Monday, December 08, 2008

Turning the page on Mirror's Edge, almost

My full review will be posted later this week, so this will be the second-to-last thing I have to say about Mirror's Edge. I was fascinated to see the passionate conversation that blew up in my neck of the blogosphere about this game, because as far as I can tell this is a relatively minor fall release.

Still, it represented a new IP, and more importantly a new idea, in a season that was full of sequels you barely even needed to play to know what they were about. It had a fresher look than most games. It had an innovative and intuitive control scheme. And, like its contemporaries Dead Space and Far Cry 2, it had a great take on its lead character's physicality. Mirror's Edge took a lot of chances and stood out in a crowd of predictable franchise entries.

And yet, in my humble opinion, it really, truly, sucked.

I mean, I hated every second I spent with this game, and it's like a six-hour game. There weren't all that many seconds to hate. Intellectually, I appreciated what Mirror's Edge was doing, and that's why I kept booting it up with a sense of optimism -- optimism that was destroyed within minutes of beginning any new play session. On a gut level, I just couldn't stand the game. I swore at it. I stared in disbelief. I came close to re-enacting the control pad stress test on more than one occasion. And lest you think it's just because I was bad at it -- and I was very bad it -- the game was designed in such a way that I couldn't help but blunder my way through it without ever having to master it. It was the worst of both worlds.

As usual, Penny Arcade's Tycho summed it up well:
I have really, honestly, and truly quit Mirror's Edge. At least, I think. Writing this will probably make me feel bad, and then I'll have to go back and pound my head against it until my skull is visible. I just got to a part in the game where I said, no. Nobody is paying me to do this. This is no longer a productive investment of my leisure time. The platforming doesn't even enter into it: if I die because I fell off of some shit, that's on me. And it's not about the combat, either: it's not a matter of how its implemented, or how it could be improved. When I come into a room I need to escape from, and I see a bunch of S.W.A.T. guys, my first thought is, why are they even here? When I see the (frankly, supernatural) trailer for the DLC, my heart skips a beat: that's the game I want. After that campaign, though, I don't want anything to do with Mirror's Edge. They had an excellent, well-manifested game mechanic that probably wouldn't work as a full retail product, and in the drive to shore up that "deficiency" they did violence against their creation.

Sadly, I was being paid to do it, which kept me going longer than I probably would have otherwise. I'm not a big believer that you should stick with a bad game in hopes that it'll get better. Life is short.

What's funny about this is that for all that Mirror's Edge (and, earlier, Dead Space) supposedly represents a "new" EA, what sunk it was its adherence to traditional gameplay paradigms. You're an outlaw. You're on the run. Men with guns are coming after you. Jump onto not one, but two moving trains in order to escape them. It's all boilerplate. I continue to believe that this would have been a far more successful game if it'd been more of a playground, but that's a tougher sell. It had to be an action game if they wanted to make that great commercial. That doesn't sound like a new EA to me.

Wow, what a miserable post. You see what this game has done to me? It's turned me into an asshole.*

*Showed my true colors.


Etelmik said...

The disappointment you, Tycho, and so many others seems to sound more personal than it does with other titles.

The vitriol comes from wanting to like it and being slapped in the face anyway. And the expectations seemed to come mainly from writers, older gamers, and those interested in not just games but the games industry.

I've been extremely interested in the title just to see what it's like, but with all the hate from so many, I'll put it on my rent list, then forget it about.

(For the record, I liked Dead Space, but I get why no one else does.)

Mitch Krpata said...

It's true -- in a way, it's easier to be forgiving of games that are just inept. This one was pretty slickly made, and had a good idea at the core. But hey, an awful lot of people do like it, so you don't have to take my word for it. [/readingrainbow]

I liked Dead Space too, but there was a little of the same thing happening there: "Why isn't this awesome?"

Julian said...

Mitch, you have this strange way of engaging me in reading your ruthless dismemberments of games I deeply enjoy and actually getting me to have fun reading them. ^_^

I enjoyed the story mode, aside from two instances where I was confronted with a closed room and a grip of riot cops/SWAT teams. It set up some really interesting spatial puzzles, and the pacing worked perfectly for me. Maybe I just really enjoy the core mechanic here, and not the core mechanic of FPSes, but typically I'm burnt out and wanting a break before the lulls in games like CoD4. Overall I enjoyed the level design, it made me think in different ways, switched up what I was doing often enough, and gave me an excuse to run around some cool environments in addition to appreciating the ingenuity of the intended path and shortcuts.

That said, it was a serious oversight to exclude a true playground mode, even if it was restricted to a few of the game's more dense environments. You could set your own waypoints (essentially design your own time trials) and share them with your friends, or just run around. The various time trials where you're running backwards through an environment or especially the "playground" levels really show how this is a missed opportunity.

