Running Against the Grain in the Original Mirror’s Edge
Sometimes a studio can get tired of doing the same thing over and over. There are a lot of great intellectual properties and franchises out there and with each new success, there’s a danger of being shoehorned into doing it all over again. Take DICE for example, known for the pretty awesome Battlefield series, DICE has been making a name for epic multiplayer shooters for a while, but there came a time when even DICE felt the need to try something new. And try they did. It was on this day in 2008 that DICE and Electronic Arts released Mirror’s Edge, shaking up the first-person genre with an incredibly fast-paced and breathtaking physics experience.
Conception of Mirror’s Edge may have begun sometime in early 2007 when DICE creative director Ben Cousins expressed a desire to try something new and diversify the DICE catalogue. Where much of their experience was in shooters, it would seem the plan was to go towards a game that was distinctly not so. Mirror’s Edge was designed to be a world where momentum and speed won the day over brute force and violence. Created before the Frostbite engine was ready, Mirror’s Edge would instead rely on Unreal 3 to supply this physics heavy new creation.
Mirror’s Edge takes players to a futuristic false utopian city of Glass. In this city, there is no crime and life is meant to be comfortable at the cost of absolute surveillance by government, military and police organizations. Citizens are supplied with a false democracy and the illusion of choice and any who speak out are removed. In this world, players take on the role of Faith Connors. Faith is a Runner working in opposition of the government as a Runner that delivers communications between an underground resistance group as to avoid the government surveillance on email or phone.
Mirror’s Edge used a number dystopian or false utopian inspirations including the works of George Orwell. Senior Producer Owen O’Brian specifically cited the TV series Firefly and the film Serenity as direct inspirations for the tone of Glass. Specifically, he mentioned a line from a character known as The Operative who at one point states, "This is not an evil empire. We just don't understand why you don't want to be part of our happy club." O’Brian mentioned this would sum up the government who takes this idea to its natural extremes, asking citizenry to give up all of their freedoms and play by all the rules to live peacefully.
Gameplay was an enormous innovation in Mirror’s Edge. As Faith, it’s your job to traverse the city by way of its mostly unguarded rooftops, using parkour and speed of momentum to perform agile and sometimes death-defying feats as you jump from building to building. Agile actions like climbing, jumping, sliding, crouching and the like were minimized to only a few button presses that handled these moves in context sensitive scenarios.
More important than anything is momentum. As Faith moves in a direction, she picks up speed and the only way to keep it was by performing chains of agile moves effectively. Failing to keep speed could lead to falling short of a crucial long distance jump. To help players along, Reaction Time allows players to slow time and plan their actions for a moment without losing momentum and Runners Vision paints interactive obstacles in red to give players an idea of where to go, though Runner Vision could be turned off for greater challenge.
The level to which Mirror’s Edge defined itself as an anti-shooter experience was heavily in part to the way gameplay handles gunplay. Armed enemies could be disarmed, but doing so saddles Faith with a weapon that slows her down based on its size and type. Moreover, players cannot simply collect ammo for the guns. Once a firearm is spent, it’s done. This forced players to seriously consider when to fight or fly from danger in the game.
Mirror’s Edge was much applauded for its innovation and the fresh style it brought to the gaming community. The physics and use of movement in the game was stellar and still stand a step above most current titles. Criticism came for its short length and somewhat lackluster use of cutscenes, but the art direction and stylistic gameplay more than made up for its shortcomings with many. Mirror’s Edge not only plays fresh and original, but its core design lends well to speed run material. The game has a healthy community that languishes in the best and shortest runs possible through the game. It’s in that community where players strive for perfection and display outstanding feats of accuracy in Faith’s execution that Mirror’s Edge shines its best and brightest.