Sunday, February 5, 2012

#3: Stick with Your Idea (Or, Why I Hated the Last Half of Mirror's Edge)

Every once in awhile, a game comes along that dares to be different. It dares to stand out from its peers and deliver an experience that is unique to the industry. One such game was made by developer DICE and published by EA in late 2008: That game was Mirror's Edge. The premise of Mirror's Edge was that the player would travel through the levels using parkour-inspired moves. The problem with the game is not the overall concept. In fact, the game had the very opposite problem, the last half of the game partially abandons this concept in favor of brief sections of combat-focused gameplay.

In Mirror's Edge, the characters live in a society where all information is being monitored, so some people hire couriers called “runners” to carry packages and information via the rooftops and other discrete pathways to avoid prying eyes. The player is one of these runners: a young woman named Faith. In the beginning of the game, the player is given the goal of handing off their package to another runner so that the package reaches its client. The player has to navigate a variety of obstacles with a myriad of acrobatic and athletic maneuvers. Along the way, the player encounters the city's police force, who attack for reasons unknown (and never really stated). Anyway, the player is told that fighting them would be suicide since the cops have weapons and body armor and the player character lacks both. Instead, it is best to conserve energy and momentum by running away from them and continuing to the goal because it would difficult to isolate them and take them out one at a time. Later playthroughs even allow the player to partake in time trials to get to the end before the target time. Other early chapters of the game function similarly, with different justifications for being as swift as possible.

However, in later chapters, as events unfold, the player has to infiltrate various locations in order to find information or complete some other moderately-justified objective. While there is still an emphasis on parkour-inspired platforming, it is occasionally separated by segments where it is difficult, if not impossible, to run through the guards, meaning that the player has to fight them before advancing through the level. This severely breaks the flow of the game and makes playing through these parts a little annoying and very unfun since the player character is fragile (remember, no body armor) and has no weapons of her own. These levels also allow for time trials, but it is noticeably more difficult when the player has to deal with both the level structure and the guards.

This should serve as a very valuable lesson to game developers. Feel free to experiment with new types of games. In fact, I implore you to do so for the sake of the medium. However, should developers do so, they should remember to stick with their idea for the duration of the game. Do not approach a new concept halfheartedly. It is an all or nothing deal. It may be tempting to add things in for “mass appeal”, but doing so will only ruin the final product and leave a bad taste in the consumer's mouth. Mirror's Edge would have been a good game had it only kept going with the parkour concept originally laid out. I would have criticized its flimsy plot, but like Assassin's Creed 2, I would have called it a great game. As it stands now, with the way it partially abandons the core concept, I can only call it mediocre. Nonetheless, I hope this game gets a sequel and the developers learn from their mistake.

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