A Shooter In Name Only

In November of 2008, something crazy happened. Electronic Arts, a publisher who had managed to build a reputation for being unadventurous throughout the beginning of the 21st century, published what might be the most adventurous game of the current console generation.

This wasn’t an entirely unprecedented move on EA’s part. With the changeover of CEOs in 2007, EA had begun to release some interesting new IPs. Among them were games that went on to be quite successful franchises, like Dead Space and Mass Effect.  None of these titles were quite as risky or progressive as what was to come, however.

The game I’m talking about, some of you have probably figured out by now, is DICE’s Mirror’s Edge. Taking a step back from their popular Battlefield franchise, DICE proved to the world that first-person platforming can indeed be made to work well. They also proved that you can make a first-person shooter without having gunplay be the primary gameplay mechanic.

Of course, the game still has some traditional shooter elements. Many have been quick to accuse the publisher of forcing the developer to shoehorn these elements into the final product, but this is belied by DICE’s earliest design concepts. Mirror’s Edge was never supposed to be completely free of gunplay; earlier prototypes of the game even had Faith carry a pistol with her at all times, while the final release axed this idea in favour of having Faith only use weapons she obtained by disarming her foes.

What’s important, and what makes the game a huge evolution in FPS design, is not whether or not it has guns and shooting. It’s where the focal point of the gameplay lies that makes Mirror’s Edge unique and exciting.

At it’s heart, Mirror’s Edge is a game about efficient movement, and DICE did everything necessary to portray that in a visceral and realistic manner. Sebastien Foucan, largely credited as being one of the founders of the parkour and freerunning movement, was consulted by DICE to help ensure that the player could interact with obstacles in the same manner that a real freerunner would. The resultant gameplay is incredibly true-to-life in a deeply satisfying way. This is Mirror’s Edge’s gift to the gaming world, and to the advancement of the FPS genre.

Unfortunately, the game failed to meet sales expectations, due largely in part to a poor marketing job by EA. Unsure how to market the game to a mainstream audience, EA ended up marketing it as they would a traditional FPS. This led to some early adopters of the game not getting exactly what they bargained for, and reviews score suffered as a result. While the game did end up selling over 2 million copies worldwide, it still failed to meet the targets EA has set for it, and it’s unknown whether the game even made its money back.

There have been sequel rumours circulating since shortly after the game’s release – due largely to the developers’ comments about wanting it to be a trilogy – but nothing concrete has been announced. As so often happens, Mirror’s Edge may be destined to never become the franchise it could have been, like many other innovative and hard-to-categorize games that have come before it.

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