NYR: Mirror’s Edge

As a culmination to a week in which I’ve returned to my unfinished metacritic-themed series, here is the concluding breakdown that, as originally planned, would have been divided into three articles.

The first section is a brief analysis of the highest-rated review, a mid-range review and the lowest-rated review. I also try to read between the lines a little and see what it is I can expect from the game’s bracket of peers.

The second section is a straight-up review of the Arcadian Rhythms type, but with a score at the end. [Ed: WHAT?! Down with scores!]

The third section is a conclusion of sorts, trying to figure out where I align my tastes on the metacritic spectrum.

Section 1.1: The Peers

Mirror’s Edge scored 79 overall, putting it in the 70-79% bracket. This actually makes it one of the most fascinating titles to compare.

The King of Fighters XIII

"As well as Ash Crimson"

“As well as Ash Crimson”

With its bold and beautiful visuals this sprite-based fighter is one of the best rejuvenated fighting games. It features an expanded roster, including many of the missing fighters from XII, as well as a decent single player campaign and a rethought combat system. It really looks gorgeous; I can’t stress that enough. Apart from Virtua Fighter 5 and Streetfighter IV this is the next game in the fighting pantheon you should consider getting.

Eternal Sonata

Eternal Sonata is a slow burner of a game. It starts off a cutesy anime with a ridiculous storyline (you are Chopin, lying on his death bed and dreaming of another world) and the combat system is overly simplified. Both combat and storyline grow to actually be quite meaningful. The second playthrough adds more mechanics and more to the storyline. If you haven’t played Resonance of Fate or Record of Agarest War then this is the next JRPG I would recommend.

Dead Rising: Case West

The weakest of the Dead Rising 2 games; the path through the game is bland and the story adds nothing (unlike Dead Rising: Off the Record, which was also fairly terrible). It isn’t the worst game, but there is no way it deserves to be this highly rated.

Shadows of the Damned

I wrote about this only two weeks ago and I most certainly agree with this rating. Shadows of the Damned has a lot of good ideas but not enough good execution to merit it being put ahead of other, stellar third-person shooters in the same vein (Vanquish, Gears of War 2).

Dragon’s Dogma

Dragons Dogma mohawk

Dragon’s Dogma is one of the best games of this generation. It may be a little rough around the edges but it makes up for this in terms of world building, the innovative learning companion system and the fantastic combat. The expansion Dark Arisen just came out and it is just as good as the main game with a lot of huge, vicious bosses to take on. There is nothing else that competes with it, not even slightly.

El Shaddai: Ascension of the Metatron

Pure unadulterated garbage. It might look great but there is no more to it than that. Not sure what people saw in it for it to even make it out of the 50% brackets.

Homefront

Kevin wrote a proper review for this way back when the site first started. I see this game as the beginning of the end for THQ. You could go back and read his review here; go ahead, it is worth it. However, if you don’t have the time (and let’s face it this article alone is going to be a long one) Homefront is a wet flop of a game. In the me-too world of Call of Duty games Homefront pulled the short straw in terms of critical apathy. To be in the 70s is too much for this game but then I would probably say the same of almost all examples in this genre.

 

Section 1.2: The cross section

It was interesting to see that there was nothing but positive and mixed reviews for Mirror’s Edge, given its history as the spearhead for EA’s original IPs and also the last of EA’s incentives to support new content as a result of it doing poorly.

Official Xbox Magazine – 95 %

“Aside from everything else Mirror’s Edge succeeds at, it also has some of the most arresting, original visuals we’ve seen on 360. Its starkly colorful graphics and slick anime cinematics are expressly designed to wire directly into your nerd-joy cortex — and they do. With such raw creativity and built-in speed-run appeal, Mirror’s Edge will transfix you for a long, long time.”

Strong words. What is confusing is that the Metacritic link sends you to a preview of the game not a review. The preview is actually kind of terrible but it conveys an unbridled enthusiasm, which I am guessing continued in the OXM review.

IGN – 73%

“A classic example of some awesome ideas that just didn’t pan out the way that was originally intended. The list of moves could be more expansive — maybe by adding a fourth button to the mix — and the world feels entirely too constricting for what could be a huge open city. Couple those gripes with some unappealing combat and a sometimes buggy design and Mirror’s Edge falls short of my expectations.”

This review stinks of the constricted review scale that sites like IGN are restricted to (7 equals average, 10 equals excellent). It certainly doesn’t read like a ‘standard’ 7 as the complaints that the reviewer mentions – bugs, bad storyline, limited gameplay, poor gun battles – do not add up to that much.

