This latest game in our Girl Games series is going to be a change of pace, quite literally. This is not a game where you take in the lush detailed environment like Bioshock Infinite or a game where you go on a mind-bending trip like Beyond Two Souls. This is not a game where you need to collect a specific number of treasures like Tomb Raider or a game where you mow down you enemies with advance weaponry, again, like Bioshock Infinite.
This is not a game where you stop and think. This is not a game where you stop AT ALL. This is a game where you run. Girl Games presents:
“Get some air in your lungs and RUN, Faith!”- Mercury
I’ve been writing about games that mean something. Games that strive to create new storytelling tricks of the trade. Games that touch the soul with heartfelt moral conundrums. Games that explore the human condition through interactive, intelligent discourse. Games determined to destroy the preconceived notion that games are just games. Mirror’s Edge is a terrific example of none of those things.
True to the title, Mirror’s Edge is lucid, thin, and razor sharp. There’s nothing extraneous about it. The environment, characters, story, design, and mechanics all serve the same master: motion. Whereas most games add a variety of playing styles throughout a campaign (i.e. some stealth here, some assaults there, some cutscenes hidden somewhere), Mirror’s Edge keeps it focused. Run or die. I remember listening to the Rob Cohen’s director commentary on The Fast & The Furious, and I admired his fat-stripping approach to the movie. Cohen described how he had reached a point in his career that rendered him incapable of bullshit (though to be fair, he compares the opening scene to the heist in Stagecoach, which is bullshit). After making several movies that faded into the stockpile of the unmemorable, Cohen decided to take the Fast job and make a movie about speed, producers and studios be damned. The Fast & The Furious is by no means a complicated movie, but much like Boogie Nights and LA Confidential, it’s a sincere one. It cooks along with cool confidence, and the creator’s love for the subject is admirably felt. Much like The Fast and The Furious, Mirror’s Edge is a moment of clarity in a jungle of media.
Faith Connors is your name, parkour is your game. Faith is a tiny, toned runner charged with navigating her way through a dystopian city to free her sister Kate from a Big Brother-type government. Filling in for the voice of God is Mercury, a former runner that guides Faith when she gets lost and gives her shit when she stands around. Wait, what’s parkour you say? It’s essentially the practice of maintaining momentum despite obstacles. No stops, no pauses, no breaks. Remember when Daniel Craig chased a scarred, beautiful black man from a snake match through a construction site to a foreign embassy and PPK’d his hiney after a tense macho staredown in Casino Royale? That’s real-life certified badass Sebastien Foucan, inventor of parkour. He runs, jumps, pivots, grips, and climbs urban environments for a living.
When the game starts, the screen seems rather empty for a FPS. Where’s my hand? More importantly, where’s the default pistol it’s usually gripping? Don’t I get to blow stuff up? Nope, not this game. You’re a runner, not a fighter. In a rare turn, the objective is to avoid confrontation. That includes: ninjas, a police force ambush on top of a speeding train, and attack helicopters unloading on you as you slide down the side of a skyscraper into thin air. Run over, run under, run around, but whatever you do, attack no one. There are limited fighting options should you find yourself in a battle, but Mirror’s Edge goes to great lengths to dissuade you. The combat is intentionally clunky. It’s almost impossible to take on more than one baddie at a time, and carrying a weapon slows you to a crawl, disabling your ability to zip around. Most enemies won’t even go down with a single attack, which forces you to awkwardly and repetitively punch and kick. Immobility in Mirror’s Edge feels like failure. It’s not fun.
As refreshing as Mirror’s Edge is, the game occasionally shoots itself in the foot (pun intended). It’s devoted to the art of avoidance, yet it sticks you in situations that force you to fight. At one point, I slid down a vent into an underground baddie lair. Six guards with crowd-control helmets and submachine guns patrolled the area. There wasn’t much wiggle room, and the door I needed to get through wouldn’t open until I cleared the room of dudes with guns. This wasn’t necessarily a problem (the artificial intelligence in Mirror’s Edge is pitiful), but it was an experience inconsistent with the rest of the game. I snapped one guard’s neck and took his weapon, then I proceeded to shoot other guards until I was out of ammo. Rinse and repeat. The jarring switch from silent escape artist to lethal assassin stripped Faith of her unique abilities and frustrated me. Why take the momentum out of your own foot-racing game? Thankfully, this doesn’t happen often and generally serves a higher purpose.
