Saturday, 15 November 2008

Runner The Most Frustrating Games I've Ever Played

I am really really sorry about that title. It was going to be "Runner The Mill", but Mirror's Edge is most certainly not run-of-the-mill. It's a very distinctive experience, and not always in an especially good way.

Let's start with the good points, partly because I'm a positive happy-go-lucky kind of guy, and partly because if you've been keeping up with trailers and demos and so on you'll already know most of them. The graphics are magnificient. Contrasting sterile, clinical whites with rich colours, they paint a world that is immediately alien, atmospheric and beautiful. In the emotional response it provokes it is reminiscient of Half-Life 2's City 17. Although they couldn't be more different superficially - crumbling and decaying versus shiny and pristine - the overpowering sense of isolation is very similar.

You're not actually alone much in Mirror's Edge though. There's constant radio chatter in your ear (when did this become a required feature for every game ever released? It's really weird) and you're chased after by nasty men with guns who want to kill you for some reason. I dunno, I didn't really watch the cutscenes. They're crap. How did such a visually splendid game end up with such horrid cartoons to go with it? The plot's stupid too, as far as I could tell: full of completely inconsequential twists and with a complete damp squib of an ending. It doesn't really matter though. Like the men with guns, it's really just there to keep you running.

And as long as you keep running the game is spectacular. Unfortunately this is very difficult to do. The game's chief flaw is as simple as this: you will die again and again, and it's excruciating. Short of an incongruous Prince Of Persia rewind ability it's hard to know what they could've done. Loading delays between attempts are bearably short and the game is rarely unfair with the challenges it sets you, but missing the same jump ten times in a row destroys a little part of my soul. It's not the fault of the checkpointing, which is mostly intelligent, although when your attempts get into double figures even the briefest of delays is unbearable.

Repeated playthroughs numb the pain - I fully expect my second run to be more enjoyable than my first, even on hard mode - and the time trials and races are pretty addictive. When all's said and done, the visual design and the frequent-enough moments of showboating exhilaration kept me going through the tough times. A mild disappointment it may be, but Mirror's Edge is definitely strange and absorbing enough to warrant a purchase.

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