But I don't agree, however, that the platforming should have been even more open in general. You'd just end up with another Assassin's Creed. The platforming in that game fell flat because it was too carefree, you could run over basically anything, so you had no incentive to figure out cool routes or plan ahead like a real runner would. Instead of adding tension or making the environment more interesting, it made the whole city flat and boring. I mean yeah you feel like a badass, but it just fails to engage your brain like Mirror's Edge does.

On the Dead Space note, I think it sums up the innovation/polish debate pretty nicely, and in retrospect I think the critical handling of the game is exactly what I would have wanted to see. Everybody loves it for the week they're playing it, and then promptly forgets about it. It's definitely slick and a blast to play, but it doesn't really do anything new, and so there isn't really a lot to say about it.

Mitch Krpata said...

You know, I never played Assassin's Creed, but having now heard it referenced a few times in comparison to Mirror's Edge, it sounds like something I really ought to try. It's still possible I might not like it -- I am fickle -- but it sounds well worth a try if Mirror's Edge didn't work for me. I also feel this way about the new Prince of Persia.

There were a couple times -- literally, two -- when the Mirror's Edge story mode sort of came together for me, and both times it lasted about ten seconds. But in those brief moments I was reminded of the Half-Life series, strangely enough, and how expertly those games grabbed you by the nose and made you do exactly what the designers wanted. I think that's what DICE was going for. The difference is that you can never really feel Gabe Newell tugging on the leash, but I felt completely manhandled by the devs in the case of Mirror's Edge.

Iroquois Pliskin said...

You know, I've only played the demo, here's the sense I get: the game is a really well-executed mechanic in search of a game. Do you think that if they retooled the package that surrounds this mechanic (sunk more time into the level design, rethought the combat, made a good story, and so on), it would be an enjoyable game? Teh moral that many reviewers are drawing is, "first-person platforming doesn't work" and I was wondering if you agreed.

Mitch Krpata said...

I certainly don't think that's the lesson to take from it. And for all the grief that Guardian dude gave IGN for saying they look forward to the sequel, I actually agree. This is almost like a proof of concept. Something good could definitely be done with it.

I made some suggestions in my review for the Phoenix, which I'm sure will be all the proof anyone needs that I am not a videogame designer.

Julian said...

I can definitely see the connection to Half-Life now that you mention it, although I liken it more to Portal it's the same idea. I think the reason it feels more Portal to me is that the level design is secretly very inventive. There is a clear path marked for you, sometimes literally with runner's vision, sometimes in the more subtle ways the Valve has perfected (definitely the game is more engaging with runner's vision off). But the obvious path is very rarely the best one, as becomes readily apparent if you watch videos of speedruns or time trials. There are all sorts of shortcuts built into the levels that you might never notice if you don't look for them, as the design is pointing you towards the longer, easier path. This designed subversion of the game is reminiscent of the later section of Portal (and I think the shortness of the whole experience is enhancing the Portal connection for me as well; I beat ME the day it arrived, in quite nearly one sitting). As for feeling like being on a leash, I'm convinced runner's vision is a crutch DICE were forced into to make it easier for a larger number of people to finish the game. But even with it off, the game is at its best when you're tugging right back against that leash to find the less obvious routes.

Anonymous said...

Dead Space is just another mindless killing game. In essence, everyone has to take a break from the real world and just shoot stuff for no reason.

Ben Abraham said...

FWIW, I really really enjoyed AssCreed. (heh)

I think the parkour-ness in it is more what you were expecting from Mirrors Edge - that 'go anywhere, make your own path' thing is rather present in AC. You will probably like it if you can put up with some of it's deficiencies (repetitive missions, etc). Highly recommended.

garion333 said...

I'm currently bashing my head against the wall in finishing Mirror's Edge, but only when I come in contact with another human in the game. The combat isn't a deal breaker for me. Don't get me wrong, the combat is atrocious, but it's all the bullets being shot at me that drive me crazy. How the hell am I supposed to figure out where to go and how to get there if I die in 20 seconds. The game forces me to stop, take out the blues (or whatever) and then go through the level. Isn't she a runner? Shouldn't I be running?

Anyway, the time trials are what I like about the game and the map pack looks exciting, but it's isn't hard to imagine how much better the game would've been as a first person puzzle platformer sans any action at all.

Anonymous said...

Good thing then the "playground" is to be released as some crazyass DLC maps early next year!
Besides the timetrials could be considred playgrounds. Yes, there is a counter but you can forget abot it and just do your thing if you want to.

