Mirror’s Edge Review

This is part of my 5×5 review series. I’m going to try to review every game in my 5×5, available on the About & Best Posts page. Photos courtesy of Dead End Thrills and gifs courtesy of CabalCrow from my discord.

Mirror’s Edge is one of my most-played games because I used to speedrun it. My best time was about 55 minutes, which isn’t that impressive, but in the process of learning to speedrun it, I learned a lot about what makes an interesting speedgame. I also had a massive amount of fun learning the various techniques involved in the game, from the easy to the hard, and refining my run.

On this blog, I define a game as a “contract” that the player agrees to play under, either a contract with themselves or other players, as in a multiplayer or co-op game. With this in mind, the game isn’t necessarily the software you play with, but rather how you choose to use it, and different players can play different games with the same software. Speedrunners are playing their own game with the software relative to everyone else. For that reason my blog doesn’t tend to focus on the “speedgame” for a piece of software, but rather the “canonical” game that represents more of the lowest-common-denominator idea of what the public thinks the game is, which is usually something closer to what the developers intended than anything else. What’s possible in the speedgame sometimes can influence the “casual” game (what speedrunners call the more default ruleset), but it’s very situational per-game.

In this review, I’ll be reviewing the speedgame of Mirror’s Edge, not the “casual” or “canonical” or “intended” version of the game. I’ll be doing this largely because I don’t think the intended game of Mirror’s Edge is particularly interesting or fun. I think that what makes games interesting or fun is when they have interesting choices connected to differing skill challenges, which give better or worse results with regards to your skillful input.

The Intended Game

Playing Mirror’s Edge the way it’s supposed to be intended, the number of routes through the level are highly limited. The game was more or less constructed to have one or two true routes through the level, and optimization was about picking the shortest line to travel, rather than anything you did along the way. Speedrunners have constructed a list of rules for “true glitchless%” https://pastebin.com/Rc8gQjX9 that are incredibly limiting but true to the intended spirit of the game. This ruleset generally bars many common universal tricks across the game, and have incredibly limiting rules for every chapter that help illustrate exactly how simple the intended routes are supposed to be. You’re supposed to follow a set path forwards. You’re supposed to climb things and play all the environmental animations attached to scaling everything. You’re supposed to only be able to accelerate by running forwards.

Most of the challenge in Mirror’s Edge as its intended is figuring out where to go, and how to get there before the cops burst in and gunned you down. To the uninitiated, Mirror’s Edge can be extremely difficult to navigate. The environments are incredibly dense and reuse a lot of assets. Everywhere looks like the same white concrete with single color walls. The game is beautiful with a timeless art style, but actually figuring out where to go can be extremely difficult. In this way it’s less of a traditional platformer, and more of a series of platforming puzzles. And it’s paced this way as well, giving you more straightforward chase sections, with slower contemplative climbing sections interspersed to break up the action.

When I first began racing Mirror’s Edge with a friend, I’d spend most of my time in runs not knowing where to go next, until I practiced enough in my off time to remember the route. Now that I’ve played the game as much as I have, I can identify the location of most any screenshot I’m seen, and I can play through and explore levels in my head, including much of the out of bounds areas. While Mirror’s Edge is beautiful to explore, the intended experience doesn’t really offer interesting choices as to how to complete it, and it doesn’t have much of an outlet for developing skill with the game. Many sections of the intended game place you in closed room encounters with cops that are difficult to escape without neutralizing all the enemies, as you frequently need to climb something slowly, or slowly open a door, giving them a big opportunity to gun you down in an instant.

Combat with normal cops is not well designed. Cops are designed to shoot you as long as they have a line of sight. They have a cone of fire that randomizes how often they hit you. Getting close to a cop will trigger a melee attack from them, which functions as a quicktime event. Pressing Right Mouse Button when their gun glows red lets you knock out the cop and steal their gun, which can be discarded with right mouse button as well. This means that fighting cops is frequently a matter of running up to them, passing or failing the QTE, and if you fail, you run away and try again, and if you pass, you gun down all the other cops to end the encounter. There is precisely 1 instance of this QTE in a cutscene in chapter 4, where you’re allowed to mash right mouse through the whole cutscene and it will not penalize you. Because cops essentially deal a random amount of DPS to you while you’re in their line of fire, fights with them can be extremely random. You can die in the middle of disarming one as another decides to shoot you, or you could run past them and sometimes make it or not based on just luck. In this way, cops are simple to deal with, but your success is not very strongly tied to your skill either.

