Wednesday, March 06, 2013

Can You See Your Reflection In The Edge Of A Mirror?

I had two major issues with Mirror's Edge. One, I liked the look of the cut scenes, more than the look of the game portions. I know it's intentional, the city being remade into some dull and mind-numbing, but the overabundance of white made me worry I was about to go snowblind. The cut scenes tended towards solid colors, too, but there was more use of shadows, more richness to the colors. The city is a lot more interesting as a series of slightly abstract silhouettes than a wall of white. This wasn't ultimately a deal breaker for playing, it just meant I was a little disappointed when the cut scenes ended and the art style shifted back.

The second issue was the decision to go with first-person perspective. The game wants me to feel immersed in the world, like it's me jumping across rooftops rather than Faith. I get that, I appreciate the intent. My problem is that so much of the game relies on timing, making certain you don't jump too soon (and fall short), but also don't jump too late (at which point you don't jump at all because you fell off the edge of a building).

If I were doing all this myself - setting aside the fact I'd have broken my neck five minutes into the tutorial - I would be conscious of where my feet where in relation to the edge without looking. Because they're my feet, you see. They're connected to me, they send me signals. I'm not connected to Faith's feet like that, so I found myself craning the camera down so I could tell when to jump. That makes it rather hard to see where I'm going, and the controls can be a bit touchy. I had a few occasions where I thought I was lined up properly to leap to the next rooftop, only to find I must have gotten slightly diagonal and watched Faith plummet into the void.

I think a third-person perspective would have made for a smoother gameplay experience. It's not as though there have been plenty of games that did that successfully. The mid-2000s Prince of Persia games, for example. Maybe they wanted to make certain it was distinct from those.

With Mirror's Edge, the experience of playing it reminds me of the PS2 Shinobi game, albeit with considerably less swordplay. When things are going well, it's thrilling, it's fun, I felt like I had things figured out. Then I'd mis-time a jump, or end up off-target, and things would grind to a screeching halt. OK, try again. Nope, jumped too far this time. Maybe try wall-running, then jumping. Nope, the landing kills you. On and on.

There's a fair amount of combat in the game. Sometimes you can just outrun the Blues, but other times they'd shoot you to pieces while waiting for a door to open. The right trigger handles almost every attack in Faith's arsenal single-handedly. What enables you to mix it up is you can combine it with her various acrobatics. Run towards them and jump to get them two sneakers to the face. Or baseball slide and kick them in the groin. If their gun turns red, hit Y and you can go for a disarm. then you've got yourself a gun, if you want one. At a certain point, I realized there was an Achievement for making it through the game without shooting anyone, so I worked to avoid that. I managed it, which made me happy, even if I died a dozen times more than I would have if I'd just taken the damn gun and shot the guys. As far as I can see, shooting's pretty easy, too. Point and click. Most of the Blues are slow enough it shouldn't be much trouble keeping the reticule on them.

There is one issue for the combat, at least for me. Like I said, right trigger is attack. The right bumper, set in front of it, makes Faith do a 180. The left bumper is the jump button, among other functions. I can't count the times I would charge towards a Blue, jump, then hit the frickin' right bumper instead of the trigger, earning Faith a pistol whipping to the back of the head. Couldn't they have keyed the 180 to clicking the right joystick, since that already controls where she's looking?

Something a little random. I enjoyed the music for the last level a lot. It had a quick beat, an undercurrent of determination, but the instruments they used - I visualized it as tapping a crystal - made it mellow, as well. The net result was I didn't feel pressured to find the way out immediately. I could take my time, think it through, look around, as opposed to running about randomly trying to climb things.

My ultimate assessment of Mirror's Edge is it had several elements that meant I should have really enjoyed it, but there were details in the controls or the gameplay that kept tripping it up.

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