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A years-late review of Mirror's Edge. - Adventures in Engineering — LiveJournal
The wanderings of a modern ronin.

Ben Cantrick
  Date: 2010-01-30 15:24
  Subject:   A years-late review of Mirror's Edge.
Public
  Music:Rage Against The Machine - Wind Below

I don't have much to say about this game that hasn't been said before. I love the concept, I love the level design, and in a lot of ways it's a fantastic game.

I know some people didn't like the anime-style cut scenes, but I had no problem with them. (I did find the killing of Merc just a bit too predictable. :P) And yes, the game is short. I bet you could easily run through it (ha!) in 5 hours if you were really determined. Neither of these are real problems, though. In fact, I'm not sure I believe either of them could be considered a flaw at all.

That said, Mirror's Edge does have two big issues. One is the same one I've been harping on since I played the demo more than a year ago. The other is entirely new and doesn't emerge fully until you've played the whole game. Let me strike at these issues tangentially first, and then I'll unload the napalm...


Do you know what the hardest button to press on the 360 controller is? It's LB. It expertly combines an awkward, wrist-twisting position with the handicap of being on the non-dominant hand. Also, making that awkward reach to LB tends to screw up the position of your entire left hand, thus throwing off movements of the left stick.

Now what would you say about a game that chose to assign its most-used function - say, JUMP! - to the most difficult to press button on the controller? Furthermore, what would you say about a game that in addition to doing that, also assigned the second-most used function in the game to LT, thus forcing the player to switch back and forth between the two constantly? Furthermore furthermore, said game also requires (yes, REQUIRES) you to make extremely fast-reaction presses of both of the above buttons, synchronized with fast and highly-precise movements of the left stick?

A terrible idea, you say? Obvious bad design? Likely to make the game extremely frustrating and annoying? In fact, such a thing would be likely to single-handedly ruin an otherwise great game?

If that's what you said, then congratulations! You're smarter than every single person on the Mirror's Edge dev team!!

Exacerbating the horribly designed controls is the fact that the devs were also fucking lazy as shit and didn't allow control customization! This is another thing I keep screaming about, and nobody ever listens. Seriously, you incredibly stupid fucks: how long would it have taken you to make a little "press the buttons you want to use for jump, crouch, quick-turn, attack, disarm, and use" thing? I have no idea how long you spent coding up all four of the different control schemes available, but however long it took, that was a total waste of time and effort on your part, because ALL OF THEM ARE FUCKING BROKEN!

Do I have to sledgehammer you in the face with this?? Alrighty then: The most used function goes on the button that is easiet to press. In this case JUMP GOES ON A!!

FUCKING DUH!!!!

Even the shittiest, stupidest, worst games ever made were able to figure this out. Why the hell weren't you??

I could rant about the horrible brokenness of the controls for hours. In fact, many people have. Take a look at this image comparing the buttons you have to press in Mirror's Edge vs. Assassin's Creed.


From http://www.pixelpoppers.com/2010/01/mirrors-edge-what-went-wrong-and-why.html

You might look at that and say to yourself: "No way does a game actually expect me to do that." WRONG! Mirror's Edge absolutely expects you to do that. And do it with pretty precise timing, to boot. Believe it or not, it's actually not that hard once you get the hang of it. But how much more fluid and intuitive (and easier to learn, and less error-prone when performed under stress in the later levels) would it have been if you could just do A to jump, B to quick-turn, and A to jump again? It would be at least ten times easier. And it would make the game at least twice as much fun. In fact, I do not believe it would have detracted from the experience of the game one iota. It would simply have made playing the game more fluid and less frustrating. For a game that prides itself on runner's flow being an integral element of the gameplay, the face-smashingly obvious broken nature of the controls... well, it's nothing short of unbelievable.

The controls are just god-awful, period. Just playing the three-minute long demo will show you how obviously, glaringly, insanely horrible they are. 'Nuff said.


