Saturday, April 3, 2010

I'm starting with the man in the Mirror's Edge - Mirror's Edge Retrospective

Congratulations to the one person who guessed correctly that it was Mirror's Edge (not via the blog). She wins my copy of the game (maybe), or at least a close copy of it. To find out what I thought of it (and possibly hear some spoilers), read more after the "Read More >"

Once again, it's not like I'm exactly on the cutting edge of games here, but at least Mirror's Edge doesn't have a sequel out yet already. So to cut a long description short: Mirror's Edge is a first person game that puts you in the shoes (and the rest of the clothing) of a parkour/martial artist badass. While the game is fairly unique, it didn't make as much of an impact as I would imagine Ubisoft were hoping, and even already it's beginning to fade into obscurity.

Before playing, I was interested in this game for a few reasons. Mainly because free running is cool (although now it's pretty overplayed) , but also because they the game had a vibrant colour scheme and offered new twists to the FPS genre. The game came through on all those points, so mission accomplished there I guess.

That being said, it is really hard to call Mirror's Edge a top level game. By no means is it bad, but there's just so much that stops the good bits shining though. To be honest, I'm hard-pressed to find a game that is more restricted by it's story than Mirror's Edge.

What I want to do is compare Mirror's Edge to Portal. Both are FPSes with a new twist. Both feature strong (or weak, if you want to overanalyze) female leads. Both are kind of short.  But one is generally regarded as a game of the year, the other is regarded as just a game (although one that was critically well recieved).

Both feature story ideas that drive the game, but what makes Portal better is that it doesn't let story dictate the gameplay. In Portal, gameplay concepts are introduced one by one, and with increasing difficulty. The story then layers on top of that. Even better, the story perfectly justifies the game's step-by-step approach. Nothing like this included in Mirrors Edge. The story interjects between gameplay segments, basically tells Faith where to go, and thats it. While there is some level of freedom to what path you take the levels, there is no development of skills factored into the level structure. After the tutorial level it's just whatever the designers want from the outset.

Now before you go saying I'm attacking (the player's) freedom or something, I'm not. I'm just saying that if some care was taken in the placement of "default" path, you could gradually test the player with tougher and tougher challenges that would leave a better sense of accomplishment, and also iron out any patches where the difficulty suddenly increases. You can keep the freedom of being semi-open world and have other paths and shortcuts, but require the player to have already developed a certain amount of skill to travel along. This can lead to replayability, plus open the game up even further to speedrunners (which let's face it, this engine is ripe for).

To illustrate my point here: I think the ultimate jump in the game comes about halfway through, and the toughest fight takes place about two-thirds to three-quarters of the way through. That's not to say it doesn't get hard towards the end (at least bits of it suddenly do, out of nowhere), but that does bring me to another gripe revolving around the story.

Faith herself is just a runner (Some kind of futuristic courier... It doesn't really get explained properly) so she's good at moving about, plus she has some martial arts skills as well, but she never comes off as agressive (or "hardcore"), at least at the start of the game. This, coupled with the fact that she's framed for murder early on, and skulks around like Batman during the cutscenes, I felt the need to play her as such (I.e.disarming, knocking out opponents rather than shooting them in the face, you know... like a murder. I have standards dammit).

This certainly seemed to be what the developers were aiming at, being that gun gameplay is super basic for an FPS and you can't carry an arsenal around with you. Despite this though, there are a couple of parts in the late levels that are seemingly impossible to beat without shooting your way through. Justify all you want that "the stakes have been raised" and "it's realistic to shoot people if people are shooting you back" but it's still possible to make a game tough without having to break it's own characterization. Sure, just cause the story says Faith's not a killer, doesn't mean I can't shoot people from the beginning, but it should be my choice to suspend the belief, not something that's forced on me if I want to continue.

Now one could argue that Portal's protagonist, Chell, didn't even have any development, seeing as she's a blank slate, but I don't think that had any effect on how the player played the game. Effectively, her driving force was exactly what the player was doing: Escaping the lab. To do this, she has to get through the trials and destroy GlaDOS. Faith's driving force is clearing her and her sister's name of murder, and then later rescuing her sister. Forcing Faith to actually murder someone along the way seems a little counter productive. It's like Chell taking a detour to capture someone and put them in a deathtrap just for the hell of it.

But I think it's clear that Mirror's Edge was rushed and possible cut though. As a whole, the story seems kind of piecemeal, and nothing really makes sense. I mean, Project Icarus is created to stop the runners, and the runners do what exactly? Don't get me wrong, I hate seeing people running too, but I don't start government backed organisations to take them down. For what purpose did Faith/her sister needed to be framed? I mean, besides for the point of having the game actually move along and all.

All this being said, I really did like the game... Not so much for what it was, but for what the inevitable sequel will be. Gameplay wise, I loved the controls and the feeling of running across the rooftops/kicking people in the face. It's the closest a game has been to being a Jackie chan movie (abliet a modern european styled Jackie Chan movie where Jackie Chan is played by a 20-something girl), and that includes the game "Jackie Chan: Stuntmaster". I loved the colour scheme, and the subtle hints it threw up through that. But then again, any FPS thats not all murky browns and milatiristic is likely to get thumbs up from me.

I'm sure there will be a sequal to this game, or at least a game based on this engine. What I'd really like to see included in it would be a greater focus on the kung fu, plus boss fights that actually feel like boss fights (instead of one-off quicktime events, or episodes in trial and error).  I don't it to become any more open world than it already is, since that's only going to dilute focus. I would like to see some kind of multiplayer/exhibition mode though. Oh also, for the PC version not to just be a barely modified port of the XBox 360 version would be good too... but I know I'm asking a little much there.

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