Sunday, June 15, 2008

Prognosis on Mirror's Edge

It’s not everyday that you get a chance to see something sufficiently different from the run of the mill playware and announced WWII shooter, so let’s quickly build some hype people!
Dun dun dun. Sorry, I’m going to take the other route for now.

So what’s the recipe, chief?

As far as I saw it, it’s relatively simple:

Prince of Persia + Assassin’s Creed + Shadow of the Colossus + lotsa white + 1st person view: solving mazes through athletic super moves.

However, you still need a great cook to make the broth exquisite.

On the paper, I’d say that for certain elements, it’s “been there done that”. Safe for the different perspective. Of course, anyone knows that assimilating the meaningful details of any environment is particularly hard in a FPS.
Think about it. A 3D platform game with a first person perspective, I’m yet to find a single good demonstration that shows it works.
Even 3D platform games with third person perspectives still remain burdened by this depth gauging problem, and as a whole remain absolutely worthless, unless the paths are more on less “railed”.

I was looking at Next-Generation’s preview of the game written on toilet roll. It’s incredible how they are so hype proof. Really, I mean it.
So much that apparently, DICE is incensed as having perfectly nailed the concept of “building up speed before jumping or sliding”, like you know, nobody did it before in games.
Oh but nobody did it in a 3D game.
But… could it be that it was not the point of other games at all?
However, when they’re making a 3D platformer as Mirror’s Edge, you bet they’re going to brag about how you must run over a certain distance to complete a given jump.
Otherwise, what would be left to do?

Now, think about it. The Playstation-style 3D novelty aside, these functions are nothing new at all. Of course, you cannot always reinvent the wheel, so I shouldn’t be so negative about it. I have no real problem revisiting past game mechanics as long as it’s well done. Which I hope it is.

We’re been told the platform part will work great. Well, it might end being a tad dumbed down. Now look at the architecture. You can spot many possible paths. Now do they look exciting? Well they seem a bit predictable and observing the role of fillers, but we really need to know how far the work on the level design has been pushed, with more videos, notably to see if they’ve find a way around a real problem which occurs more than often in games which are primarily designed with an universe in mind rather than a very specific and working gameplay; that is, trying to cram a game design into a realistic environment which, at first, doesn’t seem to offer that many opportunities.

I mean, when you look at the screenshots, it’s rather easy to see how to get from a building to another. That ledge slightly higher than the opposite one, that double pipe over there, crossing the void between two buildings, etc.
In comparison, if you watch parkour videos on internet, you’ll see that most urban tracks are actually far richer and trickier than anything this game seems to provide. Structures and forms are far more varied.

The game’s principle is to find the exit of those architectural “open” mazes, and rather quickly when you’ve got a bunch of governmental dogs on your six.
There’s a good reason why the game’s environment is looking clean and luminous (one you can easily guess by yourself without watching the producer interview because, you know, it’s just that glaring).

The art has been following functionality, which is a good thing. Otherwise, the result would have been disastrous, in a game where you have to quickly understand and analyze your environment, to have most paths (pipes, poles, edges, ladders, ramps, etc.) blending with the irrelevant décor. Some of the elements composing the best paths are characterized by a red texture, and from what I’ve seen, serve as beacons for transitions either between buildings, or between indoor and outdoor locations. Not terribly hard isn’t it?

Does that mean the player is taken by the hand? Who knows… it seems that these helps disappear progressively along the game. Good.
Seeing your feet will be important. Well, how much exactly? The game’s wiki says it’s there to help you keep balance. So it’s not a revolution here, since we’ve been walking over abysses before without seeing our feet, and it was fine.

Well, there’s been one major demo thus far, and it left me quite underwhelmed. It was globally nothing more than seeing a character jump, slide, run and keep balance when walking down a narrow plank or tube of some sort (notice how the landing seems rather perfect, despite the executed jump and momentum you’re ought to get in such conditions), all that along a small playfield which displayed no challenge whatsoever.

I cannot say this was inspiring material. Oh but it’s seen through the eyes of a female Asian character.
Yes, an Asian character with all the expectable overdone stylish posing stances over ledges, numerous random tattoos and other cliché doodads. Luckily, we avoided the generous akimboobs.

Why not try a red head? Or a black girl? Or an Indian girl? We already got billions of Asian females in games, so what’s new here?
Oh, I suppose the excuse can be that she’s the lead female. Well, sure, female are slimmer and more graceful, so that fits the game (even if I’ve seen many gay men being as graceful as girls but nevermind).

My point being that it doesn’t make much difference, and while I’d like to see more real women in games and less stuffed up GI lolitas, I say don’t get all excited just because the lead is a female here. I’d rather see DICE and EA keep a low profile on it, instead of having representatives polarizing the topic once more.
Remember Beyond Good & Evil and Jade. It felt less… I don’t know… forced?

We can bet our pants, hats, pets and stock options that this will have to be mentioned like a hundred times as a key selling point in future appetizing PR stuff. Can’t wait!

I truly hope that Faith is lesbian, so the circle will be complete.

DICE has released a certain amount of videos and screenshots thus far, and what I’ve observed is a well marketed montage of totally mundane 20 years old game mechanics (ex: hanging to ledges, POP anyone?) wrapped into some fancy talk about how they’re putting us into a real body. Maybe. Maybe not. I don’t know, this is not exactly what appeals to me.
Once you’ll be done with those elements, once you’ll be accustomed to the bleached rooftops and walls… what then?
Perhaps a simple experience of enjoying a fluid, free and efficient platform gameplay in a true 3D environment is what the game will pull off. Cross fingers?

We’re said Mirror’s Edge will try, a bit like Breakdown, to restore the essential meaning of the first person perspective in games, which has, thus far, taken a second seat in favour of shooting. What about FP horror games?
Fatal Frame? Having to take pictures of tormented ghosts through your ancient camera, with all the limited vision it implies, while they’re circling you and going through walls, roofs and floors, rocked a great deal.

To sum up, we have a huge amount of hype there, because it’s a game with more white than usual, and above all because it’s DICE man, freaking DICE, and they’re going to tell you that you have lowered your standards way too much when it comes to first person games! You literally HAVE TO be positive about this game.
Well, arguably, I’m positive about DICE’s new logo. It’s very nice.
I suppose that the idea is that after playing Mirror’s Edge, players enjoying the art of trick jumps in your random FPS will look as graceful as Dalek ballerinas.

Still… I advance with caution. I could be very wrong in the end, but usually, when I see a demo, I’m capable of catching the elements which tell me the game has that something which could translate as hours of fun when I’ll get my hands on it.

I didn’t sense anything like that here. I have that bad feeling that we could be dealing with a flashy gimmick.

That said, I’ll keep my eyes peeled for the next trailer, and see if my concerns were founded or not. For the moment, I think it’s going to be a meh game, sort of 7/10.

(What a fool! He’s giving an opinion without knowing much or having played the game – hey people, there’s that “prognosis” word up there, think about it.)

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