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Mirror's Edge

Oy, Persia. Get out of it. Croft, skedaddle. All you acrobatic platforming types are all the same. Born with a silver spoon jammed right in your faces, and snooping around dusty, sandy levels like some kind of tourist. The heroine of Mirror’s Edge is called Faith, and her world is a long sprint away from filth and privilege.

She’s a courier in a modern-day alternate world where the dazzlingly, clinically clean windows are just one symptom of a nanny government in overdrive. It’s a world approaching political satire – everything in Mirror’s Edge is under surveillance. Every bit of information is monitored and controlled, and if you eat a bowl of Corn Flakes at breakfast, you’ll be on the Kellogg Lovers’ Register before lunch. Senior producer Owen O’Brien explains that it’s not fanciful futuristic sci-fi. “It’s a city that doesn’t exist, but it’s a contemporary city,” he says. “We’ve taken things that are happening in the world – social, architectural, political – and we’ve combined it all in one place.”

That’s where your courier job – ‘running’ – comes in. You’re paid to transport information that people don’t want tracked by the government. You’re hired for your ability to run across the city, to leap undetected across the skyline, and to risk your life for the freedom of shady information. But in the run up to an election, they’re taking unusually strong measures to stop it, including abducting your sister. And sending bloody great helicopter gunships after you. Although Faith has plenty of moves tucked away in her acrobatic arsenal, the methods by which you’ll get to them will be surprisingly simple. It’s all been boiled down to context-sensitive up and down.

Up can be clambering, jumping and all the things that feel naturally attached to the direction ‘up’. Down unsurprisingly will let you slide and parachute roll to reduce damage from a great fall. The controls might sound rudimentary and overly simple when put like that, but it’s what you can do, chaining them together with wall-walks, balancing and Faith’s thundering sprint, which really makes you hold your breath when you’re watching. Seeing Faith in action, your mouth goes pleasantly slack before you’ve even fired a bullet.

Nobody could accuse Mirror’s Edge of trying to be Devil May Cry – guns are limited in availability and ammo and they’re instantly encumbering. You’ll find yourself better off relying on your gymnastic reflexes to navigate the levels, which are inspired by real places. Take one vast cylindrical underground silo: it seems like the stuff of Bond fantasy, but O’Brien assures me that it’s modeled faithfully on a storm drain in Tokyo – all part of keeping the game shy of fantasy. But the design is the key; the story is told in a combination of gameplay action, motion-captured sequences, and a 2D comicbook-style that’s difficult to fault. The clean simplicity of the in-game action is pulled off so well, you can understand why people reacted suspiciously to the first gameplay trailers.

Seeing Faith make those moves is pretty impressive, but it’s the world she runs in that slaps you on the face. Was this clinical city intended from the start? O’Brien explains that it was. “We had this visual idea from the outset… not only does it look great, but it’s useful for the player. You only have to put a red door in, and players know where they have to go.” Is this system is a little bit subtler than the massive blue grappling-hook rings of Tomb Raider, then? Yes, but O’Brien adds that players will be able to use the Runner’s instinct, constantly risking your life throwing yourself off skyscrapers gives you an instinct for which bits are jumpable and which will lead to a Wile E. Coyote death plunge.

Mirror’s Edge looks incredibly gripping and has a beautiful heroine as its central character. This is a high-concept shooter that represent’s a new EA, as the mega-publisher tries to reposition itself as a gamer’s friend… and it’s working. If the move-chaining system works well enough to reward persistent gamers and compensates for the simplistic heart of the control system, then this is going to make everything else out there look like it could do with a bit of polish. And don’t worry, Lara Croft fan-fiction writers, it occasionally slips into third-person, so you will get to look at her bum from time to time as you prance around.

Combat walkthrough
It’s running and gunning, with the emphasis on running

1) Something borrowed
There’s some indoor combat, but guns aren’t that easy to come by in Mirror’s Edge. There won’t be any lying around and you’ll have to pull weapons off soldiers, who’d rather shoot you with them. All the action remains in first-person.

2) Nice moves
Faith’s assault of the trooper is also designed to grab a handy weapon to take on any future foes. It begins with a swift kick to the face and then seamlessly moves into a more complex choke. It is like playing Prince Of Persia in first-person.

3) Leg over
The animation on Faith is beautifully smooth and manages to stay in first-person throughout the whole routine. The entire game has been developed with the central belief that you see the world through Faith’s eyes and experience her journey.

4) Onatopp overthetopp
Just because she’s unarmed, doesn’t mean Faith is defenseless. You can outwit and overpower soldiers with some acrobatics, specifically with a nifty leg-choke that’d have GoldenEye’s Xenia Onatopp wincing in loving appreciation of Faith’s moves.

5) Drop it
Finally, getting your hands on and then carrying about heavier weapons such as the shotgun will restrict Faith’s abilities to perform some of her hairier acrobatics. So even if you’re careful with the ammo, you’ll end up having to throw it away to progress. It becomes a fine balancing act of weapons versus agility.

6) Limited use
Once you’ve got your gun, you’ve got as many bullets as there were left in it. It’s a bit like Condemned 2 and ensures that you never feel like you have the upper hand or are completely safe. But honestly, when was the last time you found ammo lying around on a table with a medikit and a keycard? Alright, how about the time before that?

Aug 7, 2008