Mirror’s Edge: Story

After reaching the end of Mirror’s Edge‘s story, I tried the various racing modes, but I didn’t care for them. If I go back into this game, it’ll probably be to find more of the hidden messenger bags. There are three of them in every level, and they’re one of the only ways that Story Mode acknowledges the game’s supposed premise. You’d think that a professional black-market courier would get assigned a courier mission every once in a while. You could come up with all sorts of dramatic situations that fit in with the government-corruption theme: “We can expose everything they’ve done if we can just get these documents to the press!” But instead, you spend the game playing amateur detective, trying to find out who murdered a good politician and framed your sister for it.

Given that you’re in the right, that truth is on your side and your sister is innocent of any crime, it seems downright counterproductive to go around killing cops. And so I didn’t. I resorted to unarmed combat on a number of occasions, bloodlessly disarming the people who shot at me and then immediately discarding the weapons I had wrested from them, but I tried to avoid doing even that: in most cases, all you really have to do is figure out where you’re going and find a way to get there that’s mostly covered from fire. And even though I chose to play this way mostly in the name of efficiency, it seemed like the way to go in story terms too: with every gun I threw away, I was saying “I’m choosing to refrain from shooting at you, even though you’re doing your best to kill me. Are you sure I’m the bad guy here?” Not that I expected this to change anyone’s behavior, but it seemed worth saying anyway. So it was bothersome to see the player character hold off a SWAT team in a cutscene by grabbing a gun and shooting at some Doom-style exploding barrels.

And, ultimately, what’s the conflict about? OK, yes, protecting family member from lying murderers. But why does she need that protection in the first place? The player finds a scrap of paper at the crime scene (and removes it, preventing any legitimate investigation from finding it) mentioning a “Project Icarus”. Several levels later, you find out what this is: it’s a project to train special police forces in Runner techniques, so they can go leaping from rooftop to rooftop like superheroes too. Which is, on the face of it, not a bad idea. The Runners’ abilities effectively put them out of the law’s reach, and in a functioning system, that would be a problem worth addressing. But even in the world we’re given, Icarus is not the public hazard I was expecting, given how hush-hush they were about it. Icarus only threatens Runners. Imagine the headlines if the word got out: “Exposed! Secret Project To Arrest People Who Break The Law”. I understand what they were going for here, Icarus as the Runners’ equal-and-opposite, the dark reflection, the thing that kicks the conflict to a higher level. But it’s a bit of an anticlimax.

The Runners have some high-minded ideals about being the only communication channel left that isn’t under the Man’s control. But we never see any benefit to this. We don’t see anyone who’s helped by the services the Runners provide, or any injustice righted by their actions. As I pointed out, we hardly see them doing their job at all. We just see them fighting for themselves. Perhaps we’re expected to just already sympathize with their ideology, much like how we don’t need to reestablish that Nazis are bad guys in every game featuring Nazis. Apparently there was a point in the early design stages where the Runners were supposed to be less like freedom fighters and more like a street gang. (There’s a bit of unlockable concept art showing this stage.) And the final story still has something of that mentality.

Pretty, though!

2 Comments so far

  1. Merus on 31 Dec 2009

    Yeah, somewhere along the line they really dropped the ball on the concept. I’m not entirely sure who’s to blame, but I note that the scriptwriter, Rhianna Pratchett, has been associated with several other projects with problematic stories – Prince of Persia 2008 and Heavenly Sword. She also wrote the Overlord games, which have a very cursory story (that suits the premise, really), although the incidental dialogue is a bit one-note and weak.

    I doubt all of the blame can be put on her shoulders – DICE don’t make single-player games, and so probably aren’t that skilled at game narratives, and apparently the Mirror’s Edge comic which she wrote is very good – but a Rhianna Pratchett writing credit probably can be taken as a sign that the developers didn’t care much about the story, and so it can safely be ignored.

  2. judgedeadd on 3 Dec 2017

    The story definitely isn’t the game’s strong suit. The visuals are astonishing and the combat sequences are cool (doubly so if you commit to nonlethality), but there’s no real reason to care about any of the characters’ fates, or any reason to hate the evil government apart from how all these cops keep you from reaching the next save checkpoint. I agree with your musings in the final paragraph–clearly the target audience is expected to sympathize with the Runners simply because they’re cool young rebels fighting against grumpy authoritarians, and therefore, they’re by default the ‘good guys’ (at least in the scriptwriter’s mind).

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