When you have a gun, you can shoot other cops. There are 3 types of gun: machine gun, sniper rifle, and handgun. The machine gun isn’t very accurate, but has a large magazine capacity, and can kill enemies quickly, but you’re not allowed to climb or do any jump related actions when holding one. The handgun lets you perform all your normal parkour actions, such as running on walls, climbing up places and hanging from ledges, but remaps the attack button to a gun shot, so you can’t punch, or wallrun kick, which is highly important to going fast. Bullets can shatter glass windows, and open doors, which can save time over punching or kicking them if you should be so lucky as to have a gun when you need to remove one of these obstacles.

There is another category of enemy, called Runner Cops, who move faster than normal cops, and melee attack you. They can also jump across gaps and climb up ledges, letting them follow you across rooftops that normal cops can’t. You’re never required to fight any runner cops, but if they manage to punch you, they can slow you down. Runner cops even have a taser attack that can randomly connect. If you get tased, you drop to your minimum speed and can’t do any parkour moves temporarily, giving the runner cops a chance to catch up to you and fight you. While this is a sensible enemy design for forcing you to fight the runner cops instead of run away, the runner cops are not amazingly interesting enemies to fight, and frankly, being forced to fight them detracts from the core focus of the game, platforming, making them more of a random irritation than a uniquely interesting challenge.

I’m including all the information on enemies and their weapons up front here, because if you play well in a speedrun, you never interact with them at all and can almost completely ignore they exist. Their largest function across the game is creating a time pressure to move on or be killed, not creating interesting combat encounters in their own right. This is perhaps a missed opportunity, but it’s better to be strategic with the focus of the game, than to mix in a bunch of half-baked gameplay styles.

Overall, I think the intended game has, more or less, one set path to the goal with very little variation in how you play it.

The Speedrun

So from the perspective of a speedrun, what kind of game is Mirror’s Edge? Mirror’s edge is linear, divided into completely self-contained chapters with a single beginning and end. There are no permanent upgrades, so actions in a prior chapter will not affect anything in any later chapter. This makes the high level routing of Mirror’s Edge simple compared to a metroidvania or open world game, you just need to get to the end of the level, which means triggering whatever loading zones are necessary to load in the patch of ground that the end of the level sits on, then going there. Basically, you need to find the shortest path to the end by cutting across whatever shortcut you can, or you need to gain enough speed from longer paths to justify the time loss. The loading points usually function as choke points for any given section of a run, though sometimes loading zones can be accessed out of order by flinging yourself through out of bounds space.

So optimizing Mirror’s Edge is about finding the shortest path or the fastest path, and with respect to this, the game is very deeply layered, because environments are incredibly dense, and you have a vast array of maneuvers to either speed up common actions, or boost yourself to go faster. This means the density and unnecessary level of detail that makes Mirror’s Edge so confusing for beginners gives speedrunners a massive number of little footholds for speedrunners to climb across and boost themselves forward in order to bridge tricks together. Because there is so much variability between the speed of different routes, and how quickly a player could complete a given route, this makes the speedrun of Mirror’s Edge extremely deep.

The Contextual Animations

Mirror’s Edge is filled with a vast number of contextual animations, such as climbing, wall running, rolling, hanging, and balancing. There are are actually very few animations that can be performed at any time in a blank room. Many of these actions even have multiple animations that are faster and slower based on context (Vaulting and falls are big ones for this). So optimizing your route means going through as few of the time wasting actions (climbing, hanging, falling) as possible, and when they’re unavoidable, to get the fastest version of those animations.

One of the most common variety of animations throughout the run is some variation of climbing up the top of something, whether it be a pipe, ladder, or just hanging from a ledge. The pipe, ladder, and ledge hang states have extremely long animations for getting up the top of them, but if you turn your camera to the side and jump, you can get a shorter climbing animation instead.

When jumping up at a ledge, there are a variety of different animations for all the different heights you can vault it, but the fastest of these is the speed vault. If you’re jumping at a ledge and hit it at about shin level, you’ll do the speedvault animation, which is the shortest of all of them, and it also instantly brings you up to top running speed. You’ll only trigger a vaulting animation when you hit a ledge if you’re holding forwards, so one trick to always get the speed vault is to only press forward when you’re at the correct height for the speed vault.

Of course, one of the best outcomes is to not need to climb at all. If you press crouch in midair, you’ll coil up, lifting your legs, letting you clear a higher distance. This can help you get the tiny bit of height necessary to clear a ledge, fence, or railing without needing to climb sometimes, but it comes at a risk, because when you’re coiled, you’re not allowed to grab onto objects, so you need to evaluate if it’ll actually help you clear the height, or prevent you from getting up at all.

