UPDATE: At E3 2013 it was announced that a new Mirror’s Edge game was in development and that it is a remake of the original, rather than a sequel. This news makes the final paragraph of this blog post obsolete, and I’m just fine with that.
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It’s time for the third and final entry in my series on video games that I think should get sequels. In our finale we take a look at the first-person parkour adventure game titled Mirror’s Edge. This game has the distinction of being the weakest of the three in the series in terms of the quality of the original, and yet is the most likely to get a sequel at some point.

Concept art for Mirror’s Edge.

Mirror’s Edge puts you in the first-person perspective while bounding across a city landscape. You’ll be running, jumping, sliding, rolling and climbing through the city in a parkour fashion that is reminiscent of platform games like Prince of Persia. In Mirror’s Edge you play the role of Faith, a courier who is part of a network of runners that deliver packages outside the law. The city of Mirror’s Edge is a totalitarian state, and the network that Faith is a part of is portrayed as a group of people working against the system. The setup is somewhat interesting, and the fact that your character is not a hyper masculine badass but instead an Asian girl whose strength is more in running than fighting is a nice change of pace. The storyline follows Faith as she runs across the city, trying to prove the innocence of her falsely accused (police officer) sister. You’ll experience the usual conspiracy, plot twist and betrayal common in many video game stories, and while the narrative is ok overall, I do wish the cutscenes were done differently, as in the game they are animated in a style that looks like old Esurance commercials.
Clean, beautiful and under government control.
Playing in the first person is the primary distinction between Mirror’s Edge and other platforming games. The running, bounding, sliding and rolling is played out as if you were doing it yourself. At the same time, Faith’s arms and legs are visible and move while running and platforming, which helps build immersion into the experience and keeps you from feeling like just a floating camera. The camera itself shakes a bit while moving, just as you might imagine it would when Faith is running and jumping everywhere. It is surprising how well this first person perspective works, and while you’re not doing anything new or innovative in terms of the actual movements, they somehow feel fresh and exciting in the game.

 

Stick the landing!
Mirror’s Edge also has an interesting momentum mechanic. Faith does not have a single run speed, but rather builds up speed as she runs and successfully executes a series of movements. This momentum can be lost, however, should Faith do something like take a hard fall, mistime a slide or run up against a wall. The momentum mechanic can be something of a two-edged sword, whereby it can be very satisfying to nail a long sequence of movements at full speed, but also frustrating to be brought to a halt by a mistake or not knowing what to do in a particular situation. Mirror’s Edge is arguably just as much a rhythm game as a platformer, and loss of momentum can seriously damage the rhythm of your playthrough. That being said, the momentum mechanic is still largely a positive one, adding immersion and a bit of realism to the experience.
Maybe entering through the upper level wasn’t the best idea.

The one thing that really breaks momentum more than anything else though, is the combat that is sprinkled throughout the game. Local police are not amicable to Faith’s activities and are frequently trying the capture or kill her. While it is made clear early on that Faith should try to evade or outrun the police whenever possible, there are times when combat becomes unavoidable. Enemies will shoot at you from a distance, but once you get in close they will try to melee you. When this happens you will be given a cue that lasts a fraction of a second, whereby if you hit the proper button Faith will disarm the enemy and take his weapon. Unfortunately this disarm mechanic can be finicky and the time window for it is so small that successfully executing it can be very difficult. After awhile I stopped trying to disarm enemies and instead did either a jumping or sliding kick followed by some punches to deal with them. Though this felt a bit more in line with the game’s parkour vibe, it still hurt the pacing. It also doesn’t help that the hit-detection was frequently off.

Combat doesn’t quite fit with the rest of the game.
As a result of these combat scenarios, you will occasionally have the option to use a gun. If you disarm an enemy or pick up his gun after knocking him out, you will steal his weapon and can potentially use it against other enemies. The actual gunplay of Mirror’s Edge is fairly weak, being both loose and imprecise. This is surprising because the game was made by Dice, the developers of the Battlefield series. To Dice’s credit, the gunplay does make a bit of sense in that Faith is not portrayed as skilled shooter. As a runner, you are generally discouraged from using guns as most of them will slow you down and keep you from being able to perform the movements needed to proceed in the game. Faith also cannot reload any gun she picks up, as she only took the weapon and not any spare magazines, and this in a way works with the theme that Faith is always moving and does not stop to loot the bodies of fallen enemies. Overall the gunplay kind of makes sense, but it’s still terrible. I’m really not sure whether it was intentional or just poor mechanics.
Guns do not work the way you might think.

The art style of Mirror’s Edge largely fits the general narrative of a city under tight control. Bright white is pervasive everywhere, giving the city a sterile and ordered feel. In addition to white, each area of the game has one or more strong colors (blue, green, yellow, etc) that overlay and help define the scene. One color, red, is particularly important though, in that it is used to help guide the player. As you advance through the game you’ll see objects colored red, and those indicate where you need to go. None of the areas or objects in Mirror’s Edge are particularly detailed, but then again since you’re running much of the time you normally don’t stop to notice. You could also argue that as a runner you’re more concerned with an object’s value for interaction than its looks. One thing you will notice is that for a massive city, you strangely run into hardly any people. With the exception of the police, almost every area is completely empty. This makes sense for when you’re on rooftops or in the sewer system, but why is there no one at the mall? My guess is that placing people in the buildings would only cause problems for gameplay in that they would get in the way. One last thing to note about the design of the areas in the Mirror’s Edge is that some look similar to each other. There were times where I could swear I was in the same building earlier, just with a different dominant color.

