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Review: Mirror’s Edge

If the future depicted in Mirror’s Edge is to be believed, it is also a world of bold but limited colour. Tall buildings gleam white in the sun, interrupted only by flashes of red, green and blue. It’s as if a the mayor of the city, despairing at his wife’s inability to choose between apple white and snow white for their new kitchen, took some very drastic action to simplify matters.

If the future depicted in Mirror’s Edge is to be believed yet further, it is also a world of high security, where information is everything and highly sought after. Throughout, you guide Faith, a “runner” and purveyor of such information, across the rooftops in a bid to stay one step ahead of the authorities as she clears her sister’s name. Scaling scaffolding, jumping fences or sliding under pipes, she’s an agile lady who also isn’t afraid to get into a scrap if cornered.

Whether the contrasting visuals appeal to you or not is all down to personal taste, but their importance in the world cannot be downplayed. Running across the rooftops, the only signposts you’ll ever encounter are these flecks of colour. Not only do they help create a striking environment but an intuitive one, highlighting your next objective and allowing even new levels to be confidently tackled at a satisfying pace. It’s an unobtrusive way to guide the player and fits in well with the rest of the clean aesthetic; there is no HUD, no clutter, no reason to remove you from the experience.

The speed and freedom that can be achieved in Mirror’s Edge prove its greatest strengths, backed up by the first-person perspective and accessible controls. The former gives you a sense of connection with Faith and her movements, never taking you away from what she is going through, whilst the latter gives easy access to all of Faith’s skills. Wallruns, vaults, flips, jumps and slides, that if strung together across the cluttered skyline can provoke an empowering experience.

Most of the more open areas offer more than one way to navigate them, giving the opportunity to express yourself and experiment. Even the linear sections are welcome, acting like a three-dimensional puzzle that you must crack to progress.

Of course, there will be times when things go badly and a mistimed jump can send you hurtling to the pavement below. On these occasions you are set back to a the nearest checkpoint are persuaded to learn from your mistake. The frequency of this varies greatly throughout the game but whilst they can come in bursts the load times are never long enough to become annoying.

Unfortunately the weak point does come when those who wish to stop your free-running ways arrive on the scene. “Blues” armed with guns will burst out of doorways and although many can be avoided some must be knocked out or killed to progress. It can prove horribly scripted and combat on a whole is a painful, tiresome affair that breaks the game’s flow.

A lone enemy may not prove much of an obstacle, with their intelligence such that you can run straight at them and floor them with a flurry of blows, but rounding the corner to find a small squad always made my heart drop. You are advised to isolate each in turn but on certain rooftops that is easier said than done and on more than one occasion a play session ended because of the sheer frustration that it caused.

There is the option to disarm Blues and turn their weapon on their sqaudmates but the timing for this is ridiculous. A man could be doubled over and wheezing from a blow to the crotch but there is no option then. Instead it seems that the optimum time to remove is weapon is when he’s swinging it at your face. Having said that, and getting into character, I never felt as though Faith was the type to use guns and so insisted on battling through solely using unarmed combat.

Time-trials do become available as you progress, presenting areas where it is simply Faith and the environment, but they are balanced out against being forced to play through the main-story to unlock them.

Mirror’s Edge is ultimately a game of highs and lows: the joys of free-running across a gorgeously, stylistic city, and the lows of yet another bullet induced death. In many ways there are parallels with Prince of Persia: Sands of Time, as in both cases you had a very pure and enjoyable platform-adventure and yet it seems that bad guys were added to either pad the game or because the designers just couldn’t imagine a game without them. In both situations, I feel their inclusion was to the detriment of the games themselves.

7/10

Birthday Honours

As with The Queen, I feel it my duty to recognise those that have impressed me over the last twelve months and so I welcome you to the second annual BIGsheep Birthday Honours.

