Sep 042012
 

Left Gamer Review decided to take a look back at Electonic Arts’ 2008 release Mirror’s Edge mostly as a consequence of Anita Sarkeesian’s obvious enthusiasm for the game. And indeed, there is lots for a feminist (ie, civilized) gamer to appreciate, especially the tough, intelligent, and non-objectified female protagonist. But the game is hard. Hard hard hard. So hard, in fact, that unless you’re willing to invest a lot of time learning the game’s funky mechanics and memorizing its levels, expect all the fun to be sunk in an ever-rising sea of controller-throwing frustration.

Mirror’s Edge takes place in a near-future dystopian (apparently American) city where civil liberties have been suppressed to create a Singaporesque “clean” urbanity for the enjoyment of the bourgeois citizen. Our protagonist Faith is a Runner, a parkour-using messenger employed by the city’s residual renegades to communicate on the down-low (or more accurately, the up-high: Runners prefer rooftops).

During her childhood, Faith’s parents were political activists who participated in the tragically unsuccessful movement against the authoritarian regime, which prefigures Faith’s adult interstitiality: she rejects the dominant order but doesn’t actively oppose it; that is, she’s on the mirror’s edge. She only starts to range herself more directly against the powers-that-be when her sister Kate becomes entrapped in a deadly political conspiracy. “This time it’s personal” is, of course, a trope, but Faith’s family history gives her prior non-commitment a sound psychological basis.

The game’s representation of Faith is an outstanding high point in the annals of women in video games, although this perhaps goes to show the generally backward state of affairs. Faith is confident and competent, not a damsel in distress (nor a “damsel” of any kind). She’s beautiful without being Barbie-proportioned or dressed in some ridiculous “get-up” for soft-pornish enjoyment. And–like most people–she’s not white!

He’s got man problems

Mirror’s Edge passes the Bechdel Test with flying colors; but still, the Test is merely a (comically low) narrative floor, not a ceiling. Although it’s way ahead of most games in representing women, Mirror’s Edge could have gone further still. In particular, aside from the nominally sisterly bond between Faith and Kate, there’s not much thematically to suggest that Faith should be a woman. Some of gaming’s more interesting male protagonists–such as Niko Bellic, Alan Wake, or Max Payne–are necessarily male, in the sense that they confront (at least in part) peculiarly male problems in peculiarly male ways.

Men and women experience the world differently; this is not due primarily to intrinsic differences arising from biology, as the “scientific” sexists claim, but because society structurally determines different experiences for the sexes. Art cannot avoid it. Thus an aesthetically significant female character cannot “just happen” to be, but must be, a woman: it should be impossible for the same stuff to happen to her were she a man, because the same stuff does not happen to men and women in life. We’re of course not suggesting a resort to the banal conventions of art “for women”; only that game developers exhibit the same sophistication with women protagonists that they seem to have discovered with dudes.

All that being said, Mirror’s Edge remains narratively interesting and innovative, albeit quite short. (A sequel seems to be in development, although the history is somewhat tortured.) Still, a game is a game, not a master’s thesis in Media Studies–and here, unfortunately, Mirror’s Edge falls as flat as Faith when she’s missed a key jump for the twentieth-or-so time. Which is something that happens. A lot.

LGR couldn’t analyze the gameplay problems better than this article at Pixel Poppers, although we never played Prince of Persia and can’t speak to the comparison. We did play Assassin’s Creed, however, and think this brilliant comic from Virtual Shackles speaks volumes:

Now one could fairly accuse AC of being way too easy, the main challenge being to avoid hand cramps from holding down RT+A too long. Fine–but AC does deliver a sense of free movement and supremacy over the environment that is, at its best, genuinely thrilling. Mirror’s Edge serves you such feeling in tiny morsels between death-plummets and getting shot to bits. The game wants you to move fluidly without pause, but this is impossible without exact foreknowledge of where to go and what to do.

Just shoot him, Faith. Seriously.

Combat is a huge pain in Mirror’s Edge, and the game sends very mixed–or actually wrong–signals about it. Everything about Faith suggests that she should prefer stealth and evasion to gunplay: she’s a parkour expert; can’t move freely while holding a gun; can’t carry or reload guns; and wears gym clothes instead of body armor. There’s even a premium achievement if you don’t shoot anyone. But the non-lethal path is a big mistake unless you’re an elite, highly-practiced player: unlike AC or Deus Ex, the game isn’t going to help you avoid killing, even though by all accounts it should.

