Here’s the thing about Mirror’s Edge: It’s 85 percent awesome, and we’re as surprised as anyone that the part that’s awesome is the first-person parkour. The running, jumping, and climbing bits are utterly engaging and even transcendent. There’s something liberating about leaping fearlessly from rooftop to rooftop while fleeing from a nebulous anti-freedom force. Unfortunately, for every high you get while soaring through the sky, there’s a painful low in the form of a combat sequence.
And therein lies the rub. The rooftop chases, where the designers were free to build many-pathed courses through the map, are sublime. By confronting the player with a constant stream of risk-vs.-reward decisions—do I take the risky jump to shave some seconds off my time, or the safe jump to avoid death?—and increasing your players speed as she successfully strings together long combos, the game is elevated from the run-along-a-path-on-the-rooftops experience it could have been into something emergent and amazing and wonderful.
I’ve been playing Peggle lately, and – confession time – I love it.
Despite the attached “casual timesink” stigma and even though the game’s main gameplay conceit is essentially as complex as watching a slinky bounce down a staircase, I can’t get enough of it. On top of that, it serves as a perfect contrast to the other stigma-prone game I’m currently loving in that can’t-let-the-family-find-out sort of way: Mirror’s Edge. Why the wariness? Well, Mirror’s Edge was supposed to lead EA’s innovation charge, but the game’s over-reliance on frustrating trial-and-error-based gameplay caused it to fall slightly short of its lofty goal.
As with Peggle, though, that “controversial” gameplay conceit is my main reason for loving it so much. So, to sum up: Peggle is simple and fun, while Mirror’s Edge is brutal, but still enjoyable. Playing one when I’m fed up with the other makes them perfect compliments. End of story, right?
But this complimentary contrast isn’t without a point. See, typically, the ridicule Peggle receives is purely in jest. The game’s casual and addictive, so – obviously – you’re putting your hardcore gamer cred on the line by playing it. “Oh that Nathan! Giving [Big Name Game X] the cold shoulder for Peggle? What a loon!” And then hilarity ensues. Etc. But the truth is, Peggle’s a fantastic game, and most will acknowledge that.
Mirror’s Edge’s jump-die-jump-die-???-profit shtick, though? That’s the kind of thing that inspires gamepad-shaped holes in the wall and cursing strings that’d make Q-Bert blush. Lower than expected review scores and a general air of disappointment shortly after the game’s release reflect that. As a result, I’d wager that the type of gameplay Mirror’s Edge took so many verbal blows for is on its way out. Which is a shame, because I think it still has a place in today’s gaming climate.
Read on to find out why Mirror's Edge 2 -- if one ever appears -- probably won't be much like the first.