Game Revolution – 50%

“Mirror’s Edge is the kind of game that you can see in the curriculum of some design school for its outside-of-the-box approach and polished style. But playing it is a different story. If you do feel the need to punish yourself, spend your money on a dominatrix instead of Mirror’s Edge.”

The quote above is not a good indication of the review as a whole. I had never heard of Game Revolution before but the review definitely means I will be reading again. For starters the score seems to reflect the writer’s feelings on the topic, which is something I respect; likewise the systematic breakdown is something that I am not good at and admire when someone can do it right without being dull in doing so.

 

Section 1.3: Random conjecture

I looked for images called 'Random Conjecture' but just got pictures of The Big Bang Theory so instead here is a picture of a sad homeless guy in Prague

I looked for images called ‘Random Conjecture’ but just found pictures of The Big Bang Theory, so instead here is a picture of a sad homeless guy in Prague

Judging by its peers Mirror’s Edge could be a stone-cold classic like Dragon’s Dogma or KOF XIII, a flawed but decent game ala Shadows of the Damned or Eternal Sonata, or it could be utter rubbish like El Shaddai or Homefront. As I wrote earlier, the 70-79% Metacritic range is an interesting bracket because the cross section is utterly disparate.

The reviews are less than inspiring as well. This is particularly true in the sense that the OXM piece is not available. I want to believe that the review/preview mixup is a mistake but I am a bit worried about the interpretative scoring process Metacritic adopts. The IGN review is pretty much a victim of its audience; the author clearly sees an average game but has give it an above-average score by its audience – meaning that there are things to like about it. The Game Revolution review feels the most on the ball, but there are definitely a couple of passages that could be interpreted as personal taste and that might not marry with everyone’s opinions.

 

Section 2: The Review

Mirror's Edge cover

Scene this: You are Faith, a runner – a crazy parkour delivery person – in a futuristic city where information is everything and you are the one who has it.

You are standing on a building ledge, thousands of feet above the ground. You are alone with only the howl of the wind whipping around you providing any indication that there is life in this world.

You take a running leap and descend to the next nearest building, tucking into a roll as you hit the surface so as to break your fall. Without hesitation you are already sprinting away then launching yourself against a wall to rebound up and over a fence and onto some scaffolding. Dashing onwards you can see there is a gap to the next walkway but that doesn’t stop you; you hop up onto the wall and use your momentum to run along it and alight on the precarious wooden struts. You then vault off some boxes to grab onto a ledge before twisting effortlessly and grabbing a horizontal pole that you use to swing yourself across another gap and down onto another building. You are now several floors down and, according to the voice in your ear, you are close to your target – the office of an important politician.

Picking up speed you slam through a fire exit and into the target building. It takes a few seconds for your eyes to adjust to the gloom as you hurtle through a tight corridor of pipes and electrical equipment. You approach a zenith as the dull howl grows in your ears, a throbbing techno beat is faintly heard but cut off as you detect the familiar crackle of an enforcer’s mike chatter. The ‘blue’ is clearly around the next corner. Taking a sharp right turn you slide across a desk and then spring into a flying kick that takes the Blue by surprise and sends him spinning out of your path. You hear him screech for assistance through his communicator, but by that time you are already out of range and barrelling up the stairs to your destination, smashing through glass as you go.

Mirror's Edge 04

This is Mirror’s Edge.

End Scene.

At least, that is what the game is like in your head or in those insane YouTube videos put together by someone who has either replayed the levels an untold number of times or is some kind of savant.

On a first run through, this is what the game is really like:

Go across a platform, attempt a wall run but don’t hit the surface right, fall to your death. Reload. Run at the wall, go across, see a Blue, do a flying kick and send him flying off the building, lose your momentum and orientation, take a right instead of a left, run off the building, watch the death animation. Reload. Try the wall run again but jump a bit too far, fall to your death. Reload. Get the wall run right but miss the future cop with the kick and sail over the edge of the building, die. Reload.  Do it all again, fail to kick the cop again and instead have him gun you to death. Reload. Get the wall run perfect then kick the Blue right off the build, go the correct way, get to a vault point but fudge the jump completely, realise you are supposed to flip mid vault so redo it, clamber painfully up onto a ledge then get shot by two Blues. Reload. Rinse. Repeat. Start jamming on all the buttons in the hope that the game will just give up and let you win.

I am willing to concede that I might not be the greatest player of video games (this is not true: I am actually really good at them, honest) but I find it hard to believe that most player experiences weren’t like that.

I felt like I was playing a clumsy platformer that was constantly trying to sway me to its cause by being very pretty. I will admit that there are some striking moments where the game stopped being a long series of failed attempts and instead flowed from platform to platform. The stark presentation – every exterior and interior a blinding white – of the game world makes sense both in this dystopian future where everything has been sanitised and also from a gameplay standpoint: keeping everything white means that denoting all interactable surface in red stands out. It just isn’t enough to distract from the game’s limitations.