The game's other major flaw is that you play an unarmed and unarmored little girl, and yet the game constantly throws 4+ large, armed opponents at you. Opponents who are way more than happy to unprovokedly shoot you in the back 27 times as you're running away from them. And ask questions later. This trend goes to its most annoying and insane extreme when you get locked inside a cramped little low-ceiling underground parking garage. Where you are forced to fight head-on through six guys outfitted in full riot gear and toting machine guns. (Yes, really!) Oh, did I mention that the only way out of said garage is through an elevator that has no cover around it at all? And there's no distracting the riot gear guys either - they won't follow you away from the elevator no matter what you try. Don't even bother trying to run though, you'll be cut to ribbons by machine-gun fire in the 3/4 of a second it takes you to turn from the call button to the elevator door. You have no choice but to attempt an unarmed beat-down on six trigger-happy goons with body armor and machine guns! The words "utter suicide" pretty much sum this situation up. :P

The entire design of this bit is just so obviously to completely fuck over the player, it had me raging by the third time through. I lost count of how many times I had to try it before I even came close to completing it. They even went so far as to put unnecessary columns on all the walls, so you can't wall-run/kick anyone for a slightly easier disarm. The whole section is a stupid exercise in rote pattern memorization. You can't deviate even the slightest bit from the path and specific moves the designers chose for you to go through here, or you'll get ten bullets to the chest in an instant. It's a total mockery of the supposed "freedom" and "multiple path" ideas that the game is supposed to be founded upon. Getting through the parking garage was at least three times harder than the real final battle at the end of the game.

They repeat this "locked in with riot police" theme twice more in later bits of the level. The key difference in both of these repeats (neither of which was nearly as bad) is that there's actual cover around to duck behind, and elevated walkways/tunnels that you can use to get a better angle on your opponents. But that parking garage level is just horrible. I can't sum it up any better than that previously posted review did:

[...] While Faith's tactics are best suited to dealing with one or two enemies at a time (as her own allies remind her) the game has a tendency to throw several enemies at her simultaneously. And even if she manages to disarm one, the others gun her down while she completes the animation.

Only after beating the game (and earning Test of Faith) did I realize something - usually when Faith comes under attack, one or two of the enemies approach her separately from the others who hang back in a group. The game is giving Faith a gun. She is supposed to take it in single combat, and then use it to kill the rest of the group - despite the fact that everything else about the game discourages the use of guns.

Philosophically, this is a result of divided vision. The game encourages quick disarms and combat avoidance - and then forces the player head-on into firefights. The game disagrees with itself about how it should be played [...].



After having played through ME start to finish, I no longer believe their choice of bad control scheme and insanely frustrating combat was accidental. Not at all. They knew EXACTLY what they were doing when they chose the worst possible buttons for the most-heavily used jump, crouch and quick-turn functions. They knew EXACTLY what they were doing when they repeatedly and blatantly forced a small, unarmed girl into a frontal assault against ten riot-gear and machine-gun equipped tanks. These two glaring flaws in the game both serve one purpose: TO MAKE IT LAST LONGER.

It was Publisher bullshit, pure and simple. They played a beta build of the game with decent controls and combat scenarios that weren't completely unfairly tilted against Faith, and they said, "Oh man, this is just too easy..." So they intentionally fucked up the controls, and doubled the number of enemies in every location. All in the name of not being a 5 hour game.

Well fuck you, DICE and/or EA. I see what you did there, and it ruined what otherwise might well have been game of the year. If there's anything that the game industry should have learned from Portal, it's that a game does not need to be 30 hours long to be great. But you didn't learn, and consequently you fucked up Mirror's Edge. Fucked it up so badly that despite loving the concept of this game to death from the very first second I ever heard about it, and in fact loving all the platforming parts of the game to death... I'm going to still very solidly recommend that nobody buy this game. EVER.

I will personally loan my copy of Mirror's Edge to anyone who wants to play it. Please, please, DON'T GIVE MONEY TO FUCKHEADS WHO RUIN GREAT GAMES IN THE NAME OF ARBITRARY LENGTH! Don't give money to EA for this game! Don't give DICE money for this game! Play my copy and be done with it. I'll personally drive my copy out to you, just so you don't pay anyone money for this game. DO NOT support the arrogant, stupid cock-monglers who would ruin what easily could have been my favorite game of all time, with their stupid inability to see the sublime beauty and genius right in front of them.


Edit: It's easy to bitch and whine; a bit harder to make constructive suggestions. In that spirit, let me suggest two big things that would have gone a long, long way towards making Mirror's Edge the great game that it easily could have been.


First - A non-braindead control scheme.

Let me emphasize: Setting up the controls in the way I'm about to suggest is not a substitute for allowing control customization. If you don't allow players to pick what button they want for what function, then you're just a lazy, arrogant moron. One who is convinced that YOUR control setup is not only the very best one, but also the only possible way that could ever work. And if that's what you think, then you're both wrong AND dumber than a fucking post. You must allow control customization.

