The game puts you in the two-toed shoes of Faith, a rebellious young messenger living in a heavily-monitored municipal city, who delivers sensitive information the old-fashioned way: by running. But the immaculate metropolis gets stirred up something fierce when one of its top running political candidates is found murdered and Faith's sister Kate, a police officer herself, is framed for it. In an attempt to clear her sister of all charges, Faith starts her own investigation.
It's a good enough instigator to have you chasing shadows and you'll find the story to be a decent slab of street justice, but with plot twists that you can see coming from miles away and brief Flash-like interludes that, quite frankly, are a blemish on the otherwise aesthetically pleasing production, the story struggles to maintain your interest.
But that's okay. You don't play this game for the story, you play it for the adrenaline rushes, and Mirror's Edge is intent on delivering them hand over fist. Your very first actual mission will see you sliding down a skyscraper's skylight (which happens to be a steep ramp) with an attack chopper shooting the windows from under you. Shortly thereafter, you're narrowly escaping an out-of-control subway train. Every mission shifts between leisurely pace and lickety-split chase at some point, balancing a sense of freedom and exploration with the rush of pursual.
Since the game makes sure you always move towards your goal, Mirror's Edge is much more linear than you'd expect a parcours game to be. Your routes usually aren't wider than one roof, with branching pathways being obstacles that require enough velocity to overcome. Despite its narrow playing field, it isn't always clear where you're supposed to be going. This is especially true when you're inside a building where the level design goes a little gung-ho: barely visible ledges and multi-floor puzzles will stop you dead in your tracks to figure out the next step. The fact that some interiors have a bright red hue, which interferes with your red-coloured hint system called Runner Vision, doesn't help much. Sometimes the design is so overdone that I was jumping at ledges from an angle that seemed unnatural, making me wonder whether or not I was even going the way that the game wanted me to go.
You may get out of the starting blocks a little bumbling since the game throws an unusual controller lay-out at you: you press the left bumper to jump, and the left trigger to slide. It takes some getting used to but once you do, you'll be ripping across the rooftops with little effort. It's a game where you feel yourself get better with every stage you finish. And you'll need it, since the stages gradually ramp up the complexity.
While its core run-and-jump gameplay is solid (if not a little disorienting at times) , its shooting is not. It's a little curious since developer Dice made its name with the Battlefield-series, one of the front-runners of the first-person shooter. The game tends to avoid forcing its combat on you (evidenced by an achievement for finishing the game without shooting anyone) and yet there are spots where you have to fight to proceed. There's an instance where you're on a ship and have to open a door by turning a valve. It's a process that takes a while, and armed forces are scattered across the area so you're forced to dispose of them before moving forward. Knowing that the strength of Mirror's Edge lies in speed and agility, the combat-centric parts feel very jarring.
You have a small array of close combat moves should push come to shove. You can punch with the right trigger (inadvisable when the enemies are in group, which they usually are) and disarm someone by pressing Y when their weapon flashes red. There's definitely a challenge in disarming someone since the action window is short, but the pay-off is a sweet looking animation of Faith not only taking the weapon, but knocking her enemy out cold as well. Once you obtain a gun, you can still decide to toss it away or empty it, at which point Faith discards it automatically. You won't gather ammo from fallen foes, though you can pick up their weapons laying on the floor. The game also offers you a slow-motion ability dubbed Reaction Time to aid you with the more dangerous, heavy machinegun wielding foes.
The story mode won't last you very long, clocking in at about 6 hours the first time through, though there are collectibles (hidden messenger bags) and unlockables (concept art and music) for the completionists. Those seeking to truly test their mettle can try one of the game's other modes: speed runs (completing a story mission within a time limit) and time trials (1- to 2-minute gateway races.) Both these modes offer a challenge well beyond the one found in the story, and you'll find yourself facing many restart screens if you come unprepared. Online leaderboards, complete with downloadable ghosts, may motivate you to improve your times, though I can't imagine anyone but the hardest of hardcore restarting over and over again to shave hundredths of seconds off their time. Unless you're competing with friends over the best time, of course.
One of the game's most accomplished features is its sense of immersion: the combination of effective visual augmentations (such as head-bobbing, motion blur and over-blooming when you come out of the dark) and audio cues (such as Faith's breathing and echoing footsteps) pulls you that much closer into the experience. You'll feel every mile you run, and there's an undeniable rush to get from attaining top speed and watching Faith's arms swirl when leaping across great distances. Even if you miss and plunge to your death, there's a neat visual effect (finished by a painful-sounding thud.)
Complimenting the audiovisual flair of the game is a subtle soundtrack; from lounge-like ambience during the free-running sections to pulsing techno-riffs during action sequences. The title track by Swedish poprock artist Lisa Miskovsky, coincidentally titled "Still Alive", is a great fit for the game's sleek and graceful design.
While the game looks very distinct and pretty, it's not without problems. The aforementioned animated cutscenes simply aren't good, there's texture pop-in (of course, it runs on the Unreal engine after all) and character models look off up-close. The game also places elevators in the levels that act as hidden loading screens. I have nothing against them but sometimes they last a little too long.
Mirror's Edge is a feast to all your senses and the few issues it has are forgotten when you're soaring across the skyline pulling off strings of impressive jumps. The story won't last you very long but if you're anything like me, you'll go through it multiple times simply because it's such a thrill. Even if you're not, the other game modes will keep you occupied for another couple of hours. If you're willing to brave a fair amount of trial-and-error, you'll find a unique experience worth playing. And at its current low-budget price, it's a leap of faith worth taking.