Tuesday, December 22, 2009

This Rule of Thumb Actually Involves Thumbs

And it's quite handy too. You're welcome.

Any game in which a glitch is formed where your thumbs become fused together inside a chain-link fence is generally not a good game.

Mirror's Edge, then. I downloaded it over Thanksgiving break because it was on sale, I'm probably going to give up on it over Christmas break. Why? Because it's just starting to irritate and bore me.

Okay, you have to admit, it's a sexy game. The developers have paid a lot of attention to visual details, and the result is clear. The world is drop-dead gorgeous, although very white, which really should be considered cheating since they can fall back on simple gradients rather than trying to create intricate artwork, but we'll forgive that. But beyond the eye-candy of all the intricate levels to explore, there's a sense of aggravation looming in the darkness.

For those of you unfamiliar with Mirror's Edge, a plotline summary in 50 words or less: Faith is a "Runner" who uses parkour to try to clear her sister's name. Oh dear, that was only 14 words...

First off, I understand that in a certain sense, Mirror's Edge is a puzzle platformer, although not in the same sense that Portal and Braid are puzzle platformers. You've got to get from Point A to Point B, lather, rinse, and repeat. Usually, your Point B becomes the new Point A, and you've got to work out where the next Point B is. This is all fine and dandy, except either certain levels are designed to obscure your target destination in whatever ways possible, or I'm generally too stupid to figure out the ways to get there. There's a "Runner's Eye" system where objects that you need to use turn red to catch your attention, but this does not occur in all instances, and sometimes finding the way to a red object is half the battle. I kid you not, there have been times where I've sat putzing around in a corridor trying to find a way up onto a higher platform for literally half an hour, only to find that the answer was in a one-inch ledge on a wall that I never really realized was there before. I mean, who could have missed! the one inch ledge on a wall above me. Naturally. Unrelatedly, this Faith girl clearly has the strongest fingertips known to mankind.

If it's not the puzzle aspect that seems a bit unintuitive to you, maybe it's the combat system that seems a bit off-kilter. Occasionally, you will encounter police officers (of varying levels of experience or expertise, apparently) that you must disarm and/or kill. Since your character is unarmed, you've got to use only fists and feet to get the job done, unless you manage to rip a gun away from someone trying to shoot you (although there exists a statistic for your save file that counts the number of people you've shot, which I want to believe is significant later in the game, so I've been trying to avoid that route). However, Super Smash Bros. this ain't, as all you can really do are kick, punch, flying kick, sliding kick, and that's pretty much the lot of it. Thus, my melee strategy is just to mash buttons whenever I meet someone in SWAT armor. (Oh wait, it IS Super Smash Bros.!)

However, the kiss of death in this game seems to be how long it is. Or rather, how long the chapters are. One key thing about gaming and me is that I can't stand long sessions of the same thing over and over again. Team Fortress 2 is incredibly tolerable, because the game is constantly changing, and if it's not, you can change your character as you see fit. Half Life 2 is painful, because the chapters are incredibly long, but at least you can save and walk away at any time during the level. (Still, I've been wandering around in Ravenholm for hours now, and I'm wondering if that level ever ends.) Mirror's Edge is particularly painful in that there are checkpoints to return to if you die, but you can't save in the middle of chapters. Some chapters are stupidly long to begin with, not to mention the fact that I'm clearly too thick to get certain puzzles, so they take twice as long for me, so having to quit in the middle of any level is tremendously aggravating. I can't stick around for long periods of time to finish a single level, and I can't be bothered to return any time soon when after an hour and a half in a level, you get a glitch like the one above.

I will concede that Mirror's Edge is visually stunning, and that it does turn a lot of conventional platformers on its ear with a versatile parkour-style navigation theme. There's just too many things that drive me batty about the game to make me want to continue, and that's a bad thing. Did this make sense at all? It's late, which is part of the reason why I'm not bothering with links this time. In a nutshell: Mirror's Edge, not worth it unless if you've got a higher tolerance for this sort of aggrevation than me.