That said, here is how I would set up my controls:

Jump/Up: A
Quick-turn: B
Crouch/Down: X

Attack stays on RT. It works great there - very visceral and immersion enhancing.

Disarm can stay on Y, or you can move it to RB. Y is a little faster to hit, but there's a nice intuitive aspect to having Disarm and Attack on complimentary buttons - you're not likely to be both attacking someone and disarming them at the exact same time. (This is why having fire on RT and reload on RB works so well in FPS games.) Anyway, whichever of RB/Y is used for disarm, the other one would then take over the "slow-mo" function. This puts the commonly used together "slow-mo" and disarm functions on buttons right near each other. (I think since RB is harder to hit than Y, I would put slow-mo on RB and Disarm on Y. You tend to hit slow-mo well in advance, so having it on a more difficult to hit button isn't as big a deal. And highly time sensitive on-the-fly disarms will be easier with Y.)

This control scheme would have worked a million times better in so many ways. Let me give you just a few examples:

Common action: Run and jump
Old way: LS, LB
New way: LS, A

As I noted before, using LB for anything is a horrible choice for multiple reasons. First, it's the hardest button on the controller to reach, and it's on the non-dominant hand. Thus leading to slow, imprecise button presses. Second, reaching for it tends to screw with your left stick control because of the way you have to twist your hand around.

Contrast this with the new way. Where your smarter hand gets to quickly and precisely hit the easiest button on the controller, without interfering at all with your left stick motions. Also, notice that doing a roll-landing is just a matter of hitting X as you're about to land. A lot easier and more precise on a short-travel button using your dominant hand, than having to quickly move your non-dominant hand from the previous awkward LB down to LT, and then having to precisely hit a long-travel trigger.

Common combo: Wall-run, Quick-turn, Jump
Old way: LS, LB, RB, LB
New way: LS, A, B-A

Notice that the old way not only (again) commits the sin of using LS and LB at the same time, but also forces you to awkwardly move your right hand up to RB, thus screwing up your whole grip on the controller.

The new way, by contrast, is easy to learn and will quickly become intuitive. Also notice again how easy it is to tack on a X while still holding down the final A, to tuck your legs while in the air. This allows you to make jumps over barbed-wire fences or reach places you can't quite get to with your legs dangling. The same holds true with tacking on a second turn-jump maneuver after the wall-jump. You just do B-A again - so easy! Making these moves fluid and intuitive would have been a massive enabler of the whole "freedom of movement"/"choose your own path" thing the developers were so jazzed up about. It would have encouraged experimentation, even playing around. As opposed to the old way, which encourages you take the most conservative, slowest, fewest button presses, most boring path.


Common combo: Crouching Attack / Jump kick
Old way: LS, LB / LT, RT
New way: LS, A / X, RT

Once again the horrible combination of LS and LB rears its ugly head. It's particularly bad in this case, because this is a move you're going to be doing in the heat of combat, where your life is on the line and you're nervous, and precise control of LS to dodge multiple streams of incoming gunfire is absolutely crucial.

The new way is much easier and harder to screw up. Point-jump-kick. Point-roll-kick. The sequence A, RT is quick, intuitive and extremely fluid. X, RT is a little harder, but it's still easier than moving your hand from LB down to LT, while you're also simultaneously trying to hit RT.

I could go on for pages here, but I think you get the idea. Putting jump on LB was the worst possible choice they could have made - and I think they knew it. Bad controls can (and regularly do) ruin otherwise good games. In this case, the worst possible choice of button did, in fact, ruin an exceptional game.


Finally: Provide an explicit on-screen momentum meter. This would help the player learn which moves build momentum (like the counter-intuitive fact that vaulting over an obstacle builds momentum), and would also give them a better idea if they have enough momentum to make that long jump ahead. This might break immersion a little, but no more so than being frustrated as hell because you don't understand why you made that jump last time, but this time (when you can't tell that you did anything different) you failed it and fell to your death. This meter could go away in hard mode, so those who didn't want the hint wouldn't have to use it.


Second - Fixing combat.

For a game that's supposed to encourage stealth, evasion and acrobatic attacks, ME pretty much failed in every way to make a correct enemy AI for this style of play.