When you fall, you can go through a bunch of different possible hurt animations on the ground, from a light one that slows you down a little, to a heavy one that stops you completely. If you press the crouch button before landing from a higher height, you’ll roll when you hit the ground, which means you have a little speed on landing, but don’t lose all your speed from a heavy landing. When falling straight down, you can press attack to do an air kick that brakes your air momentum a little, giving you a light fall damage animation instead of a heavy one, letting you act instantly.

The key here is to try to never get a fall damage animation, and if you have no choice, to at least roll in order to make it not as bad. Across the game, there are a number of tiny surfaces sticking up above roofs, from railings, to water towers, to small smokestack pipes, which presents runners with an opportunity to land on extremely narrow patches of ground in order to avoid these long fall animations.

The Boosts

Within Mirror’s Edge, there are a number of ways to boost yourself to get more speed. The most basic of these is the side boost. Mirror’s Edge has a dodge action, performed by holding left or right, then pressing jump. You can do this anywhere. When you get close to enemies, your camera will lock onto them, and you’ll move around them. The dodge is supposed to let you dodge melee attacks, but it can be used to accelerate. Normally Faith takes 8 seconds to get to top speed, but if you dodge, and turn your mouse in the direction of your dodge, you can reach top speed instantly.

This means from a neutral start, the best way to get going is to turn perpendicular to your route, do a side dodge, then turn to the direction you were originally facing. Naturally, it takes a little time to turn away then back again, so the faster you can do this, the less time you waste. Additionally, the closer your final look direction is to the direction of your dodge, the faster you’ll accelerate when you sideboost. So to accelerate optimally, you want to turn quickly and cleanly as close to 90 degrees as possible. This means there’s a high variability in how much of a boost you get off of any given sideboost, which is amplified over the course of a run, as you will do hundreds of sideboosts across any run, and how cleanly you do each very slightly impacts your time. The side boost is the only boost you can do with no other objects around, and it doesn’t let you move faster than your normal top speed. Because it takes time to side boost, it’s sometimes faster to just move forwards instead of wasting time turning around. When rounding turns, it also makes sense to side boost, because turning too fast causes you to lose speed.

The wallboost is performed by wall running on any wall and instantly jumping. Runners typically bind jump to the scroll wheel so they can do this more easily, scrolling down to wallrun and jump in the same input. The further into the wall you look and the faster you jump, the bigger a boost you’ll get. Any time there’s a flat wall along your path, it makes sense to wallboost in order to gain a little extra speed, but you need to be careful not to look too far into the wall, or you’ll do a wall climb instead. You also need to be careful not to boost in a direction that will cause you to run into an object, losing all the speed you worked so hard to maintain.

The fastest type of boost however is a kick glitch, which involves using the wallrun kick to jump in midair. While wallrunning, you can press attack to do a kick. At the end of this kicking animation, you are set to a grounded state and your fall speed is reset. For this one frame that you’re set to a grounded state, you can perform any grounded action, including jumping, side dodging, or sliding. Additionally, the wallrun kick affects your momentum in a manner similar to wallboosting, giving you additional speed the further into the wall you look, and the faster you start kicking after you begin to wallrun. Unlike a wallrun jump however, the kick animation inherits your speed and momentum from the wallrun, making your trajectory a combination of the wallrun, your angle going into it. Looking further into the wall, and kicking sooner will result in a faster and straighter kick glitch.

The Kick Glitch

The big star of the run in Mirror’s Edge is really the kick glitch, because it’s simultaneously so situational, but also incredibly powerful and flexible. You can only use the kick glitch when there’s a flat wall pointing out into open air, which means unless you’re jumping across gaps, there isn’t an opportunity to use it. This helps keep the fastest form of movement constrained to just crossing gaps instead of dominating the whole run.

Since the kick glitch resets your fall height, it can be used to fall further distances by doing a long wallrun angled downwards before kicking, causing you to lose a lot of height before the kick, so you fall further as you kick, then reset your fall speed at the end, allowing you to fall even further without taking damage.

Perhaps the most powerful part of the kick glitch is that it leads into a normal jump, this means it’s free to lead into a wallrun or a wall climb, helping you cross gaps and climb a wall at the end, or wallrun into another kick glitch. There are a number of kick glitch chains across the game where players can chain together multiple kick glitches to boost off of many walls to fly across the skies of the city.

The Ties that Bind

Outside of these main tricks, there are a number of smaller tricks that help you gain height, or get across to an area when you need it.

