How To Fix Mirror's Edge
For how long must I wait? I know there’s something wrong.
So the theme tune goes. It’s been 28 months since I free ran through the Mondrian reverie of Mirror’s Edge, yet still the game has no sequel. I know there’s something wrong.
For if any game deserves a sequel surely it’s Mirror’s Edge. The game may be clumsily imperfect, but at its free-flowing best it is so refreshingly distinct. Yet its imprint on the industry remains so shallow.
EA led us on with soundbites about a sequel in development only to blow us off by announcing halted production earlier this year. Was this just coquettish impudence in light of the publisher’s recent talk of the agonizing process of making a sequel work?
I think it’s all one big cry for help. So...
Let’s start at the top: getting copies into consoles. If you want to shift 9 million units like Assassin’s Creed did, then you go with a descriptive name like, say, Assassin’s Creed. What you don’t do is splash your protagonist’s face across half the box art leaving no space to communicate a theme, and then call it something as fuzzy as “Mirror’s Edge.” After all, as praiseworthy as Faith’s character design is, a non-curvaceous Eurasian lead doesn’t scream “familiarity!” to a Western market. Worse still, the box art cut out the one thing in Faith’s design that might have communicated a parkour theme: her athletic attire.
Obviously EA can’t call the sequel Parkour Girl - I’ve copyrighted the name for one - but maybe showing a bit of running shoe on the Mirror’s Edge 2 box art wouldn’t hurt?
I’ve learned to lose. I’ve learned to win.
A more common criticism of Mirror’s Edge targeted the game’s eccentric control scheme and its heavy focus around the shoulder buttons. I do see an ergonomic logic to it: you can quickly switch between slides (LT) and jumps (LB), and so string them in intricate, quick combos as in a fighting game.
But even with a fighting game it’s best to accommodate with different control layouts. The same applies to Mirror’s Edge, and while the game did allow for some adjustments, not one of the available layout maps allowed for more traditional schemes like moving the jumps and slides to the face buttons. A first-person platforming adventure is an unusual enough concept for players to swallow, so familiar controls should be an option in the sequel.
The tutorial also had issues. Introducing each one of Faith’s moves in one fell swoop and expecting players to take it all in was, perhaps, expecting too much. It particularly backfired during the fourth chapter, “Heat.”
Early on in the chapter, Faith needed to reach a particularly high platform. Previous methods for reaching high platforms didn’t seem to work, so the solution seemed utterly unclear.
As it turned out, the correct approach was to run up a nearby wall, turn around and push off it to leap and reach the platform, all done by pressing LB RB LB in quick succession. This may not have come to mind immediately (or at all) because the last time the move was required for progress was in the tutorial, four chapters ago.
I would suggest that the sequel gradually introduce moves across the whole of the game; it gives players more of a helping hand, and is also an easy and entirely effective way to add fresh layers of play to later chapters.
I will move fast, I will move slow, take me where I need to go.
Lack of a helping hand was the biggest problem in Mirror’s Edge. Faith has the potential to be this generation’s Sonic the Hedgehog, and the sequel should be all about helping the player keep her moving at top speed.
Outside of simply falling to your death, broken flow in Mirror’s Edge typically occurred because players were unsure where to go or what to do (like in the above example). These hindrances were particularly frustrating when enemies were shooting at you and you had limited time to work out a solution.
Like with the original control scheme, the idea of using color-coded environmental cues to indicate Faith’s route was intelligently eccentric, but that eccentricity also makes it intimidating. In the sequel, it shouldn’t be relied on as a guiding device, particularly given that there’s a far more natural device available, and one that was criminally underused in Mirror’s Edge: Faith’s radio.
Instead of having Faith’s handler say vague, redundant things like “They’re coming after you, Faith” when there are already plenty of audio and visual cues to signify incoming enemies, have him provide distinct, express directions like “Climb those pipes to your right, Faith” or “Up the stairs, now!”
You don’t want to remove Faith’s freedom to find her own way, so this is where the coloured structures could serve as guides to secondary and tertiary routes. In any case, anything that gets rid of the ‘hint’ button (which turned the camera towards the next goal) is much recommended. Trying to use that thing while running turns it into an oh-crap-now-I’m-running-this-way button of death.
So silent: no violence.
That brings us on to the other major hindrance to Mirror’s Edge’s flow: death.
One of the major death-dealers in Mirror’s Edge was a gun-toting enemy. You could disarm him, but having to physically stop to do so was a pain in the butt. Clearly, Mirror’s Edge wanted us to avoid any violence beyond disarms; there was even an achievement for it, not to mention how deliberately woeful weapon handling was. So maybe DICE should refuse to compromise at all in the sequel?
It would make a bold statement about video game violence to drop weapons altogether; making up some BS excuse for it won’t be hard in a game in which “Runner Vision” exists. It neatly gets rid of the disarm problem too. Instead, center conflict on non-violent events like chases, time limits, etc.
That leaves the final major source of Mirror’s Edge death: falling off a building. I forgo blaming DICE for not using a variation of Prince of Persia (2008)’s “I’ve got you!” mechanic, since Mirror’s Edge came out before it. But a simple time-rewind a la Sands of Time would greatly help to maintain flow in the sequel. And DICE, if you do have to keep the falling in, please get rid of the crunching impact. It’s gross.
The concrete heart isn’t beating and I’ve tried to make it come alive.
Outside of the free running mechanics, another major area in need of improvement is the narrative. I think this won’t be so difficult for DICE. The developer has crafted a well designed, convincing protagonist in Faith Connors; she balances compassion and aggression far better than most leading ladies. The setting of “The City” remains an attractively blank canvas (literally). A scenario that further delves into the story behind its corruption—and how Faith’s family is linked to that corruption—would make for a strong, character-driven narrative.
Just don’t tell it in animations this time. It’s not that they were poor, but that they were redundant; the engine and its presentation are beautiful enough.
I’m still alive. I’m still alive. I cannot apologise.
EA’s wishy-washy reluctance to press on with Mirror’s Edge is a sign of weakness from a publisher that once prided on pushing the creative boundaries of video games. Worse still, it feels like an apology for trying to take up that mantle once more. EA shouldn’t apologise. Mirror’s Edge may have sold slightly less than Dead Space, and Dead Space may even be the “better” game, but Dead Space 2 was always going to be more of the same, while Mirror’s Edge 2 could potentially become a defining game of this generation.
The rousing critical and commercial success of the iOS versions of the game demonstrate that the Mirror’s Edge brand is very much still alive. It is my belief that the demand for Mirror’s Edge 2 is there, as well. All EA needs to do is show a little Faith.
Sinan Kubba is a London-based freelancer whose work has appeared at Kotaku, play.tm, and Game People. He also hosts the Big Red Potion podcast and has been known to wear his girlfriend's Pikachu slippers from time to time.