First of all, every enemy in the game is a trigger-happy psychopath who seems to get off on shooting people in the back. These guys are so bloodthirsty they don't even bother drawing their guns; they keep their gun in-hand constantly so as to be able to pump you full of lead as quickly as humanly possible. This pretty much puts the kibosh on any kind of fancy acrobatic attacks. They'll kill you in the air as you're halfway through a jump-kick - in fact, they frequently do exactly that. :P

Secondly, they're psychic. They seem to know exactly where you are at all times, even when you get the drop on them, sneak up behind, or are beyond a wall. This is particularly unrealistic with the SWAT guys wearing full body armor, who have helmets that screw with their ability to look up, and presumably the body armor messes with their ability to turn their torso. This pretty much kills any attempts at stealth stone dead.

Thirdly, there are too many enemies and they refuse to break up their groups. This leads to your only choice being utterly suicidal frontal assaults. You can run right past a guy with a machine gun, even punch him along the way, and he still won't chase you. There's no surprising people from around corners, or drawing enemies away from a location. It makes evasive tactics (Faith's strongest weapon) completely useless.

The fix for these problems could be to make enemies less bloodthirsty (more prone to run up and attempt a melee attack), or by giving them more weaponry options (batons/tasers/beanbag rounds for shotguns) instead of just opening fire with their pistol or machinegun on sight. This would give Faith a chance to execute acrobatic attacks on them, instead of being constantly cut down in a hail of machine gun fire in mid-disarm. Making enemies less psychic and/or more prone to chase would give Faith a better chance to pull off stealth attacks and/or evade. All of these traits could scale by difficulty level, so those who liked it insanely hard could still have enemies who are bloodthirsty, psychic, and refuse to move an inch from where they're standing (thus forcing a frontal assault). You could even do something where the game remembers from level to level how pacifistic you've been, and enemies become increasingly reluctant to use lethal force on you if you've consistently refused to use guns.

Speaking of scaling with difficulty level, how about scaling the number of opponents with difficulty level? The very first time you encounter enemies in the game, there are FOUR of them. Just to catch a little girl, in a stairwell! (And, at the risk of repeating myself, these four empty their guns at you within 3/4 of a second after spotting you - while you're running away from them!) I really don't think there needed to be four guys there. I'm not even sure there needed to be three. I realize the game is trying to teach you to run away, but even so, it's just flagrantly excessive. Two trigger-happy lunatics would have been plenty to get me running like fuck. Three is plenty on Normal. On Hard, I could see four or even five. But not on Normal difficulty.

When we talk about combat, another nice side-effect of an explicit momentum meter surfaces. Your momentum determines how much slow-mo time you have for disarms. If you could know that before making an attack on an enemy, you'd have a much better chance of successfully executing a disarm. This would be far more true to the spirit of the game than the way it is now. Where you end up running at a guy in full riot gear head-on, with no idea if you have any slow-mo at all. Again, the meter goes away in Hard mode, so those who like the uncertainty and challenge can still have it.


Lastly: Never design a level in such a way as to entirely deprive Faith of her acrobatic attacks. Yes, I'm talking about those walls with a column on them every four feet in the underground parking garage, preventing you from executing a wall-kick and easier disarm. The only place in that section to execute a wall-kick is off the side of the truck... which was conveniently parked right next to three swat guys with machine guns, so you'd only get one step along the side of the truck before getting swiss-cheesed by three streams of machine-gun fire.


P.S. That fucking helicopter carrying three guys with machine guns has NO FUCKING BUSINESS being in the first few levels. Save that shit for the last few outside levels. Or if you're gonna put it in the early levels, at least restrict it to Hard mode.
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osmium_ocelot: Vision
  User: osmium_ocelot
  Date: 2010-02-01 01:49 (UTC)
  Subject:   (no subject)
Keyword:Vision
That is just a goddamn shame.
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  User: (Anonymous)
  Date: 2010-02-11 19:47 (UTC)
  Subject:   (no subject)
Hi! Doctor Professor here, the writer of the review you referenced (http://www.pixelpoppers.com/2010/01/mirrors-edge-what-went-wrong-and-why.html).

First, thanks for reading and linking to my review. I'm glad you enjoyed it. :)

Second, just want to clear something up - that comic (http://www.virtualshackles.com/64) that I posted originally came from Virtual Shackles (http://www.virtualshackles.com/), not me.

