed to run or fight here? Is this room another series of platforms, or does it have narrative importance?

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Mirror's Edge was a foray into new territory for a developer who has demonstrated its ability to create very good first-person action games. There is every reason to have faith that they can perfect this formula. But the problems demonstrated here are more interesting than the average videogame failure story, because they're new pitfalls that we've only begun to see in recent years as games try harder and harder to be as visceral, powerful and emotional as possible. The notion of forging a new IP seems to entail only one thing: finding a hook for your game and pushing it to its limit. Mirror's Edge does this well, and EA's confirmation of its quality as a franchise is a testament to its success. But as these hooks become increasingly about the psychological experience of playing the game, doing one thing and doing it well isn't enough. It has to be a well-rounded experience.

For some gamers, Mirror's Edge remains a playable and enjoyable experience. But ultimately, it should serve as a lesson for developers that no trick can replace a solid foundation. While independent developers can afford to experiment, to sacrifice the quality of their game in order to investigate a new feature or idea, DICE and its peers are at the mercy of a player base that will rarely stand for such things. What Mirror's Edge presents to us is interesting, valuable and certainly worth exploring. But by focusing on those aspects and neglecting the core of their game, DICE missed out on the greatness that their game deserved.

And so, the run ends for now. Hopefully when we reach for the sneakers and running shorts next time, Mirror's Edge will have the stamina to push on a little further.

Michael Cook's not about those joggers who go round and round and round ...

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