“Hey losers,” we hear you say, “why don’t you just put it on easy mode and stop demanding games for babies?” Well, we did put it on easy mode, jerkface, and it was still too hard. The difficulty setting seems only to influence how much damage Faith can absorb before dying–going to Easy doesn’t make the platforming any more generous, nor offer any additional path-finding assistance. So if you dial down the difficulty in order to get past, say, a particularly intractable jump–which is exactly why we did it–you’ll find yourself in exactly the same position as before, only with a greater sense of self-loathing.

It’s a shame that a game with as much promise and enlightenment as Mirror’s Edge is wrecked by poor design; nevertheless it is. We’ll welcome the sequel only if we see a conscious effort to address and overcome the flaws in the original.

Mirror’s Edge is available on Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, and Windows PC.

  7 Responses to “Review: “Mirror’s Edge””

  1. The graphics look really pretty, but yeah the platforming action doesn’t sound terribly fun. Maybe it’s more DDR-style.

  2. That’s ridiculous. The game’s got a fluid motion, mixed with timing and concentration, if you can’t figure it out you can’t figure it out, don’t trash the game. What you’re saying is honestly untrue, you’ve just got to get the timing down. The reason the parkour aspect of the game is so difficult, is because that’s what the game is meant to be. If it were easy, the game would be easy. Easy games aren’t always fun. The combat is entertaining as well, if you know how to fight. Another thing, is that you can carry pistols and parkour, you can’t reload because she doesn’t take the clips off of bodies. The game goes for realism and fast-paced entertaining gameplay, if it’s too much for you, don’t complain.

    • I don’t dispute that plummeting from a skyscraper is “a fluid motion.” Look, your comments are exactly the kind of “l33t g4m3r” nonsense to which the review already preemptively responds. The problems with the gameplay are pretty well-documented–we even gave you a picture!–and it’s a design fault that “easy” difficultly doesn’t make the game substantially easier. Our criticism of the gameplay is substantiated with details from the actual game; your comments are just blank assertions and meaningless tautologies (“if you can’t figure it out you can’t figure it out”; “If it were easy, the game would be easy”).

      Plus, I don’t know if you read the URL or site name or the title of the article or the first three words of the article, but this is a REVIEWS site, complaining about games when we don’t like them is sort of the point.

  3. Ha, there’s a difference between reviewing a game and complaining that it’s too hard for you…in these days of iterative game design, you can play one FPS (I sucked at Doom when I first played, but then got the hang of it), get good at it, and you’ll be half decent at most of the others. Same with Assassin’s Creed. The problem is that you see Assassin’s Creed as the same genre as Mirror’s Edge…simply put, it isn’t. Mirror’s Edge requires twitch reactions, avoiding/jumping/climbing obstacles as they come into view – speed is the aim of the game here. Assassin’s Creed is more about the spectacle; about climbing that wall whilst holding down two buttons and then “stealthily” massacring god knows how many enemies because it’s really easy to kill stuff in that game.

    You don’t have to be a “133t g4m3r” (though isn’t it “1337″?) to understand the difference of approach these games have. Mirror’s Edge hearks back to the old days a little, where you had to practice and get good at a game before you could beat it. This is still true today because, as I said earlier, most AAA releases are either sequels or rip-offs, so we already know how the game’s mechanics work. Mirror’s Edge is somewhat different, hence your (and its) difficulty.

    Now stop moaning and go practice – you’d be amazed how good a feeling it is to have struggled and finally overcome something that is genuinely difficult. Or…you could just sulk in the corner and wait for another Assassin’s Creed game!

    • First let me say that I find it astonishing that the biggest controversy on Left Gamer Review, a website that calls for the overthrow of world capitalism with every second breath, is over whether Mirror’s Edge is too hard. I don’t know if this is good or bad news for society.

      “Ha, there’s a difference between reviewing a game and complaining that it’s too hard for you.”

