If any game was going to win an award for being cool, Mirror's Edge would be it. From the title screen onwards you're treated to a uniquely styled action game that exudes cool from every pore, drips with cutting edge technical brilliance and never tries to deviate from its platforming focus. The big question is whether or not all this cool and a remarkably simple control scheme is enough to make free-running Mirror's Edge the game of the year candidate it always looked like being.
Mirror's Edge sees you playing as Faith, a female runner in a near future in which security is tight and every move is watched and analysed. While the general public comply, worried for their safety and the penalties for breaking the law, the runners work above the law, delivering sensitive data to people by using highrise rooftops as their road network. The storyline seems more or less created to give a purpose to the parkour inspired action platforming gameplay, but it does that perfectly and creates a convincing totalitarian atmosphere.
Although viewed from a first-person perspective it would be wrong to call Mirror's Edge a first-person shooter. For the most part you're weapon-less, with the first-person perspective giving you the perfect view of the city and the exhilarating moves you're able to pull off. For a game that looks incredibly complicated to control, developer DICE should be commended for managing to map most of what matters onto the four shoulder buttons of the two next-gen console controllers. The key to everything Faith does is really the way all upwards actions are mapped to L1/LB and all downward actions are mapped to L2/LT. You'll need to play through the tutorial level to get a feel for it, but once you do it makes perfect sense and never gets in the way of gameplay.
Faith's movement is essentially controlled like any other FPS, with her running speed increasing as you continue to move unobstructed by obstacles. If a small structure is in your way, tap L1/LB and Faith will either leap straight over or climb up onto it; if a ramp of sorts is built out of a small object leading to a larger structure, tap the same button and you'll use the first object as a springboard to leap over both. Equally, if you see a gap underneath an object, tap L2/LT and Faith will slide underneath. It might sound clunky spelled out here, but in practice it's tremendously fluid and makes for some of the best platforming gameplay available on any platform.
These little movements make up a lot of the game, but Faith is a thrill seeker, so massive leaps of, well, faith, are always just around the corner. Runner vision (not available on the hardest unlocked difficulty mode) highlights key objects in red, so you're always aware of roughly where you need to go, be it off the edge of a ramp or down a zip wire. Faith isn't a super human, so a big fall will hurt her, meaning a good landing is essential. Holding the down button just prior to landing is the key to this, causing Faith to roll when she hits the ground, and letting you continue your run without losing too much momentum.
We haven't even touched on the more advanced techniques yet, like wall running (and jumping from a wall run), wall jumps by using the quick turn button and tucked jumps by holding the up button while in the air. Although Runner Vision shows suitable objects to use and the circle/B button points Faith towards her destination, there's not a single route through each level - far from it. The levels have been built in a way to make the most of Faith's incredible agility, so the obvious route is rarely, if ever, the best option. Of course, it's still great fun to play through the game using nothing but what's marked out, but by the latter half of the game (which is disappointingly short, we're sad to report) you're more comfortable with Faith's abilities and try more things out.
It's a testament to the gameplay that we even enjoyed opening doors, something that quite rightly barely gets a mention in the majority of games. The way Faith smashes through them never gets dull, and the transition from the sterile indoor environments to the stunning outdoors always impress. Doors are fun, but smashing through glass is even better. It feels strange talking about such mundane things, but when you're Faith, seeing the world with her eyes, even the most simple actions feel good.