November 12, 2008

Mirror's Edge: A First-Person Revolution?

Shawn Lebert Says: The world is a playground at your feet. The freedom is yours in an industrial metropolis, high above ground zero. A pristine cityscape, unobstructed by busy streets and unmarred by the public display of filthy ignorance. Everything is flawless. This is paradise.

This is superficial, believe it or not. Surprised? I didn’t think so. In a future of a totalitarian government controlling the millions by storm, a band of individuals, called runners, respond in a different light to the government’s calling. This is the premise to Mirror’s Edge.

The idea alone gives certain shout outs to some particular and inspirational literature that perhaps most of us have grown up with. If Oceania were truly a living and breathing country, and Big Brother was somehow involved, this location in Mirror’s Edge would certainly be a sibling to it. It catches my interest right away when I see other inspirations molded and crafted into something new. History will repeat itself in ways for a new generation to see and explore. They will explore a story that is new yet somehow manages to cling to historical ideas from the past in some form or another.

Mirror’s Edge is fresh, yet clings to the ever so popular first-person perspective, a perspective in which gamers have been doused with for so many years. Is the gaming world sick with first-person perspective games by now? You could say so, but I think this element is finally beginning to evolve, twist and somersault, and revolutionize the first-person perspective in games.

To explain it very briefly, in Mirror’s Edge, you control Faith, the female protagonist of the game. Your role is to send information back and forth secretly from one location to another without government interception, which has the city under surveillance. They certainly don’t like people who attempt to work against the government’s tight control. The government especially despises the kind of “freedom” that Faith and her friendly runners abuse. Faith’s only way to fight back from the government’s stronghold is to become a runner and deliver messages to persons that generally shouldn’t be receiving any information. It isn’t allowed. What’s Faith’s reason to disobey? What would you do if the government killed your family during this change of totalitarian policy? I’d disobey too.

This is what makes Mirror’s Edge so novel: it contains elements of the first person shooter genre that we’ve come to love yet shooting is secondary. Games that maintain the aspect of countering a confrontation, instead of shooting your way through, provides an extra boost to the different approaches to battle; you genuinely have to think your way through it. There are numerous instances in previous titles in which the player lets the gun do the talking. Less thinking, more shooting. This creates a linear, one-dimensional experience. Mirror’s Edge provides reinvention and rebirth to the first-person perspective by making each battle more of a challenge, even if each enemy is frivolous and expendable.

Most first-person-shooters never really emphasized that the player becomes the physical embodiment of one’s character. For some time, the camera of the first-person-shooter remained dynamically lacking, not prominent in much detail for the gamer to become a full-fledged character on screen. We never felt truly fastened to these protagonists as we explore intensifying moments in a game. Perhaps it’s because we consciously acknowledge that this is a video game; therefore, we never recognize that we’re “human beings” in a game.
We favor games that we can attach to emotionally. The painstaking amount of development time that each title goes through before hitting shelves nowadays is painted with much heavier undertones that the gamer can connect to. We’re fond of feeling a surface of thrilling dynamism that speaks to us, that may change us, that enlightens us in a way we’ve not experienced thus far. Whether it’s the charismatic storytelling, or the compelling game play elements, when we like something, we are attracted to it on a level that may be so personal to us, that someone else could never replicate the same feelings. People don’t want to just experience it; they want to be a part of its history. They don’t want to feel like they’re consciously controlling a character that expounds on limited freedoms through the use of button pushing. We simply want to feel something more, and games are quickly acquiring much more sophistication that years past couldn’t pull off.

One of the major selling points to Mirror’s Edge is the intimacy between camera perspective and the player. That we do feel like we are part of the action. Not only do we see what’s happening before us, but we also feel the actual sensation behind every quick move: whether it’s sliding along the ground, rolling to recover from a big fall, or running across a wall. We constantly see Faith’s limbs move into the frame. She breathes like one of us. This is one of the fresh dynamics that we want. While it may exist in other categories for other games, such as narrative, we have an aesthetic that people just want to experience.

Is Mirror’s Edge an evolution or a revolution to the first person style? I think it steers clear from being too much of a first-person well-known aesthetic to even place it in a category like Halo 3. There are way too many elements to even consider it a shooter. Its emphasis definitely isn’t on using weapons. It’s a smart game that gives you a second chance to think things through during enemy confrontations while figuring out the best means to leap over a forty-foot gap between buildings, a new thrill to leave you jaw-dropped.

In a world of a national, oppressive force, very similar to ideas with that of the loosely inspired elements of 1984 and Fahrenheit 451, Faith must rely on her Prince of Persia-like acrobatics as a means of survival mentally and physically from a tyrannical onslaught. And in return, makes the gamer think about what and how they should carry one’s self rather than mindlessly take an easy way out. Mirror’s Edge will be a one of its kind.

Watch Shawn's personalized trailer.