I’m going to assume by the coloring that this is a Jamba Juice factory.
The sounds you’ll hear while leaping and bounding through Mirror’s Edge do a good job of complimenting the visuals and building immersion. The footsteps of Faith as she runs along, together with her breathing and exerting herself with each movement all come out right and have you believe that Faith is actually doing what you see onscreen. You hear her hands smack against objects as she vaults over them and the sound of her doing a rolling landing has some real weight to it as her body impacts the ground. On a side note, should Faith take a long fall to her death, you will be treated to a disturbing splattering sound. The ambient music in the background compliments the sterile look of the city, and appropriately ramps up in tempo when you’re being pursued. The soundtrack of Mirror’s Edge also gave us one of my favorite video game theme songs; Lisa Miskovsky’s “Still Alive.”
Because an elevator would be too easy.
From the previous paragraphs I hope you can see that Mirror’s Edge has a number of things going for it, but also a number of problems. Despite its issues, I think the base concept of Mirror’s Edge is sound and I would love to see a sequel. Here are a few thoughts I have on it.
Running through the sewers.
Although continuing Faith’s narrative would be natural for a sequel, the role of lead character could potentially be given to someone new. This is not to say that Faith wasn’t an interesting character, but rather that putting you into the shoes of someone new could also work. Faith of course would be familiar and the easier option, but maybe Dice could go out on a limb and introduce a new character. Regardless, the writing will need some work. The storyline for the first game did just barely enough for me to keep interested, but it could have been so much more. We learned next to nothing about the regime keeping the city under control in Mirror’s Edge, so perhaps the sequel could delve into the system and the people behind it.
Who runs this city, and why do I suspect I’m going down that hole?
As it was the main breaker of the rhythm of the first game, combat should get some adjustment. Hit detection and tweaks to the timing of disarms would help a lot, and an overhaul of how you are able to approach combat could potentially fix the rhythm issue. In Mirror’s Edge you would close with an enemy and then either disarm or strike him. Both cases would bring you to a halt and kill forward momentum. If Faith’s arsenal of combat moves could be expanded so that she could strike or disarm an enemy, all while still moving forward, then the pacing of the game could be maintained while allowing Faith to have combat encounters. For some inspiration on how to do this, a good example to look at would be the recent game Assassin’s Creed 3, in which the main character can take out enemies while still maintaining the pursuit of his target.
Incoming!
Something also has to be done about the guns in a Mirror’s Edge sequel. As stated earlier, the mechanics behind them were wonky, and using them felt out of line with the rest of the game. Whenever I picked up a gun I instantly reverted to my first-person shooter mentality and stopped playing the game as it was intended. In one particular section, Faith was making her way down through a building and running into enemies as she descended the levels. I disarmed one enemy, took his gun and killed the next guy, took his gun and killed the next guy, took his gun and killed the next guy and proceeded to do this all the way down. In retrospect I think I was supposed to be evading them, but I was unable to overcome my instinct to eliminate the threat rather than run away from it. One possible solution would be to just eliminate gun usage from a future sequel. If Faith took down an enemy she could instantly discard the weapon and already fallen foes would not leave guns to pickup on the ground. Another possible solution would be to refine how guns are handled. In this case, Faith should again have to work with however many bullets are already in the gun and not be able to reload, just like the first game. Faith’s aim should also be improved, and this could be easily explained by saying that in the time between games she has gotten better at shooting. At the same time, actually using a gun should be highly discouraged – even more so than in the first game. I don’t know exactly how, but I really think gun usage should incur the player some sort of penalty. Perhaps killing police/guards rather than disarming or evading them could intensify their response and make them more intent on killing you (kind of like the star level in GTA).
Not the way Mirror’s Edge is supposed to be played.
Going on the assumption that Dice would still be the developer of the sequel, it might not be a bad idea to bring in their Frostbite 2 engine to power the next game. Frostbite 2 has already shown its potential for both graphics and character animations in games like Battlefield 3, and could be used to great effect in a Mirror’s Edge sequel. The move set for Faith could be expanded, allowing for the player to pull off more acrobatic maneuvers. It could also be used to create much better cutscenes in-game. While the overall art style of bright white and primary colors should be brought over from the original, more detailed environments and characters would be a major plus for the sequel. In designing the areas of the sequel, Dice should also open up the world for more routes and ways to traverse the environment. A notable problem with the original game was that although you had the illusion of being in a large environment that could be explored, there was really only one overall route to reach your objective.
Can you see the route?

A last thing to do with a sequel would be to expand the game at bit. I get the feeling that Mirror’s Edge was testing the waters of its concept, and now that we have seen its potential a larger game is in order for the sequel. A longer campaign (the first one was only about six hours long) and some extra modes would go nicely. The first game had a time trials mode where you could compete for the fastest times across several courses. Though the courses were often fun and imaginative, the leaderboards were badly messed up with people hacking the game so they could finish a course in less than five seconds. Any sequel will need to have something to protect against this kind of cheating. On the subject of the time trials, I think a solid addition to the new game would be a level-editor that would allow users to create, share and modify courses. Not many people would use it, but there would likely be a few persons who would create some great courses for everyone else to navigate. Dice could publicize the ones they think are the best and give the creators some sort of reward.

One of the time trials courses.
So, will there ever be a sequel to Mirror’s Edge? Technically, there was a Mirror’s Edge game for mobile devices, but I’m not counting that as a true sequel for this blog post. But to answer the question; it might just happen. At several points over the past few years, Dice has confirmed in interviews that the Mirror’s Edge brand is not dead. There has not been a firm confirmation that a sequel is in development, but Dice seems to be indicating that there is a legitimate chance of it happening. The original Mirror’s Edge sold a bit over 2 million copies worldwide, which is not a huge number, but not small enough to be considered a commercial failure either. Here’s to hoping we’ll one day bounding across the city in first-person again.
Have faith.

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