Visually, it’s a magnificent game. Where most titles powered by the Unreal 3 engine slap on layer after layer of texture detail and surface effects, Mirror’s Edge is all about stripping back the environment to a bare minimum of sun-bleached white surfaces, blinding light and a restricted palette of bright reds, blues, greens and oranges. Of these red is the most important, signifying routes Faith can take, doors she can open and items she can leap off or grab onto. The style fits the subject matter perfectly and allows the game to render complex rooftop scenes and long draw-distances at ridiculous speeds, but it also makes you focus on the task in hand: where am I going, and what am I jumping to, racing along, smashing through or desperately grabbing onto next?
Why that sense of desperation? Because Mirror’s Edge is all about being chased. As an illegal operator embroiled in a sinister conspiracy, Faith spends most of her time on the run from heavily armed agents of the law. For long stretches of the running time the game creates an overwhelming feeling that the ‘blues’, as they’re called, are right on your footsteps, and as you race ahead of a hail of gunfire, there’s a sense that you simply can’t afford to slow down. Faith isn’t defenceless – she can ambush unaware foes or unleash a flurry of kicks and punches on them, even grab a gun and turn it on her hunters. She also has access to a Matrix-style slowmo ability, allowing her to finish a fight with minimal damage. All the same, caught in the open or outnumbered she can’t last long. Fight when you should be running, and you simply won’t survive.
As with Sands of Time or any great platform game, the challenge is twofold. First, you have to work out your route, spying which rooftops or ledges or out-stretched bars will get you where you need to go. Secondly, you have to actually execute the necessary maneuvers. Luckily, for the most part Mirror’s Edge gets its control system right, using the left stick to steer faith and the trigger buttons to handle her different jumps, grabs and slides. It’s not quite as idiot-proof as Assassin’s Creed’s simulation of free-running – and therefore a little more satisfying – but as long as you can time your presses of the L1 and L2 buttons with some degree of skill, you’ll be fine. When Mirror’s Edge comes together in a stunning flow of rooftop acrobatics, it’s absolutely unbeatable. There are five or ten minute stretches that leave you with a feeling of breathless awe. An early escape from an office building, a breakneck chase through subway stations – these are some of the best gaming moments I’ve had this year.
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