Mirror's Edge 2D
The highly anticipated first-person platformer Mirror's Edge has arrived on next-generation consoles to a mixed reception. While the art direction and fluid controls gave the game a unique look and energy, the ham-handed story and awkward combat sequences often made playing it a chore. "Good try, and better luck next time" seems to be the critical consensus, and one more promising gambit for big-studio productions gets buried in its own confused execution.
At least one unimpeachably good thing has come out of the project, however: Brad Borne's Mirror's Edge 2D. With the support of publisher Electronic Arts, Borne has combined the ludicrous physics of his own Fancy Pants Adventure with the stylized world of Mirror's Edge to produce a joyful ode to side-scrolling platforming. We previewed a demo build of the game last November, and this is the full version finally, including 3 levels and a couple of time trial modes (the site promises more features in the future). For many of us, this is what the commercial 3D game should have been. Just give this a plot (hold the ham) and a few more urban playgrounds to explore, and it would be a dream game. As it is, it's a marketing tool done absolutely right.
You play Faith, who is a sort of rooftop-leaping anti-establishment courier in a dystopian future. All you have to do is run, jump, swing, and slide from one end of the level to the other, but there are messenger bags and wee little Mirror's Edge logos to collect if you crave self-reflexive bling.
If you find a red skylight, try crashing through it to enter a curiously spartan room with a secret file, guarded by a machine gun-toting government tool. Hide behind things when he's shooting, and sprint for the next source of cover when he reloads. You don't have any combat moves, so just run, Faith, run. If you collect all the secret files, you unlock a mode that lets you speed run all the guard rooms in one go.
Traverse your environment using more-or-less standard platforming controls—the [Arrow Keys] move you around, and [S] or [/] jumps. If your keyboard is like mine, [/] won't serve you well; it fails to register when I'm holding down two other keys. Pay attention to the notes posted about—they explain how to perform the more difficult maneuvers, like swinging from hooks and clambering up walls.
Analysis: Mirror's Edge 2D is an attractive game, even if the atmosphere rings a bit hollow without the accompanying story. The background art (including work by Mastermind: World Conqueror's Mike Swain), gives the requisite sea of skyscrapers an interesting off-kilter look, and Faith's animation is smooth and convincing.
More than anything, though, this is a showcase for Brad Borne's ever-strengthening sense of classic level design. Though you'll have to slow down if you want to collect every messenger bag and trinket, the real heart of the game is in running full tilt. Once you're familiar with the controls, it's surprisingly easy to hurl yourself around without falling. Occasionally the hand-drawn art style makes it hard to understand which walls are solid, and the occasional curved surface doesn't handle intuitively, but most of the time the game world feels chunky and reliable, perfect for wall-jumping and launching off of ramps with legs pinwheeling.
Unable to take shelter in the anything-goes abstractness of the Fancy Pants world, Borne has made everything into physical, justifiable objects; the illusion that you are leaping between rooftops and crane arms really adds some gut to the process of falling to your death. I found the vertical maze of the sewer level a bit hard to swallow, but once you put a sewer level in a game ostensibly about parkour, you're already meddling with the occult forces of banality, and things can only end strangely.
My only real quarrel with Mirror's Edge 2D is with the main character, who compared to Fancy Pants Man, has the humor and joie de vivre of a landed mackerel. Faith makes up for her lack of orange bell-bottoms with popping ruby trainers and a kicky hairdo. She should be five by five, living entirely large. So why the constant grimness? Even an oppressive authoritarian city has room for smiles, especially for the people standing on the rooftops.