The term 'Parkour' (Or 'free-running', whichever you prefer) might be new for us a decade ago, but the practice itself have existed for a long time ago, ever since animals doing it in nature. Free-running in entertainment medium, however is not relative new, as the practice itself is pretty evident in early movies, particularly the ones with Buster Keaton or Jackie Chan in it. In terms of videogames, Sonic and Prince of Persia games comes to mind.
Arguably and puzzlingly, however, it was the James Bond reboot Casino Royale that finally popularize the parkour practice, with the opening chase scene having Daniel Craig chasing a parkour expert on a construction site. For videogames, there are two of them that finally make them look cool in our mind: Assassin's Creed, which funnily enough is a spiritual successor of Prince of Persia. And the game we'll be talking about, Mirror's Edge. Which is normal parkour, BUT IN FIRST-PERSON PERSPECTIVE.
Taking a leap of 'faith' here.
Naturally ever since its reveal, I was excited over the prospect of jumping around rooftops in first-person. And its unique dystopian visuals. And the 'lack of combat' in favour of running. And when the game was released and I played the hell out of it, it was a good game.
Well, 'good' is quite an understatement in this case.
Upon playing this game, it was clear that it has a long list of things that either don't mesh well with game, or just plain suck. For starters, the story and characters are passable for a dystopian plot. Our protagonist, Faith Connors is a runner who works for those who plan to overthrow the police government. Then she found out her sister is wrongly implicated for a mayor candidate's murder, and wants to clear her name and so on. The cutscenes are 2D animations instead of engine-rendered, while servicable plot-wise, they look average in comparison to the game visuals.
The maps are generally good puzzle maps, but some of the maps later in the game proved to be quite frustrating, which often ended up in either jumping and falling around the same spot while looking for a way out, or falling to your death on great heights.
And don't even get me started on the fucking 'combat'. Yes, there is combat in this game, but they're mostly boiled down to firing guns and tossing them, punching and kicking, and QTE disarms. QTE disarms, in particular, is the one thing in this game that I hate it with a passion. Pistols and SMGs-welding coppers are easy to dealt with. But the ones with heavier weaponries requires extreme presice timing to get it right, otherwise they'll pistol-whip you to death.
90% of my deaths are due to them fucking impresice disarms.
Funnily enough, snipers are the least threatening mooks I've encountered throughout the game.
In retrospect, this game has a lot of flaws; some are more infuriating than others. I should had forgotten the game within a year, talk about it with friends from time to time, and not bother reinstalling it in my computer for a second time.
But here I was, typing this blog as I recently completed the whole story for the fifth time.
I think that the reason I were willing to overlook every single flaws in this game, is because of the free-running elements. Whenever you jump around obstacles, it does ignite the adreneline within you and you'll feel that you're actually doing it for real. And whenever you made a mistake and get yourself falling down from great heights the vertigo scares also felt genuinely real and terrifying (I heard that whoever experienced it in VR devices had it worse, as they really feel that they're falling to their deaths for real.) Heck, aside from police interference and a few stupid puzzles, the rest of the game are generally fun to play through. I've already mentioned that free-running isn't new in video games, but jumping around places in first person perspective feels like a new concept to us all back then, and it really did a good job in sucking you into the world itself.
This one looks familiar...
Recent FPSes did take inspirations from the game for the parkour elements, such as Brink and Dying Light that also use parkour to evade enemies and zombies, but let's be honest, you'll be more concerned about using it to stay alive rather than free-running to impress your friends with jumps.
The visuals deserve some special mention too, as not only the Unreal Engine 3 rendered-environment still looks good today, the sparkling-white dystopian aesthetics also work well in terms of both backstory and gameplay. While the dystopian city painted in white (even plants are white too) is a pretty clever metaphor that the city is empty itself, it also help the players to concentrate their eyes on red-coloured environments that helps them progress through the maps, instead of confusing them with multiple colours within a single setting.
An example of a minimalist room: A single colour filled the room to accomodate your eyes while allowing you to see red.
The soundtrack isn't outstanding compared to other games, but it's worth mentioning that it has some soothing electronic music that could help you stay calm while traversing through difficult puzzles. It also have a theme song that coincidentally shared the same name with another experimental game, named Still Alive. (Although I preferred this particular remix over the original)
In short, Mirror's Edge is a deeply flawed gem. It will always frustrate you to no end on certain times, but it also give you a one-of-a-kind experience unlike any platforming games you've ever played. While we're still waiting for the next game to arrive next year, it's still possibly the best parkour game the industry has to offer to date. So if you haven't tried out the game yet, you're doing yourself a great disservice.