So first thing is that I've decided to split this into two posts, this one will contain no spoilers, the next one will.
I'm not sure whether this will turn out being more about Mirror's Edge itself, or more about my experience playing it which, after a certain point, became much more about the fact that I'm not very good at games and therefore needed to find a way to cheat.
Definitely going to start with the game itself though.
I first heard about Mirror's Edge months ago when it played an important but small role in the story of someone standing up for his little brother to his dad in a game store. That is not the way that I hear about most games. Then again I've been kind out of it for the last … I'm going to say: ten years, so I don't usually hear about games that much anyway.
I ended up getting a copy of the game about a week ago and was initially blown away by it. It was, at first, very much the kind of thing I needed. It was engaging, it was distracting from the problems of my life, and it just plain fun.
I was expecting that I'd soon make a post about it that basically boiled down to, “You have to get this game, it's amazing.”
Set in a Utopian-Dystopian future that's apparently inspired, in part, by a misremembering of Firefly and Serenity* government surveillance is omnipresent and the dissenting factions were shut down (violently) years before, which has given rise to the runners. The runners are couriers who hand deliver objects and information thus allowing those who would rather not be spied on to communicate without the surveillance picking up on it.
All electronic means of communication are monitored, so one can't make a phone call or send an email without the government listening in or reading it over, and cameras are everywhere so you can't talk face to face without the government knowing you talked face to face.
Thus the runners. They've converted the rooftops into their roadways, they live free running, and they'll deliver stuff from point a to point b.
Your character, Faith, is a runner returning to work after a fall took her out of commission.
The gameplay managed to take things I'd usually hate, and make me love them. (Again: at first.)
Consider the fact that the game is built around the idea of a character who jumps from rooftop to rooftop. It's a game that's filled with jumping puzzles. I hate jumping puzzles. I especially hate first person jumping puzzles. This is a game with first person jumping puzzles around every turn. And I started playing and it was awesome. I didn't know it was possible for a game to make me feel that way about jumping puzzles, and yet it did.
One might ask about Portal to which this game has been compared on the jumping front. I don't think of Portal as really being jumping puzzles. It was puzzles that occasionally involve jumping. Don't get me wrong, I see similarities**, but the two games a very different in most ways. They feel nothing like each other. So, while I liked Portal, I wouldn't say that Portal made me find first person jumping puzzles fun.
Mirror's Edge did. Almost indescribably fun.
Another thing is what I think of as “Kato vision” but given that Mirror's Edge came out before The Green Hornet (2011) perhaps I should describe it as “Faith vision”. The name isn't important. In the movie The Green Hornet when Kato was appraising a situation in an instant objects of interest would be highlighted red, thus letting the viewer know that he was noticing that specific thing. In Mirror's Edge certain objects of interest are highlighted in a similar way to help the player notice them. (This can be turned off for those who do not like it.)
I've seen this sort of set up before, though the color in question wasn't red, and thought it was one of the stupidest thing's I'd ever encountered. I don't feel the same way in Mirror's Edge, I like it in Mirror's edge. Mostly, I think, because it's handled better. Much better.
In the other game I saw it in things were highlighted if they had an interest to you the player, which would indeed be helpful because otherwise there was no way to separate fluff from the potentially useful, but from an in world perspective there was absolutely no rhyme or reason to what was highlighted. The stuff that wasn't was more or less identical to the stuff that was, and there was no reason your character should be able to distinguish so it just came across as, “You're in a game. You're in a game. Oh My God, did you know you're in a game? HEY! YOU! YOU'RE IN A GAME! A silly game. La, la, la. You're in a game.”
Now it's not that I ever forget I'm playing a game when I play a game, but I generally like to have at least a hint of verisimilitude. Suspension of disbelief and all that. (Also note that the game it was in wasn't intentionally silly.)