Finally, something you might find interesting given how big an issue the control scheme and lack of customization is for you. They discussed in the Afterthoughts interview (http://www.1up.com/do/feature?cId=3172300) why they made that choice - and they claim it's for a reason completely unrelated to playtime inflation. :)

1UP: Speaking of which, how come you didn't give players the option to customize their controls? This seems odd, especially in a game that depends so much on mastering the controls.

[Producer Tom Farrer]: We made the decision to limit the control customization options for the very reason that it was important to master them. We found that many players instinctively wanted to move the "up" button to A [on 360, or] X on PS3, since that is where they are used to having "jump" in first-person games. We had removed all movement controls from the face buttons because having them there actually lessens the degree of control available to the player. If you have to take your thumb off the right analog to jump, you immediately lose a lot of control and make the game more difficult for yourself.

So for this reason we wanted the movement controls to stay on the shoulder buttons. We actually used a similar control scheme for Battlefield 2: Modern Combat on the PS2. After some initial complaints, players started to realize the benefits there.


Whether you agree with their reasoning or not, I found it interesting to at least know their justification.

Thanks again, and happy gaming!
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Ben Cantrick
  User: mackys
  Date: 2010-02-11 21:49 (UTC)
  Subject:   (no subject)
> Second, just want to clear something up - that comic (http://www.virtualshackles.com/64) that I posted originally came from Virtual Shackles (http://www.virtualshackles.com/), not me.

I didn't realize I was mis-attributing that. Thanks for the correction!

> We had removed all movement controls from the face buttons because having them there actually lessens the degree of control available to the player. If you have to take your thumb off the right analog to jump, you immediately lose a lot of control and make the game more difficult for yourself.

This still doesn't answer why they would put jump on the left. Most of us are right-handed, and I utterly fail to see any good reason to put the most used function in the game on the non-dominant hand. In addition, doing that works against their goal of better control because, as I explained, the reach up to the bumper screws with your control of the left stick.

Bottom line, they're just plain wrong here. They had a reasonable idea, but their implementation was just thoroughly broken as shit. And then they compounded the broken by not allowing control customization.

These guys didn't learn from history. There was another game that tried to pull off a similar control scheme long before ME did. It was Bandai's Ghost In The Shell: Standalone Complex for PS2. The game had very similar problems to M.E.
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Ben Cantrick
  User: mackys
  Date: 2010-06-05 10:41 (UTC)
  Subject:   (no subject)
More on GITS:SAC and its identical control problems in the second half of this entry from 2k5:

http://mackys.livejournal.com/226372.html
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Chipadeedoodah
  User: chipadeedoodah
  Date: 2010-06-05 16:10 (UTC)
  Subject:   (no subject)
Here's something that will make the controls instantly make sense: The lead platform was PS3.

That doesn't excuse having broken controls on the follow platform, but once you realize all the devs were working on PS3's when they designed the control scheme, with the big fat L1/L2/R1/R2 buttons, working with sixaxis controllers where L1/L2 are the logical resting points of the hands and L2/R2 get triggered every time a cat sneezes, it all makes so much more sense.

Agreed re: the combat situation, that was just some bad design. I was playing to get the "no guns" trophy, and didn't get it. I'm not sure if it's because I accidentally kicked a cop off a ledge in one scene, or because I couldn't finish another without shooting out a window, but either way somewhere in there I lost my no-guns mojo. I was controller-throwingly pissed when that happens, because I beat that parking garage bit without picking up a gun. AHGUAHUGHAUGHARUHGAUHGAUHGUAHGUAHGUAHGUHAGH.

Interestingly, the DLC is all jump puzzles, and it's just marvelous. Much more fun than the regular game.
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Ben Cantrick
  User: mackys
  Date: 2010-06-05 21:48 (UTC)
  Subject:   (no subject)
I should really try it on a PS3. I bet it is much better there, purely due to the controller shape.
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  User: (Anonymous)
  Date: 2010-06-10 00:36 (UTC)
  Subject:   (no subject)
I don't know what you were doing wrong but Mirror's Edge was one of the easiest (and best, beside the point) games I've ever played, if you couldn't manage to move your tiny brain to press a button that was put there by the Microsoft, not dice, then I say you should go back to preschool =\
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  User: (Anonymous)
  Date: 2010-08-09 01:09 (UTC)
  Subject:   Yup
Spot on. Why did they give stealth training in the tutorials? You literally can not perform one stealth kill in the game and you're right, the enemines know exactly where you are, even in airvents!!!!!!
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