I love when there are abundant blue skies in video games, so it's easy to see why I was eager to tear into Mirror's Edge from Electronic Arts for the Sony PlayStation 3, Microsoft Xbox 360, and PC which casts players in the role of Faith, an athletic woman living in a very clean and very bright city sometime in the not too distant future. There's a darkness hiding underneath that bright blue sky, however, in the form of a totalitarian police state that monitors all digital communications. If you want something to be delivered under the radar, as it were, you'll need to employ the [illegal] services of a Runner, e.g. someone who can take your message/package and physically run it across the city's rooftops and deliver it by hand. Faith is one such Runner and, as the game begins, is back on the job after recovering from an injury. Before long, what starts as another routine day leaping high above the city streets turns into a murder mystery that involves her law-abiding police officer sister. It's up to Faith to put the pieces together and unravel the conspiracy behind it all.
This is a game powered by adrenaline, as there are rarely opportunities to stop, take a good look around, and decide how to best handle the next challenge. Faith needs plenty of speed and momentum to make the leap from one building to the next, which means that edging up to a ledge and looking around is just not a good idea at all. Instead I found myself running nonstop towards the edge and leaping in the direction where I felt I'd find the correct landing spot. I often sent poor Faith accidentally plummeting to her death where she lands on the pavement far below with a sickening bone-cracking crunch just as the screen fade wipes to black. There is a lot of trial and error here (with special and repeated emphasis on error), but the actual next goal is usually easy to find, as openable doors and other places of interest are painted red against the rest of the city's drab white, gray, and white-gray tones. Jumping, ducking, and other related maneuvers are handled with the controller's shoulder buttons which was a bit awkward at first, but became second nature with a little practice and patience.
Mirror's Edge presents itself as a new kind of combat action game, as instead of arming Faith with all kinds of big weapons, her key asset is her speed. While she is able to engage enemies with a little hand-to-hand combat and disarm her opponents in order to take their weapons for herself, more often than not I found myself just running away from Faith's pursuers. While the game's controls are explained in a pre-story tutorial level, I could never quite get the hang of snatching weapons away from whomever took a shot at me. More often than not, rushing up to a shooter to steal his gun ended up giving the attacker a clean point-blank game-ending shot. I learned early to just run, run, run and never look back whenever gunshots rang out. This probably made the game more of a challenge than it was intended to be, such as in one spot where Faith emerges from the sewers only to be surrounded by armed police officers. Again, prepare for trial and lots of error while figuring out the best ways to escape from people gunning for Faith.
The city is the real breakout star of Mirror's Edge. I've been through a crash course of some of the best that the PS3 library has to offer in the past month, and along with Burnout Paradise's Paradise City, Mirror's Edge's take on urban construction is the best I've seen yet on the platform. Shortly after stepping into Edge I had the opportunity to tour a new medical research complex currently under construction near my office, and as part of the tour I climbed the stairs to the roof and around the mechanical penthouse. I actually found myself playing a little mental game of Mirror's Edge as I checked the area, imagining where Faith could run and leap from place to place and to adjacent buildings without much injury. The physical construction in Edge nails reality in a way that I do not recall seeing in video games before. Note that the city doesn't feel alive, but I don't think that it is the intent here. With the exception of angry people with guns and Runner allies, there are few regular people milling around.
In the end it's difficult to recommend Mirror's Edge as a purchase at its current full price as the adventure is a bit on the short side compared to other combat action games and the ongoing trial and error can be frustrating. There is some after-game content in the form of time trial challenges (with online leaderboards), plus there's downloadable add-on material coming up later this month for those who want to do a little more running and leaping without the constant gunfire slowing Faith down. Definitely give the game a rental to see what it has to offer, but should you find it on sale somewhere down the line, don't hesitate to pick it up. The ride is over all too soon, but it's a great ride while it lasts.