Edit: I think it's only fair that I include this little addendum. The post above was written while incredibly tired, which I think I mentioned. However, in fairness, I should also mention that the only reason for writing the post was to vent rage about a glitch at an irritating moment in the game. In other words, you could call the post the equivalent of writing emails to your boss while drunk. In no way does it end well, except it's something your co-workers can laugh at the next day.

Now that that's out of the way, and now that I'm a little less tired, I can tell you in good conscience that the above negative review stands. I think I can justify it a little more coherently now.

I understand that there's a certain amount of skill to play any sort of game, and the skill required varies from game to game. In the case of Mirror's Edge, you could say it's about half coordination/skill/timing and half puzzle/problem solving, and the reason that I put them at a 50/50 split is because there are parts where both are required and parts where one definitely trumps the other.

On the puzzle/problem solving side of the coin, much of the challenges involve figuring out how to get from Point A to Point B, as I mentioned above. The main problem that I have with this is that the solution for getting there isn't always clear, and at that, you might not even know where you're going to begin with. You can get a little help by tapping the Left Alt key, which automatically turns your head to look at where you need to go/what you need to do. (By the way, don't do this while moving, you might accidentally walk off a ledge because of the sudden turn of your motion.) The (other) problem with this is that the guiding system doesn't always respond to your cries for help (as if to say, "C'mon, the solution should be obvious, just go down this hallway"), or it tries to show you the solution too many steps in advance. This is often the case with trying to climb upward in narrow corridors, like mentioned above. Hitting Alt pretty much makes you look straight up, which doesn't help much when you need to figure out which wall to wallrun-jump off of to grab on to which pole to swing to which ledge and so forth. Similarly, there are instances (particularly outdoors) where hitting Alt points you to a building far away, where your goal is to get to a door on the other side of the building (but you don't really know that until you get there). To sum it up, when you need help the most, it's not likely you'll be able to get it.

Then there's the coordination/skill/timing side of things. Once you figure out what you need to do, doing it is a completely different matter. You occasionally have to make large jumps over certain-death heights, and these jumps always seem to require that you get enough speed and jump at the exact right moment, or else you plummet downwardly. Even when I've had to repeat certain jumps due to dying shortly thereafter, I still find myself missing the previous jumps due to the accuracy needed to complete them.

In the same category of skill/timing, I need to cite this example of another frustrating thing about this game. In a certain level, which I forget, you encounter a certain character, whom I forget, and have basically a mini-boss fight. To start the fight, the character delivers a surprise blow as you arrive at the top of a flight of stairs, grabs you, and throws you down to a lower roof on the building. The character then jumps down, charges you, and attempts to beat you with a pipe. If you fail to disarm the man just before he strikes you with the pipe, he hits you, then grabs you again, holds your helpless body up for a moment while he flashes another evil smile, and throws you to the street below where you die. An exciting scene, yes, but it becomes significantly less exciting when you realize that every time you die, the exact same sequence starts again. From stairs to concrete, it's about 40 seconds (estimate from memory, sorry if I'm off). To beat the boss, you're supposed to (1) realize that you need to disarm the man when he charges you, (2) find the exact moment to disarm him (which can be aided by using the R key, which slows time down for a bit), and (3) actually do the disarm. Prior to this stage, I had never disarmed a man in the game, nor had I used the R key, so it took me quite a while to even remember how to do either. The sad bit is, after at least 20 tries (and I'm not exaggerating that), I finally managed to disarm the man, and watched carefully for the next part of the fight... but disarming him also disoriented him, and he basically ran off the edge of the roof. Boss fight over, and I only had to click once at the right time. What the heck? After wasting way too much time figuring out what to do, it all came down to one well-timed click? Sloblock, that. It's instances like this that make this game frustrating, and you actually feel for a moment as though you've been wasting your time.

There are other instances of ire which I won't go into (as it's once again becoming late, and I'll just slip into my incoherent place once again), but just know that these moments of frustration and helplessness and illogic make Mirror's Edge an unpleasant experience for me. Maybe your mileage will go farther, but it just wasn't my cup of tea. I don't know if I'll be returning to it anytime soon, but if you feel so inclined to give it a try, you might as well download it now on Steam, as it's now on sale... More on that later. I've got a cold, so sleep is a higher priority than last night. Stay tuned...

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