In Mirror's Edge things being highlighted actually makes sense. It makes sense because the things that are highlighted are, generally, things that Faith has been trained to recognize, and more than that has practice (years of it) in recognizing so it makes sense that she can look at these things and have them pop out at her at a glance. She notices them without having to work for it, we, the players, not so much. The mechanic of highlighting bridges the gap.
Also --and I don't know if this is really necessary to explain it since the real world phenomenon of being able to almost immediately notice things you've spent a long time being trained to notice can probably cover everything-- if there is ever a place where that doesn't quite cover it you've also got a sort of metaphysical connection that that the runners have to the city. They feel “the flow” which guides them in the right direction. But as I said, I'm not sure if you ever have to resort to that to explain the highlighting.
So that's another thing that I've felt antipathy toward in the past which I thought worked in Mirror's Edge.
Pretty sure there were other things. For example the way that you are very much placed within the character, noticing her movements, her breathing, her feet if you should feel the need to look down to make sure you don't walk off a building, and so forth is something that I usually don't approve of because it usually doesn't work. It worked.
Actually playing started out in a place that was sort of like a strange combination of euphoria and frenetic panic. The character is a runner, not a fighter, and before your first confrontation in the game a hint pops up saying, basically, “You should try to run away rather than fight.” Those aren't the exact words, but they give you the idea.
And for a while that's what the game was, running, with bullets landing all round me and helicopters chasing me and enemies at every turn I ran as fast as I could to get the hell away and keep from being shot and, while I died on occasion, it was fun. It was very, very fun.
Part of this may be that, not being very good at straight combat in most games, run and hide is often a strategy I have to fall back on and can end up being my default, so a character whose default strategy is to run and hide is probably a good fit for me, and more than that she does it with style.
Running away as Faith didn't feel like running away as most characters. With other characters running seems to represent a failure. With Faith was natural, it was exciting, it was fun. Most of the time escaping doesn't feel like a triumph, but it did, and did I mention it was fun? Because, damn, was it fun.
I reached a point where I really felt like the game could use a quicksave feature, but that frustration eventually passed and I was back to having a lot of fun.
I reached a point where I was kind of sort of ambushed by multiple enemies, I grabbed a gun from one of them, got in a position where the others would have to go through a choke-point to get to me, and then picked them off one by one.
And then felt liked I'd screwed up badly. I mean even if everything were to work out in the end, I'm a cop killer now***. Even if I prove that I'm innocent of the crimes that I'm accused of I'm still guilty of this, and what are the odds that the cops will care what I have to say if I do find proof, now that I've killed their colleagues? Also, beyond any moral or plot concerns, the actions felt wrong.
Faith isn't a fighter, she's a runner. Standing and gunning isn't what she should be doing. I'd been sprinting through almost a third of the game at this point, running away from confrontation. Now I'd changed their ambush of me into my ambush of them. It seemed out of character. Not Faith-like.
And then I remembered that I was playing a game where I couldn't save.
One of the many functions of saving is to be able to try things different ways. To navigate the infinite delta streams of future possibility by going back to a point before the branch and saying, “Ok, what if I try this?”
You need two saves to do that. One at the point before you choose the fork in the road that you can go back to, and another so that you don't lose the progress you made after that going down the first branch. Because “What if I had tried something different?” isn't the same as, “I want to lose all of the progress that I made in this timeline.”
Mirror's Edge isn't designed for that. Starting a new game literally means destroying the old game. (There's a warning and everything.) And a game with rules like that isn't likely to have the complex interplay of cause and effect that would mean my decision on how to deal with these cops mattered.
It still felt wrong though. Not so much from a moral standpoint because the cops weren't characters so much as obstacles. This isn't a game where they have family or friends or personalities or favorite colors. This is a game where, with all of three exceptions, the enemies aren't people they're just abstractions in people suits.
This is not a criticism of the game, by the way. Some stories work better that way. I, personally, think it was a mistake when the Dark Forces games† began to humanize the foot solider opponents starting in Jedi Outcast. If you're going to make a game that gives me the job of indiscriminately killing people and expect that to be fun, you've got to make sure that “people” is used in the loosest sense possible. Once I start hearing them talk about their hopes and fears and goal of retirement, a game that sets me on the path to destroying them isn't going to be fun. Well, not nearly as fun as it could have been. I'm still a fan of the Dark Forces games, all of them.
