A game about running. It cleverly juggles action and puzzle elements. When exposed, the player has to run away to the music of firing guns and shouting policemen. During calmer moments the player has platforming puzzles to solve, much like in Portal, but with wall jumps and climbing instead of a portal gun.
It is set in a postcyberpunk future, in a beautiful and unique city. Its emptiness serves the feeling of isolation, but the story suffers from it. There are no people to talk to, no context to put the protagonist’s actions into. You’re a freedom fighter in a city with no civilians. It’s so painful that those amazing vast spaces are not inhabited. The city is breathtaking on the outside, but lacks substance.
We never learn how constant invigilation affects normal people or why and how the resistance movement works. It’s not even clear what messages the runners actually carry or who do they serve: only the resistance or anyone who pays the money. It’s even less clear why runners are so important for the police to form a specialized unit for hunting them down. We never see any (political or personal) consequence to a runner delivering a package. There are so many interesting questions here that never get explored or answered.
Instead the game focuses on right now and personal. Our charming protagonist, aptly named Faith, breaks into offices and runs around the city trying to figure out conspiracy around a murder that her sister gets unjustly accused of.
Even though this is a game about free running, the progression around the city is pretty linear. Mechanically the city acts as a space to traverse, providing platforms and ledges to climb and jump over. Sadly there is no gameplay support for the backstory, e.g. there are a lot of cameras around the city, but they don’t affect the game in any way: you cannot get spotted or hide from them, they’re just decoration.
In spite of those limitations the core of the game is executed perfectly. You feel each step, each jump and fall. Running around the city is a pleasure: the clear visuals, a fitting soundtrack and the immediacy of movement gives a true feeling of freedom. It’s hard not to feel compassion for Faith. She is a very human protagonist, stubborn yet caring. She hugs her sister before running away again - a sympathetic gesture seldom seen in video games so dominated with violence and power fantasies.
Its innovative mechanics are still blended with a lot of existing game tropes. There are valves to turn, vents to crawl and exploding barrels. Elevators act as an intermission, we have a mission control guy, there are secret packages to find, there is even a bit of shooting. The Icarus Project sounds like a direct reference to the original Deus Ex.
Mirror’s Edge is a great game, but it could have been much more. Time will tell if Mirror’s Edge 2 will turn out to be a worthy successor.