I really liked the game. It was hard at times and I wish they'd patch the jump mechanics so i can jump in the direction of a pole to traverse without having to land on it pixel perfect but it was a really fun, and as you pointed out, fresh ride compared to the rest on the market. It is different and it plays different. I think we need to stop comparing every game released to others before it and accept them for what they are. This is the game DICE wanted to make or at least it's the game they released in the shape they did. And I know that's not the point of your post but I need to funnel my frustration about a lot of the, as i think, ill conceived criticism out there so bear with me. As gamers we seem more guilty than other enthusiasts of constantly wanting the same thing but at the same time demanding something new. We keep asking for new IP and lamenting the steady sequels yet we seem unable to accept the concept of a new game being a new thing in it's own shell that no, does not have to follow conventions layed out by other games that we just grew comfortable to accept as granted. Matter of fact I think we need a lot more experiment in gamedesign. More Killer7s. I think it's a fundamental flaw in gamecriticism to mark one game the pinnacle of a class and then demand every other comparable game to do things just likewise in order to be deemed good. There are very few sites that consider the idea of intentional design choices by the developer. For example there are a few previews out there for Killzone2 and nearly all of them lament the apparently slow turning speed and how much better it could be if it just played like CoD4 yet only the folks at expressed how it seems to be intentionally constructed by Guerrilla and essential to the way they lead you through the levels.

We gamers are a hard to please bitch.

Mitch Krpata said...

I guess ultimately I can't see the benefit of praising something simply for being new or different, even though I do legitimately yearn for new and different experiences. That's a means, not an end. What I want is to lose myself in a game and enjoy the journey. That didn't happen with Mirror's Edge. And if the response from those of us who didn't like the game results in developers being even more reluctant to try something new then they already are, then I think they got the wrong message. It's not the message I'm trying to send, anyway.

Julian said...

Carlos, I don't think your rant is fair to Mitch or the other critics of Mirror's Edge. The argument has not been "I want more of the same and Mirror's Edge is different," the argument has been, "Mirror's Edge is disappointing because it's a cool fresh idea that fails in execution." The Killzone 2 example is a case of people initially disliking it because it's unfamiliar, but then finally being won over, which is the converse of what's happening here: people want to like it because it's different but can't.

I think a lot of the issue people are having with the game is its difficulty. Garnett on 1UP Yours hates the game because it's too particular about the precision it demands from you. Personally, I think that kind of respect for the player and demand for actual skill is one of the game's most refreshing features, but I can see where it would really hang some people up. The game isn't about Fath's skill, it's about YOUR skill. I'm interested to see if Prince of Persia wins over some of the people that aren't feeling Mirror's Edge, since from all accounts I've heard it's got a much more carefree vibe, extremely forgiving controls and wide open level design.

Robert said...

Three levels into Mirror's Edge, I just wanted to stop and never play the damn thing again. Then the fourth level came up (the one that takes place in the metro tunnels) and something about it just clicked for me. Somehow I went from massive frustration to absolute exhilaration. Leading Faith through these dank tunnels, everything just started to make sense. I thought I finally *got* it and that the sensation would carry on throughout the rest of the game.

Chapter five proved me very wrong. About ten minutes in I shut the stupid thing off and I haven't looked back.

Mitch Krpata said...

That was a high point for me, too. Something about that worked, especially when the train you're standing on starts to crash and you run off the back of it, another train starts coming, and boom you crash through a door just in time. Every once in awhile, I got what they were going for -- which, oddly, only made the rest of the game even worse by comparison.

(By the way, have I mentioned that my single favorite thing about Mirror's Edge is the way Faith barges through doors? I really loved that, every time.)

Unknown said...

@Mitch: I wouldn't pick that as my single favorite thing about Mirror's Edge, but I understand exactly where you're coming from. Even though, I had, um, issues with the game, you're absolutely correct to call out Faith breaking through doors as one of the components of her generally terrific locomotion that DICE got very, very right.

Greg Tannahill said...

Such a divisive game! For people who it doesn't work for, it's hard to see the genius, and for those who love it it's hard to see why everyone else isn't orgasming right along with you.

For the sake of conversation and of a comment that fits within two paragraphs you may be interested in my further thoughts on Mirror's Edge at my blog, The Dust Forms Words. Or not!

Anonymous said...

I have just finished the PC version of Mirrors Edge and thought the whole package was fantastic. Even though some bits were awkward or downright difficult I never felt like I was ever stuck. However I have a mate who hates platform games and true to form, he switched it off after an hour and never went back to it. I think, even if you don't like Mirrors Edge or you're not having fun with it, you still have to at least respect it for what it attempts to do. For some people it's a failure, but for others (like me I guess) it's a total success that I will go back and play many times over.