Realism should only be used in the kinds of games that call for it. A game where you kill almost everything that moves is not one that calls for that kind of realism.
So it wasn't really morally that it felt wrong.
No, what felt wrong was that I fought instead of ran. Faith, as a character, was, to me, about running. About moving. Stopping to have a fight instead of keeping on moving felt wrong. Killing instead of running felt wrong. The game, it seemed to me at that time, was first person action but not really a first person shooter.
I decided that in the future, wherever possible, I would run instead of fight. I'd try to keep moving. Even if it seemed like fighting might be safer or easier, if I could run I would run because it was what felt right for the game and right for the character.
Anyway, I got moving again, and then I hit the spot where things fell apart.
About a third of the way through the game there was this one jump that I simply couldn't get right. I'd try it, I'd fail, I'd get sent back to the beginning of a long sequence, get back to the jump, I'd try it, I'd fail, get sent back to the beginning of the sequence, and repeat. Over and over again. I'm not sure why that gave me so much more trouble than everything else, but it did.
If this were a game with quicksave I'd save right before the jump and then be able to get right to the jump without having to do the sequence over and over and over again. I could just do the jump and the jump alone until I got it right. I'd probably also save after the jump so that I wouldn't, as I did, end up losing all of that progress by missing a simple thing right afterward.
But this wasn't a game with quicksave and I couldn't do that. So I had to do the same thing over and over and over again, and even though I got everything before that jump right in the beginning and everything was nice and fluid and going with the flow, by the end there wasn't as single step in that long sequence that I hadn't fucked up at least once.
Gave up, went to sleep, tried again in the morning, same results. Everything else I could do the vast majority of the time, that one part not so much.
And that's when I tried to look up cheats. There are cheats. Including one called “Jesus mode” that I really want to know what it does. Does it let you walk on water? Multiply the loaves and fishes? Does it make it so you can die but you come back three units of time later? What?
I may never know, because the cheats have been disabled along with the console, which is disappointing because on seeing the cheats I came to realize that this is an Unreal game. A different version of the engine than the one I know, but it looks like there are some of the same console commands still in use and I have had fun with the console commands.
Deus Ex, running on the first generation of Unreal, introduced me to the concept of console commands. Far beyond the realm of simple cheats, they're like magic. It is console commands that I used to summon my herd of loyal fire breathing lizard-chicken minions. Four console commands. One to make them loyal, one to make them follow me around, one to make them pop into existence, one to make them breath fire instead of spitting neurotoxic spit.
And that's what they do, they put the power in your hands and you can rewrite reality as you see fit. The laws of the game-world become your playground, and you can finger paint upon the canvas of existence.
Also you can cry out, “Imperial battleship, halt the flow of time!” and have the order be obeyed. So long as you phrase it as, “playersonly” (to freeze everyone and everything but you) or, “slomo .01” (to slow down everything including you a lot.)
Slomo is an especially useful command because most of my problems with gaming have to do with my reaction time. With slomo you can set the time to whatever percent of normal you want. (It can also be used for troubleshooting if your game and your computer don't like each other very much and as a result the game runs too fast or too slow.)
But, like I said, the console is disabled. Can't do anything. Ditto for the cheats. You can find them, which is how one knows that Jesus mode exists, but you can't use them.
In trying to activate the cheats before realizing that that doesn't work I bumped into something else. It appears that the engine has quicksaving built right into it and the keys F5 and F6 were still bound to quicksave and quickload respectively. So it looks like the failure to include quicksave wasn't an effort saving measure, it was just a, “Fuck you,” to anyone who might possibly benefit from it. As near as I can tell.
That was an aggravating realization.
