Monday, April 12, 2010

Mirror's Edge

I finally got around to playing some of Mirror's Edge, after buying it during the Steam Holiday Sale this past winter.

The environments really are stunning, and it is refreshing to see so many bright primary colors. Sprinting, jumping and swinging from perch to perch is thrilling and visceral when it flows, and a terrible chore when it doesn't. The runner vision that highlights the best path helps keep you moving along, but there are a few places where I got lost or frustrated, namely jumping around the sides of a huge hole in the ground, a gigantic storm drain. Very visually impressive, but I ended up jumping to my death more than a dozen times in a row in a part where I had to run to catch a timed door.

Mainly I missed wall runs when jumping from platforms to platform along the edge of this hole and plummeted to my death. So after a half dozen or so tries, I switched to normal jumps and made it just fine, but I still wanted to wall run across the gaps. Wall running seemed so much cooler, it just seemed like the natural move. Why would I make a normal jump when I can run on the freaking walls? But I have a hard time getting the key combination right for some reason. Maybe it was the curved walls of the storm drain that was making it harder to register the wall jumps? Or I'm not hitting the buttons in the correct combination?

The huge circular storm drain was also a pain because I wasn't sure which way to head. The checkpoint pointed me in the wrong direction, facing a platform that I had just jumped on but forgot about. So I ended up dying another dozen times before I figured out my mistake. Solution: Maybe make the platforms more unique with different colors or lighting patterns? Maybe have some of the platforms collapse or retract or get blown off after I've used them?

Another spot where I had trouble was in the first level after the tutorial, where I had to make a long jump from one building to another and catch a pipe on the other side. Again, this took me more than a dozen tries. I kept missing the pipe, or hitting the wrong button, I'm still not sure what I did to finally catch it. I'm not sure if I need to activate pipes when I hit them, or if I wasn't crouching at the right time, or if I just wasn't jumping at the right time? There were too many factors to pin down what I was doing wrong. This could perhaps be fixed by having context clues, like having the pipe flash red when it's the right time to press a button to grab it? Or have me grab a pipe earlier in the level in a safe spot where I don't have to worry about making a huge jump, then have me make a long jump without a pipe, then combine the two once I have become confident doing both together.

That's my main complaint, that the controls can be frustrating. I can visualize what I want to do, but it's hard to get Faith to do it. Maybe just a more clear tutorial on wall running? Force me to practice it a couple times in a row where I can try it again and again without penalty? Maybe it's easier to pull off wall running with a controller, I am playing with a keyboard and mouse on my PC. Or maybe I'm just not that great at the game, one of the producers of Mirror's Edge in this postmortem on Crispy Gamer mentions that if he could go back and add something to the game, he would add a variable difficulty system that made it easier to make jumps, gave the player a little more room for error. Maybe that's what I need, but I still feel there were a few spots where I feel like I should not have gotten lost.

I don't want it to sound like I'm bashing the game, it's just that the fun bits fly by, and when I get lost or have to make a jump over and over again, it gets burned into my mind. That does not make the good bits any worse: any game where I can slide down an office building, jump off and drop kick goons as I land is a winner in my book. Having bullets flying by and glass shattering all around me as I outrun an entire squad of cops and a helicopter is an awesome experience, all without firing a shot.

One idea I was thinking of as I played was having free reign of the world, Mirror's Edge as a sandbox game, finding and delivering hidden packages scattered throughout the world, crossing from one end of the city to the other on the rooftops. Probably a nightmare to design such a huge space without the player getting lost, since I already had trouble with that in the linear game, but I think it could be done, and it's a fun daydream, finding my own fastest way through the world, the time trials writ large.
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Miles said...

I think the problem with Mirror's Edge is that they sort of lost their own direction. The game started out gradually teaching you these moves, and their applications, but it sort of hit a roadblock halfway through where they ran out of moves. Solution? flow staggering enemies and cramped interiors. Seriously, the original premise was great, but there was so much more they COULD have done with it (dynamic environments, a generally more interesting setting) that would have made it more endearing. Nice little review man, keep on writing!

Sam C said...

Hey, thanks for the comment. Every time I have quit playing, I was either in a tight interior spot and couldn't puzzle out what to do next or kept getting destroyed by a cluster of enemies, so I think you're on to something there.