Lame combat forced me to think outside the box. When I couldn’t attack the guard ahead of me and live, I looked at my environment and realized it was my friend. I ran along the scaffold above him, jumped to the wall, slid for a second, pounced to the platform behind him, slithered down, disarmed him from behind, and hopped into a vent out of sight. Like a monkey through the jungle, it was all a singular, sweeping motion. It’s a unique sense of accomplishment that only Mirror’s Edge can deliver. It’s not something you’ll get on the first try, either. This is a game that requires you to learn from mistakes in order to progress. It reminded me of speed runs in classic side scrollers like Super Mario Brothers when I wanted to see how fast I could conquer a stage after I’d beaten it the regular way. In Mirror’s Edge, it’s not about how many bodies you leave behind…it’s whether or not anyone knew you were there. If you screw it up, it’s a long way down.
Faith moves naturally through glossy, minimalist environments designed to keep her on the go. Level design consists of largely undefined, silver shaded architecture interrupted by primary colored walls, ramps, pipes, and vents. It’s a refreshing departure from the amount of detail present in most AAA games. It also has the added bonus of giving the console processor a break. The game runs like, well, a dream. Though Mirror’s Edge is about motion, it doesn’t approach its subject like a bull to a red flag. It’s not about how fast you can go. It’s about being in the zone. The zone is what makes you invincible. There’s an omnipresent zen, a buddha’s whisper to be one with the environment and float along it with effortless focus.
Sealing the enlightenment deal is swedish soundscape maestro Solar Fields. I’ve been a fan of his for quite some time. The music of Solar Fields dips into ambient, trance, downtempo, and IDM. It’s psychedelic electronica, guiding the listener through warped dimensions of space with fluid wavelengths. I’ve written some of my finest life-affirming journal entries to Movements, a 2009 album of his. For Mirror’s Edge, he adds subtle tempo from time to time increasing the pace, but it never interrupts the experimental structure of the music. As Faith navigates through white crests at the top of the world, Solar Fields chimes in, giving the feeling of interconnectivity and freedom among the clouds. It’s fucking rad.
The story moves along briskly and economically. I was pleased to find out that Mirror’s Edge is an earlier work from Rhianna Pratchett, a woman whose work I admire. There’s no fluffy exposition or backstory interludes. It’s all based in the present and moves forward. Pratchett has a knack for writing snappy dialogue, and she tends to ignore traditional foreshadowing and purpose-driven speeches. In an age of high concept television chock full of expository dialogue, it’s refreshing to see story move the characters and not vice versa. Gravity did it. So does Mirror’s Edge. Characters speak briefly, react briefly, and move the fuck along in starkly lit, silky noir anime cutscenes. It’s a simple plot with simple devices and simple twists, but it’s in line with the overall concept of the game.
Mirror’s Edge is a breath of fresh air. Trading explosions and the fate of the world with flow and a personal quest, it finds its footing in simplicity. As a fellow artist, I give much praise to the creators of Mirror’s Edge for telling a no-frills story and telling it well. Good storytelling makes it easy on the audience. Bad storytelling does not. Generally, I think it’s much more difficult to tell a simple story than a complicated one. Cleanse thyself of confusion, dear grasshopper, and take a run along the Mirror’s Edge.
Salutations, Luke Brown here. I have a Master’s Degree in Film from San Diego State University as well as a BA from the University of Minnesota. I am a socially apt nerd. When I’m not working in Hollywood post production, I’m reading, writing, taking pictures, playing morally and ethically challenging video games, practicing guitar, getting dominated by the Insanity workout, making homemade soap, cooking from scratch, or eating gourmet pickles.