Finally I downloaded a trainer, a third party program that, basically, implements cheats that were never programmed into the game. It turned out that the trainer made use of the arrow keys and I couldn't rebind it which meant that I had to play the game using my left hand for the keyboard and my right hand for the mouse. No good can ever come of that.
But I made it passed the trouble spot, found myself a savespot, ditched the trainer, and moved on with the game. And my weekend was rescued.
I ended up with another trainer (that didn't tie up the arrow keys) which I needed to help me with combat because damn I suck at that. I'm not quite sure how I managed to take out those cops so easily the first time.
So, combat in Mirror's Edge.
In, I think, most games I've played combat involves guns which hit their targets right away. That makes combat two dimensional. You've got the horizontal dimension (180 degrees right to 180 degrees left) and the vertical dimension (90 degrees up to 90 degrees down). If you've got things that are not instant hit it becomes more complex, at close range with relatively fast projectiles you can still more or less point and shoot, but at longer ranges, or with slower attacks, or at longer ranges with slower projectiles, it suddenly becomes four dimensional.
In addition to left-right and up-down you have range and time. You need to take into account how far away your target is (range) and where it's going to be by the time your attack reaches them (time).
So you've got four dimensions and time really requires you to think about your target's velocity which is itself three dimensions (two of direction, one of speed.) It's a lot more complex and I tend to have difficulty.
Mirror's Edge is very much in the more than two dimension's side of things.
If you get your hands on a gun then it does largely collapse into the two dimensions of the standard first person shooter, but guns are not the primary weapons available to Faith. Her main weapon is her body, specifically her hands and feet. Of those, her feet are the stronger weapon.
To deliver a kick does not mean walking up to someone and hitting the kick button. There is no kick button. There is only an attack button. Attack means kick if you're jumping toward someone or if you're sliding toward them. Both of those require you to be thinking very much about range and time. You need to be the right distance away otherwise you'll land/run out of momentum and stop sliding, before you reach the opponent. You need to be accounting for time otherwise when you get there they'll be elsewhere.
To say that I suck at the combat in Mirror's Edge is like saying that a black hole is a bit heavy.
Though, in fairness to myself, I've since discovered that there seemed to be something borked with my set up that might have been making it so that even some of the time I did get everything right my strikes didn't land. (And that did happen after I had the easy time with the cops, so that could account for some of the difference.)
Faith's best move of all is neither punch nor kick, it's a disarm. Now it's not something to be used all the time because it takes a while to complete and during that time you can be shot by people not being disarmed, but it does take the person being disarmed out of commission and get you a weapon. (I'm looking at dates and wondering if this is where Human Revolution got the idea for takedowns. If it is, they messed up severely by pulling a person switch, it's much less jarring to stick in first person.)
Anyway, that generally requires starting your attack at a very specific moment, indicated by the weapon going into Faith-Kato vision. See the gun change color and then hit a button is exactly the sort of thing that crappy reaction time makes you mess up.
The game actually has a feature called “reaction time” that will slow down time for you, which as you might imagine is exactly the kind of thing I could use. But you get one shot and then have to recharge it by running, which means one chance to get one thing right, and if you fail (and you're like me) you're screwed.
So the combat was not fun for me, and as the game progressed there was a lot more of that going on. Though I assume a better player who was quicker at assessing situations could have done a better job at getting away from it.
Anyway, I cheated. Which allowed me to get through the combat, and I had to switch back to the first trainer for a thing where even with “reaction time” properly used my reaction time was still too damned slow every single time (well almost, there were, I think two times I made it and then allowed myself to do stupid death-causing things soon after ) and the second trainer had nothing that could get me through. That was interesting because, as I already mentioned, the first trainer reserved for itself all of the keys that worked well with a right hand. As it turned out that part required enough finesse even with the trainer that I needed my left hand on mouse, so that put me in a weird sort of crossed had position. Anyway, that was a short sequence and once I was passed it I could return to normal.
