Leap! Dodge! Slide! Flip! Run! RUN! Runrunrunfasterfasterfasteraaarrgghh—
This, in a nutshell, sums up the life of Faith: Not, mind you, "a life of faith," as in Bible studies, prayer and possibly a stay in a monastery, but "the life of Faith," as in the lithe protagonist who dashes, flips and occasionally plummets headlong through the game Mirror's Edge.
Faith lives in a clean, crisp and creepily totalitarian city. The city's leaders found that spying on its citizens round the clock does wonders for the crime rate, so now they monitor every form of electronic communication imaginable: Not only are carjackings down, but so is that pesky sense of individuality that can cause such problems.
Still, not everyone bought the government's bill of goods. Rebels lurk underground, unable to communicate except through a system of human "runners" like Faith. She's essentially a glorified postal worker, only she doesn't cart around utility bills, grocery coupons and Publisher's Clearinghouse envelopes. Forget "You May Already Be a Winner!" Most of the folks on her route are simply happy to be alive.
You'd think this gig would be exciting enough. But Faith's career takes a dangerous detour when a mayoral candidate is found murdered and Faith's sister, a policewoman, is found unconscious next to the body. Now Faith must solve the murder, clear her sister's name and evade the city's oppressive police network—all without falling off obscenely tall buildings.
Leap of Faith
Mirror's Edge is sometimes labeled a "first-person shooter" by news outlets, but Faith does precious little shooting. Sure, she can pick up a stray police weapon and fire a few bullets, but for the most part, Faith's more prey than predator. Mirror's Edge is all about movement. Faith must navigate a bewildering cityscape using techniques akin to parkour, or urban free running: She hurdles over some obstacles, slides under others, springboards off still others and, occasionally, bridges gaps with dexterous wall runs. The key to gameplay is keeping Faith's motion as fluid as possible, stringing together runs and leaps and rolls and shimmies with seamless precision. The fact that players can see Faith's arms and legs when she's running—and that the first-person camera bobs up and down in time with her movements—adds to the game's realism. Indeed, the in-game action for Mirror's Edge is, by design, far more realistic than its cutscenes, which are rendered in slick, flat anime.
Though navigating the city's antiseptic streets, rooftops and subway systems can be confusing, the game drops a few hints here and there: Trying to figure a way off a rooftop? A red drainpipe might show the way down. Need to escape from police? Look for a red heating vent.
But none of these crimson calling cards will save most gamers from dying more virtual deaths than Yosemite Sam and Elmer Fudd combined. When Faith falls from a rooftop—which she did quite frequently when I was playing—you see the fall from her point of view, right until the moment of impact. Survive the fall? You gotta deal with the gun-wielding police. Survive the police? Oh, look, another jump to navigate. There were game segments where I spent more time waiting to be resurrected (again!) than I actually spent playing the game.
Which wasn't all bad, because Mirror's constant motion and marvelous liquidity can give some players—like me—a bit of motion sickness.
But (cue witty segue) the game's movement wasn't the only thing that made me nauseous.
Running on Empty
In some ways, Mirror's Edge isn't as bad as it could've been. While characters can be killed, there is little blood and no gore, and Faith normally kills only in self-defense (though you can off innocent civilians during one level). Overt sexuality is largely restricted to Faith's curve-enhancing tank top—and even that's most obvious only on the box cover.
But Faith and her cohorts use such foul language that some gamers might wish the city government clamped down on that sort of communication, too. Characters blurt the s-word frequently, and other profanities ("h---," "a--," "d--n," etc.) on occasion: Pretty striking considering the fact that dialogue isn't really a huge part of the gameplay.
Moreover, the police in Mirror's Edge are the bad guys: The game suggests that rebelling against an oppressive, authoritarian regime is both warranted and right.
Hey, few folks like oppressive regimes (except, of course, for the oppressors). Still, the folks in law enforcement in Mirror's Edge often look pretty similar to today's men and women in blue (and one can't help but wonder whether the gamemakers had some of the U.S.'s terror-tamping laws in mind when they made the game). Is it a great idea to train gamers to run away from, punch and occasionally shoot police? Do we have the right and intellectual wherewithal to pick and choose the laws we follow?
Heady questions. Not that Faith has time to ask them.