For services to music: Rock Band 2

I used to think the solo guitar experience was exhilarating, making you feel like an instant rock star. However, as I have already stated this week there were few experiences last year better than playing in your own plastic band. This iteration on the series builds on its already strong core, whilst the drums and the copious amount of downloadable songs have been a revolution to me, revitalised my interest in this genre.

For services to the Capital Wasteland: Fallout 3

If there was one game in 2008 that I had to force myself to put down as I was in danger of forsaking all others, that game would be Fallout 3. Some may have found the desolate wasteland they were wandering through a chore, I regarded it as a mammoth game of hide and seek. Over each ridge or round the next canyon turn you never knew what you were going to find, from crashed UFOs to museums dedicated to fizzy drinks. The sheer scale of the game was inspiring.

For services against the undead: Left 4 Dead

Despite my original muted response towards Left 4 Dead, the zombie apocalypse has grown on me. It is a game where no story is needed, your goals are obvious and tight teamwork is rewarded. This simplicity is its strength with new players able to delve right in and get just as much from it as grizzled veterans.

For services to engineering: Banjo-Kazooie: Nuts & Bolts

Not only does it feature one Trophy Thomas, but also the ultimate Lego set. Once you reach a certain point in the game a light bulb flicks on inside your head and all sorts of crazy ideas begin churning out. To add to my trebuchet, Thundertank, Thunderbird 2 and Seaking, I’ve seen ferris wheels, walking robots, space shuttles and a myriad more creations that make you realise what a flexible toolset you have at your disposal.

For services to puzzlement: Professor Layton and the Curious Village

A delightful DS game that takes a different slant on point-and-click adventuring, combining some devious logic puzzles with a colourful brand of animation. The whole game oozes charm, from a village that is populated with those obsessed with testing your brain to Professor Layton’s nemesis who would prefer you out the way so he can presumably have all the puzzles to himself.

Honourable mentions

Whilst they may be my Top 5 games of the year, I do think a few others deserve the nod.

The continued presence of Halo and Rainbow Six: Vegas should be appreciated. Excluding those with zombies, no shooter has come close to dislodging these pair as firm favourites.

In terms of controlling green clad pixies, Zelda: Phantom Hourglass for me was second only to Link to the Past in terms of enjoyment. A great debut on the DS for Link.

Mirror’s Edge would be held in far higher esteem if only the combat wasn’t so frustrating. For me this has great parallels with Sands of Time; if only enemies were completely removed from both games then I would champion them to anyone who would listen.

Although there seems a backlash for Fable II, I still really loved it for what it was. There may be no sandbox world on the scale of Oblivion but I liked what it did for it did it really well.

“Please release me, let me go”

Looking at the release schedule, which has steadily been growing week upon week until the current “What’s Out” listing looks comparable to the north face of K2, this Friday’s has to be the most demanding of the year for me. These last seven days will have brought Gears, Banjo, Left 4 Dead, Guitar Hero World Tour, Mirror’s Edge and End War to the shelves, and this is on top of my pre-existing love affair with Fallout 3. What is a boy to do?

The one release that passed my silently by was Wrath of the Lich King, a World of Warcraft expansion. Quite strangely it was only brought to my attention by BBC Radio 5live covering its midnight launch. They were interviewing someone who had camped out since Tuesday in order to be first in line and were quite reasonably discussing its addictive properties.

Part of me is quite disappointed that I am no longer interested in World of Warcraft enough to be excited by or even to notice a new chapter working its way out to the masses. Having played two serious stints before, the second triggered by the release of the previous expansion, I definitely count myself as a fan but I believe my time has been and gone is Azeroth.

World of Warcraft still can claim home to some very memorable gaming moments due to the team work and social engagement it brought with other players in the world. A core four from within Rare formed our party but in the end it required so much planning to get the whole quartet together at the same time on the same night that the feasibility of playing just dropped away. At higher levels, its scale is hardly something you can dabble in at lunchtimes.

Currently I wander the plains of a different world, Fallout 3’s Capital Wasteland, and until that has been put to bed I can only see a certain rhythm action game being played in parallel. Everything else will just have to wait.