The biggest problem I had was that spending two fucking days missing the same damned jump over and over again completely screwed over my confidence in just running and trying to make it work. After that, every step of the way I hesitated. Even after noticing I was doing that I couldn't make myself stop. The game is about going with the flow, and constant failure had made me so I couldn't flow.
Progress was halting rather than smooth, and that messed up everything. The game is about momentum, I lost the ability to sustain it. Later on I went back and returned to the beginning, sure enough I was worse than when I started.
Still, I did have fun playing it.
So I'm not sure what to say about the game. If if I could quicksave I don't think the part that really screwed me up would have been a problem. Once I realized I was having trouble with it I could have concentrated on that part, and just that part, until I got it right. That wouldn't have taken nearly as long. I probably would have had a lot more fun for the remaining two thirds of the game.
If it were possible to access the console then there would be workarounds for any conceivable problems one might have with the game. Not to mention infinite possibilities for replaying. When you can summon anything or anyone, and change the laws of physics as your fancy is suited, the possibilities really are endless.
But in the non-hypothetical land of reality, it has neither of those things.
So if I recommend it and someone actually gets it (which, what are the odds? No one has listened to one of my recommendations yet) will they enjoy it as much as I did in the beginning, or will the end up with the frustration?
I'd like to recommend it because it was so much fun in the beginning, and really even the final two thirds were pretty fun as well even though I was increasingly thrown into combat which I didn't like nearly as much as the non-combat and I had lost the ability to just go with the flow.
Looking around I see that one of the frequently repeated complaints (beyond lack of quicksaving, which other people agreed with me on) was the length. It's not a long game. Pretty short actually. Normally I wouldn't comment on this because I'm out of touch enough that for all I knew it was average, but given that it was a pretty frequent complaint I'm guessing that is actually objectively short even by the standards of these past few years.
I have some thoughts about where it might have been good to expand it, but the key point is that there's not a lot there. There's an inconsistently reported sequel in the theoretical works (As in: “It's on.” “It's canceled.” “But we still respect you.” “No wait, it is on.”) and given where the game left off that's pretty well necessary if you're interested in story. Not to say that it left on a cliffhanger, there is closure on the narrow focus of the game, but there's a much broader story at work and it's impossible to interpret what happened in the game without knowing how the broader story goes.
I don't know. I really want to be able to recommend this game because at it's core, the actual act of being a runner in the unnamed city, it is very fun. But the lack of saving is a problem, and the fact that you can't cheat means that unless you're going to be using a third party program, you actually have to be good enough to play. I'm not.**** No idea if you are.
* The project lead cites as an influence a completely botched quote from Serenity. A tip to all who may one day wish to cite their influences, before you say, “In [movie], [character] actually says,” double check that [character] actually said that in [movie].
That's not all he says, if it were then I wouldn't list Firefly as an influence above, but the one specific example he gives beyond saying that the two things influenced him isn't actually accurate.
** They're both first person games, with female protagonists whose primary abilities revolve around a mode of transportation, that end with songs called, “Still Alive.”
*** Actually, some of those disarms seemed to me like they might very well be deadly. On the other hand, after Human Revolution came out with their obviously-lethal "nonlethal" takedowns, I'm not sure if you're ever supposed to think about whether or not hitting someone in the head with something really, really hard might be lethal in a game. Faith certainly never does anything while unarmed that seems as lethal as those allegedly nonlethal moves. Hell, some of the times she shoots people I think the victim is more likely to survive than some of the people AJ "non-lethally" takes down in Human Revolution.
**** I could almost certainly beat the game without cheating. There is no way in hell it would be fun. If a game isn't fun, I don't see the point.
† The games are these:
Dark Forces - In which stealing the Death Star plans is only the beginning
Jedi Knight: Dark Forces II - In which you become a Jedi Knight and fight seven Dark Jedi.
Mysteries of the Sith (an expansion for Jedi Knight) - In which you play as Mara Jade
Jedi Knight II: Jedi Outcast - In which you become a Jedi Knight again after quitting last go round.
Jedi Academy - In which you play as a student of the original guy.
* * *