Up here the air is clean, and you can see for miles. The horizon is peaceful except for a plane painting white trails across the unbroken blue of the sky. And yet all Faith wants to do is run. Run like wind, run for her life, run for the sake of running. Mirror's Edge isn't your typical first person game in that you'll rarely use a gun and when you actually have to, it's a hindrance. A hindrance to Faith's outrageous athleticism, and to the game mechanics.
You control Faith, a runner - someone who delivers packages across the rooftops of an unnamed utopian paradise. The city has been locked down by the authorities under a zero tolerance regime, and the result is a sterile, and starkly beautiful, cityscape. Everything is clean and sanitised - there's no clutter or litter - and the citizens mill about their daily business without fear of crime. Your domain is the rooftop and your mode of transport your feet.
Somehow you end up getting embroiled in some conspiracy - one that involves the framing of your cop sister for the murder of a high ranking official and something called Project Icarus. Blah blah blah, eh? Let's be honest - the plot is merely an afterthought here. The developers, Dice, clearly thought "ZOMG, let’s do a free-running game in first person perspective. That'd be rad, yo!", and then realised that they should probably tack a storyline onto it because, you know, that's what people want. Don't they? Well, no - not me. This game would've been right up there with my all time favourites if it wasn't for the intrusive combat. Perhaps that's why they added the plot - as an excuse for guns, but, like I said earlier, all the guns do is hold the game back. It's so much better when they aren't there.
It's just that the free running is so remarkably good, that's all you want to do. You start the level and your guide, Merc, tells you where to go - usually somewhere across town marked out by a large landmark - and it's up to you how you get across there. It's not totally non-linear - the route is normally set, but how you choose to take that route is up to you. Do you want to scale that wall and shimmy along the vent over the barbed wire, or will you launch yourself off the ramp and death-slide down that wire, avoiding the barbed wire altogether? It may not be true freedom, but the feeling of finding your own way to keep up your momentum is massively satisfying.
And momentum is everything. It's exhilarating when you pull off a string of moves - a wall run into a 180 degree cannonball jump over some wire, landing into a slide that takes you through a gap in a fence. It's brilliant and it feels like nothing else in gaming that I can call to mind. The mouse and keyboard controls are excellent - perfectly suited to pulling off moves with minimal fuss, and rightly so. With a duff control system, this game would've died on its feet and plummeted to the street below.
Then you meet the Feds and things start to get a tiny bit frustrating. True, you don't always have to fight them - you can just peg it away from them - but sometimes you have to fight, and the game's just not suited to it. You have some fairly snappy moves at your disposal, and pulling them off isn't necessarily difficult, it's just a chore that gets in the way of the real reason you bought the game. You can even pick up dropped weapons and use them to fight back against your oppressors but this does slow you down and you can't pull any of the graceful moves whilst holding a gun. So combat becomes a one-on-one (if you try and take on more than one bad guy at a time, you WILL die) race to get it over with and it just doesn't feel right at all. It's not having baddies that doesn't feel right, just the fighting - the bad guys themselves add immensely to certain chase sections and the breathless escapes from tight spots are some of the game's highlights.
The game also suffers, only slightly though, from checkpoints. Damn you console idiots - why do you insist on checkpoints? Real men quick save. Seriously - who thinks checkpoints are a good idea? We have the ability to just save our progress exactly where we are, at the touch of a button. Checkpoints that force you replay sections over and over again are a scourge on gaming - all they do is make you hate the game. Why do developers think that's a good thing? Christ knows, but he only plays MMO’s anyway. Mind you, I haven't found them too much of a problem - if you die, it's generally because you messed up so the second attempt usually gets you across that chasm you spazzed into last time.
These faults can't stop me gurning with joy as I play though - the feeling of free running is fresh and liberating, even when you're inside one of the many buildings. The graphics help add to the overall ambience as they're simply stunning. The sun gleams off huge skyscrapers, the blue sky contrasts the sleek white buildings, and the interiors feature some jaw-dropping use of colour. Add in the soundtrack and you have what at times is a peaceful and serene atmosphere, and nearly always surreal. Mirror's Edge is unlike anything I've ever played and I want more - it's far too short. Give me the city, give me Faith, and say goodbye to me - it's all I'd want. Take the combat out and you'd have an unmatched gaming experience.
So why not step out onto the roof, take a deep breath of the clean, fresh air, and come fly with me.