Mirror's Edge 01

Essentially this game is Trials HD except without the motorcycle; Super Meat Boy without the adorable blob of a hero to control. The other lacking elements are the responsiveness of controls and decent load times in between each fail and the subsequent restart.

Both games mentioned will have you fail a lot, just like Mirror’s Edge. However each restart, after a misstep or out of a desire to improve a run, is instantaneous. With only a few seconds between each attempt any irritation felt is so fleeting that you are already back in the game before it can register.

Mirror’s Edge fails miserably at this. The concept of trying to go through everything at a breakneck speed is constantly thwarted by the fear of having to sit through a load screen and sort out the failed jump, pivot or slide. The feeling of fluidity and speed does come on replays but I found it so annoying to even have to reload that I doubt I will go back.

The jarring nature of these load times also breaks the immersion in the world and, if that wasn’t enough, then a special mention should go to the cut scenes and the gun play.

Mirror's Edge 02

The first time a cutscene appeared I could have sworn that it was a placeholder video for the pre-release version of the game but, after each level, these crappy, Flash-made animations kept popping up. Two of the reviews I read made fun of them but I didn’t appreciate how bad they were until I saw them in motion.

The shooting is similarly downright awful and feels like an unfinished afterthought in the game; certainly it is mostly avoidable (there is an award if you manage to play the whole game without using a gun) but that it was even an option and is so poorly implemented is a crime, particularly considering that the development team are known for their First Person Shooters. Holding a gun and moving through each zone is clunky whilst the aiming is haphazard; the latter might have been done to contrast with the main character’s ‘mastery’ of free-running but it just comes off as tedious.

I will say that even after the panning I have given the title there are a few moments in Mirror’s Edge where there is just enough in the game to encourage you forward to see what the next vista in this immaculate white world looks like. However there’s not enough to enjoy the journey and certainly not enough to merit playing this game instead of Trials HD, Super Meat Boy or any number of free runners that offer more thrills.

5/10

 

Section 3.1: Mirror’s Edge Conclusion

Looking back at the Peer section, I kept saying ‘this game is good but there are better options in its chosen field’ and that is a category Mirror’s Edge falls into. It certainly has some charm visually but it simply cannot compete in terms of execution with any of its competitors. Aside from the refreshing female protagonist and the arresting visuals there isn’t enough substance to it. I mentioned Trials and SMB but I would even say that Stuntman: Ignition is a better game; that delves into the 3D realm and still manages to keep its load times to a minimum.

As for the reviews, I would like to see the real OXM review and not the preview but if it really was a 95% game to the author then I can sort of see it. Mirror’s Edge is a game like Dragon’s Dogma that someone could love unreservedly and so overlook its shortcomings. I can imagine someone sitting patiently through the tedious load times. The IGN review is, as previously mentioned, an accurate review with an inflated score but that is not something I would blame on the site – more on their audience. My own feelings are in line with Game Revolution’s take and I feel like the score reflects that.

 

Section 3.2: Conclusion of the conclusion (are you still here?)

Again, couldn't find a satisfactory image for this so I just upload a picture of a river running through Sofia in Bulgaria

Again, I couldn’t find a satisfactory image for this so I just uploaded a picture of a river running through Sofia in Bulgaria

As an overall conclusion was supposed to be reached when I finished the Metacritic series, I decided I might as well try something now.

The problem was that the deeper I dug the more it seemed there wasn’t really any cohesive conclusion to draw; there was no conspiracy to be unveiled. If anything there seemed to be more pressure from the sites’ audience than from the publishers. Gamers are a precious group in the sense that they will call for people’s deaths when ‘their’ game receives too high or too low a score. Fuck, they’ll call for a boycott when a title is released on too many platforms.

I can’t legitimately point a finger at sites trying to get hits for not trying to appease their audience or at least to enrage outsiders enough that they will draw in the clicks. It is an uncomfortable relationship and a difficult one when all the power appears to be in the hands of the suppliers (the publishers) and the demanders (the gamers), with the reviewers reduced to impotent bystanders.

As a personal conclusion, taking a bunch of games I wasn’t really interested in and trying to look for the good and the bad in them before coming to some kind of score that felt fair just never really worked out. Most of the games flat-lined around the 5-6 score (I enjoyed Red Dead Redemption about as much as I enjoyed Crazy Mouse) with the exception of Plants versus Zombies. That has to do with that game being absolutely amazing, to the point that I think anyone who wouldn’t rate it as a 10 out of 10 must be mad.