Springboards are a type of contextual animation where you can jump really high off of certain short objects. The funny thing is, there are both intentional springboards implemented by the developers, and hidden springboards, made from geometry that the game just happens to interpret as a springboard, such as a couch, stray box, or air conditioner. These hidden springboards require you to come at them from a specific angle and a specific distance, which is sometimes VERY tight. Normal springboards have a wide assist area around them that pulls you in if you aren’t directly on top of them, but the hidden springboards don’t. Since normal springboards have this assist area, it’s possible to get a bigger boost off of them if you delay your jump until the last moment, when you directly overlap the springboard, to avoid losing any speed from the assist area’s magnetism.

Wallclimb turn jumps will give you more jump height the longer you wait to press turnaround, and the longer you wait to press jump after that. Wait too long and you’ll fall. This helps you jump over large barriers or barbed wire fences, which can’t be climbed normally. This is really important for Boat skip, which requires you to jump over a massive fence that can’t be wall climbed and is way too tall for anything else to work, also lacking anything in the area to be used to scale it.

Wall climb side jumps can be manually angled to turn into a wallrun, which gives you normal wallrun options, such as a turn jump, or a wall boost into coil jump. The former is used in a maneuver called the infinite wall climb. By repeatedly wallclimb side jump wallrun turn jumping, you can climb 2 walls that are close enough together forever. You normally can’t wallclimb turn jump into another wall climb, but you can wallclimb out of a wallrun turn jump. This maneuver is difficult, mostly because it’s so hard to get a wallrun out of a wallclimb side jump, but it’s useful in a few key places.

There are 2 other animations that also impart the strange grounded state that the kick glitch does when they end, the roll, and the animation for getting damaged by barbed wire. Of these, the roll is really helpful, because if you jump from a higher ledge to the corner of a lower one, you can roll off the ledge, then get the fall height reset at the end of the roll, letting you get down a lot further to lower areas, even out of bounds ones.

Outside of these, there are a ton of other little tricks, which aren’t common enough to be worth doing a whole paragraph on, for example: You can crouch to avoid going into the shimmy animation on thin ledges; You can frame 1 jump across a balance beam; You can wall climb turn jump and press the hint button to flip around and grab the ledge of the wall you were ascending (provided the hint is actually up beyond that ledge); You can run around a fence that’s pressed right up next to a ledge by running out onto thin air and cleanly turning around the fence in a smooth motion. These don’t add up to much, but they add little skills here and there to master.

Putting it together

All of these tricks come together to link together all the little bits of geometry in the level, giving you a massive number of different ways to traverse a level, and boost through all of those routes. That makes Mirror’s Edge a complicated optimization challenge, but also means you have to do different tricks in different routes, and the strange dense levels of Mirror’s Edge make it so you need to do a ton of tricks in rapid succession, each trick influencing the next, so you’re constantly evaluating, “Which of these tricks, in which of these routes do I feel confident enough to do? Can I pull this skip off today, or should I go for something easier? Will I botch this and end up slower? What’s the recovery strat?” This makes actively speedrunning Mirror’s Edge a very interactive experience, despite it being such a largely deterministic game. Very small differences in execution, position, and timing can wildly vary what happens across runs. It’s an extraordinarily difficult game to play perfectly, and the differences in optimization between a short time trial, a longer chapter run, and a fullgame run are really astounding.

Mirror’s Edge is a game that you need to pay a lot of attention to in order to play well, and develop a lot of different technical skills. It gives you a massive number of ways to route each part of the level, with a lot of varying skill checks that can be modified with analog input for both different and optimal results. When you get into a flow with the game, the results are beautiful, and the highest level of play is far beyond what any human is currently capable of performing, meaning there will always be a lot of room for improvement in the future. New tricks and routes are still being discovered for the game, and going through the discovery process for yourself is a lot of fun.

When I played, I couldn’t do the optimal routes, so I’d look at the older strategies from the oldest runs, or I’d look at the lower level runners and copy them. I’d scour levels, exploring them and looking for improvements. Playing through chapter runs and time trials means you need to use different strategies, because certain checkpoint abuse tricks weren’t possible, and new ones became relevant. The Glitchless category loses out on the kick glitch, but still maintains a lot of the other awesome tricks that make the run cool, thus emphasizing a lot that would normally be missed out on.

Together this means there’s a massive number of things to learn and perfect within Mirror’s Edge, making it a tremendously deep speedgame. Of course, I give it a 10/10.

If you enjoyed this review, please consider joining my discord, or supporting me on Patreon.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s