Right off the bat, let me say this...
I think the Mirror’s Edge games would have sold millions more if they’d called them ‘Runny’, and they’d featured the flailing parkour attempts of an uncoordinated teen trying to impress his mates by jumping about in a disused car park like an idiot.
But no, we get some poncey ‘hip and edgy’ name instead and a sterile, dystopian future where everything is run by corporations and everyone who isn’t one of the rebel cool kids sticking it to ‘the man’ is basically a git. Stupid games designers.
Anyway, amazingly it’s been almost a decade since we last scraped an eye over a Mirror’s Edge game.
Though the original Mirror's Edge managed a healthy cult following by virtue of it being something genuinely different, and that following is largely why we’re seeing a follow-up at all, it was by no means free of flaws.
The free running was glorious when it worked, but required near-perfect timing to keep it flowing or you’d smack into a wall with all the grace of a bag of mince being thrown at a bollard from a moving car. Combat was arthritically terrible, characters largely charmless and at times the first-person view actually made you (well, me at least) feel a bit queasy.
Question is... is 2016’s effort any better? Well yes…and no.
The closed beta hasn’t covered a massive area or unlocked all of Faith’s abilities so there’s more to come we haven’t seen. But the sterile (albeit jaw-droppingly lovely) world is back, most characters still seem to be charmless dicks or irritating hipsters, and sadly you can still ruin a magnificent streak of leaps and bounds with a clunking faceplant caused by the tiniest of mistimings.
Combat is, thankfully, much improved.
Mainly because it’s simpler – you now just knock guards out (or out of the way) and there’s no faffing about trying to disarm them.
The free running itself feels a bit better, but as mentioned it is still utterly unforgiving.
It may just be the beta dropping you in at a deeper end than the full game will, but the included tutorial wasn’t always great at leading you through even fairly simple moves – and when you can’t do a wall run then jump in a game where wall runs and jumps happen all the time, things get rapidly annoying.
It’s expecting end-game Mario platforming dexterity off the bat, and in first-person view, with only the barest of warm-ups and at times minimal visual cues.
The biggest change is, we now have an open game world with missions and side missions strewn all over the place that you parkour your way over to to start.
Because that’s what games all are these days, of course. You can set paths using your ‘runner’s vision’, so thankfully you’re not abandoned to flail about in a huge open area with no inkling of what routes may be permissible (rather than, say, GTA, it reminded me most of racing classic Burnout Paradise, if that helps).
In one way, this new open structure makes sense – you can now free run more or less wherever you like, do time trials and so on and (in what passes for this game’s multiplayer) challenge others to try routes you’ve created. Which is what I assume real free runners would do when they’re not looking sullen on dank urban stairwells.
Overall, I’m on the fence about the game. I really, really wanted to love it because it is so different and – cynicism about the cheesy plot and cast aside – the gleaming world it shows gives you a proper 80s ‘nightmare vision of the future’ sci-fi movie vibe like Tron or The Terminator.
But man, that gameplay. You can be cruising along and then WHOOMP. One hiccup and your graceful urban athlete is a jellyfish in spandex they’re scraping off of an overpass. And much more than a death or slip-up in other games, it throws you totally out of the moment.
The sense of being hurled out of the game world isn’t helped at all by dreadful load times that happen after every proper death either. Hopefully this is a beta ‘feature’, because it was an absolute fun killer to miss a jump and then be punished further by having to sit through 15 seconds of reloading exactly where you were again.
Miss a few more times while you try and nail it (not an uncommon occurrence), and you’ve basically spent the best part of a minute doing nothing in a game all about flowing and movement. Not ideal.
I think the best I can say for Mirror’s Edge is wait and see. The final game may have a slightly less steep learning curve so you can get more into your groove before having to be constantly bang on with your button presses.
There might also be other NPCs who have a bit of charm to them. And hopefully, they’ll have fixed those shocking load times. But most of it will hinge on whether the game can consistently make you feel like an urban superhero rather than someone who has had his hands replaced by cuttlefish attempting to type a letter.
I really hope they pull it off – in part because there’s still not much else like it, and also because if it pays off it will hopefully make other studios a bit bolder with letting ‘out there’ ideas come to fruition.
The full game is out in June. But in the meantime? This:
THE MAN IN THE MIRROR'S EDGE BY MR BIFFO