Mirror's Edge Impressions

When Mirror's Edge (PC, PS3, X360) senior producer Owen O'Brien climbed on-stage and vowed that I'd "never seen action-adventure like this before," I scoffed.

As someone who is constantly subjected to heavy-handed marketing, I hear a lot of empty promises. After a while, it seems like every game is out to revolutionize its respective genre, trying to offer some type of never-before-seen mechanic, or at least pretending to. Like many in the field, I've grown a bit jaded when it comes to these declarations.

But after witnessing the extremely impressive in-game demonstration of Mirror's Edge, I'm forced to admit that the man has a point.

A first-person take on the Prince of Persia-style action-adventure platforming genre, Mirror's Edge is unlike any game I've come across. In terms of existing properties, it can be described as a combination of Ubisoft Montreal's Prince of Persia: Sands of Time and the constant first-person perspective of Namco's Breakdown. However, that comparison doesn't quite do the game justice.

As the character of Faith, players are tasked with smuggling sensitive information and materials without attracting the attention of what appears to be a totalitarian government. It's not about beating everyone up, or senselessly killing random civilians. Instead, it's all about trying to get from point A to point B as fast as possible, without getting caught.

Yet despite the numerous obstacles Faith faces--varying from pipe-filled rooftops to towering fences--all her acrobatics and fancy maneuvers, from wall-running to fence-hopping, are activated through two context-sensitive functions: up and down. Pull the up trigger as you run near a pipe and Faith'll leap over it. Pull the other trigger and she'll slide under it.

Obviously, Faith's arms and legs play an integral part in the whole presentation, and as such are constantly presented on-screen to help players keep their bearings. Appendages are fully rendered even when standing still. And before someone asks, because I know someone will, no, her cleavage does not obstruct your vision a la Trespasser.

Momentum plays a key part in the game, and that's where things start to get tricky. It's not enough to nail a jump or vault over the fence--you have to worry about the landing as well. A traditional touchdown has Faith planting her feet flat on the ground and losing a good deal of her momentum, which is no good when there's a squad of gun-toting soldiers chasing after you. But if you hold the down-trigger as the ground approaches, Faith will roll into the landing and maintain her speed.

It's an extremely simple mechanic, but one that hides a surprising amount of complexity. In my head, I started to look for the most efficient way to navigate the rooms and rooftops, running through the possible chains and combos--the very same mindset I've used countless times when approaching a Tony Hawk title.

The emphasis on efficiency through simple control mechanics extends to combat as well. Hold down to slide into an enemy, then tap up to perform an uppercut. Faith can even disarm foes by using her foot to break their elbows, and as with the rest of the game, you witness the entire cringe-worthy ordeal from a first-person perspective.

Because the title is built around speed, the game's presentation uses several subtle mechanics to convey Faith's weight and momentum. For example, as Faith twisted right to sprint up a set of stairs, the camera tilted ever-so-slightly to indicate her inertia.

Much like many other action-game heroes and heroines these days, Faith is also able to temporarily slow down time, allowing her to complete longer-than-normal leaps between certain rooftops.

Of course, with so much fast movement, it could be all too easy to take a wrong turn and end up in a pickle. That's where runner vision, or "Faith O'Vision" as the similarly named O'Brien called it, comes into play.

Key structures and objectives are colored red as Faith approaches them, informing players where they can, and probably should, go next. During the presentation, both cranes and zip-lines grew red as Faith approached, calling attention to a usable pathway between rooftops. And since the pristine white-coated city of Mirror's Edge doesn't display much color, the sporadic appearance of red is quite noticeable.

Walking along that crane, by the way, required Faith to keep her balance. While Xbox 360 and PC players will be able to perform this feat through conventional means, O'Brien noted that the PlayStation 3 version of the game will let players tilt the system's motion-sensitive Sixaxis controller to maintain balance as well.

That doesn't mean that there aren't some extraordinary challenges in navigating the world, though. As with Prince of Persia, it's one thing to know where you need to go, but it's another to figure out how to get there. One scenario saw Faith cornered in what appeared to be a storage closet, forcing the player to look around and find an escape route. The solution? Climb the storage racks and crawl into the ventilation shaft.

Of all the games I saw at this year's Game Developers Conference, Mirror's Edge was the one that interested me the most. Its unconventional take on the action-adventure platforming genre holds a lot of potential, and translating what is typically third-person gameplay to a first-person perspective presents a daunting, yet exciting series of obstacles for the crew over at DICE.

Unfortunately, I wasn't able to play Mirror's Edge myself, so I can't say for certain how well all of DICE's efforts are panning out in practice. That said, it sure looked like a hell of a lot of fun, and I honestly can't wait to get my hands on it later this year.