Mirror\'s Edge (sorry, too late at night to proofread this)

Huh, I just beat Mirror\'s Edge, that new parkour game. I was mad skeptical at first, but by the end I really, really liked it. Impressions:

  • At first I was very grumbly about all the fenced in spaces. If the point of the game was \"If you see it, you can climb it\", then why can I only see fences?

    Turns out that wasn\'t the point of the game, the point of the game is to run and leap very quickly and to solve puzzles. This wasn\'t Grand Theft Auto, it was Suduku, but with a huge dose of awesome.

  • It took me a while to get into it, and to really learn the controls. The race game (no bad guys, no plot, just beat the clock on a pre-designed course) really helped, and was also extremely fun.

    However, there was no training area for combat--towards the very end of the game I learned that you could jump off things and land on people, knocking them out cold! Fun, but beating up cops is really something you should train for a bit more, I think.

  • And speaking of cops, the civic politics in this game are a little wack. They \"claim\" (from the plot progression, the point of view, &c.) to be a pro-activist game--the game takes place in the near future, after a massive rally turned ugly, and the fascist pigs machine gunned helpless protesters. You play a \"runner\" living on the edge of society, man, always getting shot at by the \"blues\" just for trying to survive.

    However, in the course of the game you beat the crap out of cops (fair enough, little fantasy fulfillment there) occasionally snapping their necks, grabbing their machine guns, and mowing them down. For me, while still extremely fun, this changes things. For one, it\'s now a city in the near future in which random girls disarm and kill cops (and, likely bystanders) on a regular basis. Perhaps the tightened security makes sense?

  • The rest of their politics are pretty cool, though--a big deal with this game is \"total embodiment\", so you never see yourself except in a mirror (more on this later) or in cutscenes. When you do see yourself, you\'re a petite Asian woman. Neither was the slightest bit necessary in terms of plot (every single bit of the story would have worked just as well with a traditional White Guy Hero) and the game doesn\'t make the slightest reference to it.

    You make use of superior speed and agility (which might be \"girly\") but you also beat up cops and blow them away with their own shotguns. I\'ve played plenty of games where the \"Oriental\" character was automatically a master of Mystical Eastern Kung Fu, too. I don\'t know what style Faith (the main character) uses in this game, but it\'s clearly not at all exotic or related to the shape of her eyes.

  • At any rate, after I\'d gotten used to the control scheme (like Assassin\'s Creed but the guards are always looking for you, and there are no scholars with which to \"blend\") I found it to be an extremely visceral game. That was always the claim, and one of the things it was designed to be form the ground up.

    Except for cutscenes done in a totally different Anime style, everything (including a bunch of shorter cutscenes) is in first person. You can see your arms and your feet, which gives a sense of presence, but more than that you can hear your breath. Faster and faster, more and more ragged. I\'ve played plenty of games in which I found myself actually leaning to the left in order to dodge an attack, or whatever, but this one really takes the cake, as Penny Arcade can attest.

    For one thing, whenever I caught myself leaning forward in my chair to make a jump it never felt silly--it felt like a perfectly reasonable thing to do. After all, it\'s a long way down if you fall, and every bit of momentum helps!

  • Most of the time the game built up a huge momentum for me, flowing right along. Sometimes it did not: unskippable cutscenes the occur right before a section that is likely to lead to death should be punishable in a court of law. There weren\'t too many of these, but there were a few (and the initial tutorial was so full of them that I almost quit right there).
  • Fortunately this wasn\'t much of a problem for me. It really isn\'t a hard game (if I managed to beat it, it can\'t be that bad!) but I\'m ok with that. There was enough challenge to feel pretty pleased when I solved a puzzle or beat the crap out of a cop, death is usually only a very minor setback, and I only had to go to the online walkthroughs for two puzzles.
  • Finally, the aesthetics are absolutely breathtaking, really some of the best I\'ve ever seen in a video game (or a movie, for that matter). We\'ve finally gone beyond photorealism as a touchstone for games, and into art--the city of absolutely antiseptic (like the Disney Store in Times Square) and looks completely sterile. It\'s a photorealistic city, except that it\'s all done in shades of white. For Faith, the buildings, the tress (also shades of white) and the cars hold no interest, she only sees the pipes, ramps, and platforms that she can use to race about the rooftops.

    These are all fire engine red--not glowing red, like in a video game, but more like the construction crew painted everything white, and then came back with high-gloss red for certain bits. There are other accent colors, as well (the shopping mall scene is full of bright orange) but in every level red and one other color dominate.

    The designers drop little hints about which way to go (although I did get completely lost once or twice, it wasn\'t too bad) mostly through red accents in otherwise bland corporate art, &c. It isn\'t realistic, but it works and is beautiful.

  • Click for larger image

    Click for larger image

    This isn\'t actually an in game shot... I think