Friday, July 10, 2009

Mirror's Edge: The In-Depth Game Autopsy (Part Three - The Closing)

This post is preceded by Part One and Part Two of the feature on Mirror's Edge. Mr. Keeley's contributions will, yet again, be presented in italics and mine in traditional font.

There are a lot of bad games, but I don't think many will receive the treatment we've given Mirror's Edge. Matt and I have devoted three quite long blog posts to this game because it could have been so much more. We both played the demo to death; if only the rest of the game had lived up to the first half an hour or so, Mirror's Edge would have been one of the very best games of 2008. But there's hope:
EA is working on a sequel to the game. So, how could DICE make Mirror's Edge 2 worth playing? Well...
  • Improve the story - Make us care. Some view EA as an Evil Corporation, but its first advertisement ever asked "Can a Computer Make You Cry?" Give it a shot.
  • Aesthetics aren't everything - Yes, the City in Mirror's Edge is supposed to look so clean it's sterile. But a little more variety in the setting wouldn't hurt - Many of the game's levels are virtually indistinguishable from each other.
  • The empty city - Isn't it odd that you never run into civilians in this game? Even when running through plazas, office buildings, and subway stations? I don't want the sequel to turn into Assassin's Creed, but I think having civilians crowding, running for cover, denouncing Faith for breaking into their buildings, etc. could really liven up the next game's action. A parkour chase through a crowded market could be pretty neat.
  • Combat - Give Faith a weapon. Maybe not even a lethal weapon - maybe she has some Super Runner Taser or something. Also, make the enemies a trifle less lethal. Your enemies should not have near-perfect aiming.
  • Level design - First, get rid of the slow parts - Climbing up a pipe, then jumping to another pipe, then jumping to a ledge from which you shimmy until you reach a duct... The idealized parkour of Mirror's Edge doesn't need this tedium. Try and cut down on the elevators, too. Second, improve the checkpoint system - Put checkpoints before especially difficult jumps, not before the easy parts before those hard parts. Third, be more consistent with runner vision implementation.
Believe it or not, there are many things about Mirror's Edge that we do not think should be changed. The game was audacious, innovative and unique. An improved sequel has no need to abandon many of the qualities that made it that way.
  • Do not make it third person - I really hope that we have conveyed this already: the core running system is a massive achievement. The platforming, despite all of the skepticism surrounding it, is fluid and intuitive; the only reason it did not always work in Mirror's Edge is that the level design was not up to speed. The first person perspective adds an incredibly visceral feel that no other platformer can boast. Just try to leap between skyscrapers without holding your breath.
  • Do not make it a shooter - Faith is a runner, not a space marine. She should continue to use guns with disdain. The fact that she used them at all in Mirror's Edge felt a bit incongruous. Leave the fire sticks to the bad guys; Faith should have a melee weapon or some physical attack that does not compromise momentum too heavily.
  • Do not make Faith into Marcus Fenix - Despite what one may glean from gaming message boards and comment threads, making Faith a woman of Asian descent who was not a ninja or a blatant sex object was a smart move. The makeup of the typical game protagonist (straight, white, male, unshaven...) is achingly predictable, and the number of stereotypes that fill out the rest of a typical game's cast is astonishing. The gaming industry is, frankly, a bit backwards. It is high time for it to catch up with the growing intellect and diversity of its customers.
  • Do not turn the City into Helghan - Almost as predictable as a protagonist's appearance is the typical game's setting. Grey and steel punctuated with the occasional brown... do I even need to explain how ubiquitous such art design is? From the menu screen to the opening shot of the final level, Mirror's Edge is an absolute triumph of art design. Its bold, unique art style need not be compromised in the sequel, even if the level design sorely needs to be diversified.
  • Do not fire the guy who is responsible for the music - Enough said.
  • Do not try to tack on multiplayer or co-op - Adding new modes will not hide the fact that the level design may still suck. In fact, it will probably exacerbate such problems. (The Time Trials in the original often did.) Gamers want a well-crafted, rewarding single player experience. Give it to them. Any multiplayer that is included needs to be nothing less than a stroke of genius; the old standbys will not fly in such a unique game.
Well, there it is: Mirror's Edge picked apart and analyzed until there is nothing left. Hopefully, it served as more than mere catharsis for the writers. The game had, perhaps, more potential than any other last year, making both its failures and its successes important for the industry. Understanding what went wrong illustrated what made it so disappointing and why hope springs anew for the sequel. So, EA DICE: All eyes are on you...

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