      Yes, thank you, I agree–which is why the review doesn’t just complain about the game’s difficulty. Our reviews have a certain objective content, you know; they’re not solely comprised of those bits that you can remember or thought about in the first place. (On a personal note, I would rather prefer to debate what I said about the representation of women in the game, which I think is a thousand times more interesting than the question of how many shoulder buttons I ought to press to scale a pipe.)

      “The problem is that you see Assassin’s Creed as the same genre as Mirror’s Edge.”

      No, I don’t; I merely compared the two, which I think anyone who’s played both games is bound to do. And I think it’s quite right to say that both games aim to provide pleasure from the “sense of free movement and supremacy over the environment.” I don’t say that they have to do so identically–I even make fun of AC for being too easy–but I think that the difficulty of Mirror’s Edge means that it’s very hard to get a “flow” going, even though the game is most fun when you have that flow. (The only way to really achieve it is to know in advance what the level looks like and how to proceed through it, which makes it less fun.)

      “Now stop moaning and go practice – you’d be amazed how good a feeling it is to have struggled and finally overcome something that is genuinely difficult.”

      Well, who says I didn’t? I beat the damn game. I don’t think that I “mastered” it–nor do I particularly want to–but I did finish it. (I basically won’t review a game unless I finish it, unless it’s worse than hopeless. Fuck, I even finished Game of Thrones.) So I “struggled and overcame,” but I didn’t find the experience pleasurable.

      Look, I’m not against difficult games or difficult things in general. Catherine was very hard, but I thought it was excellent. SMT: Nocturne is hard, but the game plays brilliantly (although I think the plotting is too weak). I was glad that combat got harder in AC3. Getting a PhD in mathematics was relatively tough. OK. All great things are difficult, but that doesn’t mean that all difficult things are great.

      You may deny that this has anything to do with the 133[t7] mentality, but the whole form and content of your argument reproduces it: the invocation of the mythically tough “old school” that is counterposed to the soft and degenerate “modern age”; the implication that difficulty determines genre; the suggestion that criticism of a game’s difficulty is cover for one’s own weakness, rather than an aesthetic judgment. It’s interestingly ironic that a game with a female lead elicits these kind of macho reactions (“stop moaning” etc).

  4. It’s a trial-and-error game, so if you hate trying things over and over again just to be done with them, you’re bound to dislike it. It just means the game isn’t for you, though, not that the developer has done you some personal harm.

    I find the way in which you preemptively try to silence -anyone- who disagrees with your difficulty argument by putting them in the obtruse “L2PLAY” category much more disturbing than the fact that you thought the game was too repetitive or had clunky controls. You’re completely entitled to your own opinion, heck, people come here to read it, so of course that’s fine. They don’t come here to hear they MUST agree with you or find themselves in the hipster-1337 category of gamers though. They might just disagree on your thesis that it is a design flaw instead of a design choice.

    I, for one, wouldn’t have enjoyed Mirrors Edge nearly as much if it had been much easier. The story was just backdrop, it was all about getting the running right. Yes, you have to play the levels over and over again, but how else do you expect to get the thrill of knowing the environment and manipulating it masterfully? You can’t have that without getting to know it, and this is not the matrix, so the experience can not exist without dumb practice. I can understand you wouldn’t like that, but I don’t think it’s a design flaw. This is not a game like AC where the parkours is part of the game. Parkour IS the game, full stop. There is nothing left after you get the run right (besides repeating it again -again- of course).

    I can see how an added EASY option that changes the entire game to make it the same but easier would make it better, but then again what game would not be better if you added an option to play it in another way? I mean, it’s added, so what damage is it going to do? I do think, though, that we should be able to agree that without radically changing level geometry, jumps are bound to stay more or less the same, so I am curious as to how you would go about this new easy mode. I doubt it would be too easy to design.

    As a last remark, you should perhaps check the IGN review (http://www.ign.com/articles/2009/01/13/mirrors-edge-review-2) where they literally praised the elegant controls. I’m not saying they are “RIGHT” or that you are a “NEWB”, but I am saying that apparantly, different people think very different about how difficult the game is and how that translates into how fun it is to play. And not all of them are after you for the sake of their own ego.

  5. I agree that the controls are difficult, but that is on console. Don’t mistake me for a PC purist or anything. It’s just when it comes to Mirrors Edge, you can get much more free running flow with a keyboard and mouse.

Leave a Reply