Note: This article is a repost from my own blog.
Mirror's Edge is the funniest game I've played from the last generation consoles (PS3, XBOX360). I played many great games, some very touching, some very interesting, but this really is the game I had most fun with. It has been moderately appreciated, but I met many people who love it as much as I do. So, I wanted to give tribute to this very good game, and try to understand why it has not had all the praise it deserved.
Too short ?
The first thing I want to correct is the duration of the game. It has been the main criticism made to it, since one can complete the story mode in about 8 hours. Yes, that's pretty short, even if some very succesful games have an even shorter duration (Call of Duty games for instance, in their campaign mode). But stating that Mirror's Edge is short would be ignoring its time-attack mode which adds between 10 and 50 hours of additional gameplay. And that's actually where the real gameplay is, as the story mode is barely training to the time-attack mode. Unfortunately, the game has not been marketed this way, and many critics have simply ignored this mode (which is a big marketing failure in my opinion). Why is this mode the real deal ? Simply because it takes environments you used to play in the story mode and asks you to get to a goal in a given time (this is what a time-attack is, no surprise). But what's great is that if you take the same path as in the story mode, you will simply get 1 star. The 2nd star will require a perfect performance. And the 3rd star are only available if you find a new path with complex shortcuts, which require a lot of skill to pass with success. As an example, I spent about 1 hour in each of the first 3 tracks to get the 3 stars. The feeling you have for getting the three stars is really rewarding, and since you have at least 23 tracks to beat in the base game (more have been added as DLC), that's a lot of work/fun to get all the stars. Most of the fun actually comes from the search of the optimal path, and the skill to run through it.
Players don't need Runner-vision
Which leads me to the second big design mistake of the game: the runner-vision. Since it's an optional feature, it's an avoidable mistake, but developers should have reserved it for easy mode, or at least inactivate it by default for normal mode. It really spoils part of the fun, as it makes the game really feel like a corridor. When disabled, it challenges you to find the right path (or one of the paths) in addition to crossing the stage as fast as possible. It makes the game feel a little more "open-worlded", as you feel that the path you found is part of a larger choice. You need to choose a path quickly, and have the skills to run through it as fast as possible. It adds a puzzle element to a skill oriented gameplay. The runner-vision should really be a help for the player dying too many times at the same stage, but it really spoils the gameplay. Once again, if you consider the story mode as a training field for the time-trial mode, the runner-vision may be part of the learning. But very few people see the story-mode as a training mode.
No shooting in a running world
The third flaw in the design (but once again avoidable) is the use of weapons. The game is NOT a First-Person-Shooter, and should have never been. Using weapons breaks the skilled running aspect of the game. There is an achievement that can be unlocked by killing 0 enemies. I don't know why I chose to try to get it, but it was a real good decision, because it makes the game more challenging, while removing a badly developed aspect of the game. Except for a few parts, you can even avoid any fight against enemies, thus making it a running game and nothing else. I feel the same way of stealth games that adds some shooting sequence in the game, when I would have liked it to be just a stealth oriented character. Because making your character able to kill all enemies with guns makes you wonder why in hell are you even bothering running away from them, when you can kill them all. Constraining yourself to resolve stages only by running gives an amazing feeling of being untouchable, in a credible way, even against a horde of heavily armed soldiers. The skill-oriented gameplay gives you, as the player, all the credit for successfully overcoming all the obstacles the avatar meets.
"What a feeling"
To conclude, I'd like to talk about why this game is so amazing. Mirror's Edge is a truly unique experience, with amazingly simple and powerful control-scheme: two buttons, one for upper and one for lower contextual actions. The rest of the challenge is just about timing. A few milliseconds delay will change the action of Faith (the avatar) to pass the obstacle, and make her lose some of her speed. Since the real pleasure come from crossing the environments at the fastest speed, you quickly find yourself trying to achieve that (I really enjoyed the third time I played the game, and that's an evidence of its high quality). This requires observation (if you remove runner-vision), anticipation and timing. This is a fully simulation-oriented design, which makes a great difference from more arcade-oriented running games, like Assassin's Creed. In Assassin's Creed, running through the environment is impressive, but not very rewarding for the player. Mirror's Edge really gives yourself a true sense of being smarter and quicker than all those soldiers trying to kill you (close to the feeling you have in Shadow of the Colossus when you achieve to kill gigantic creatures using your intelligence, creativity and agility). But as I said before, the story mode is just an introduction for the real game which is the time-trial mode. Many critics said that it is a bonus mode to reuse existing environments, but some very good games are only driven by mode such as this one, and nobody talks about them as a bonus mode (I specifically think about Trackmania games here).
I wanted to give a few words about the visual and sound-design of the game. These are just amazing. Very few games from the last-gen (and even current-gen so far) have reached this quality (I can think of Journey, but that's it). These qualities have been highly praised and explained in any review about the game. This opinion, at least, is widely shared among people who played the game.
Alive in an open-world
A reboot of Mirror's Edge has been announced during the 2013 E3, and the only thing we know is that it will be an open-world game. This is a great news, since this game will really benefit from this feature. The original already had kind of open levels (what you actually see in time-trial mode), but an open-world may be a perfect fit for this gameplay. Let's hope developers make good choices regarding which features they will reboot, and which they keep as is.