Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Fear of falling

You know how dreams often involve falling? And how nightmares often involve being chased? Well, I've been playing a videogame now that combines both of these nerve-wracking experiences in one compelling and frustrating package.

In Mirror's Edge you play a "runner". Unsurprisingly, you spend most of the game running - away from police, away from bullets, away from a host of baddies bent on catching and killing you. Not that the running won't kill you either - the game involves executing parkour/free-running maneuvers on the rooftops of skyscrapers, leaping gaps that will kill you in one plummet. Let me first start by applauding the innovativeness of the game - in a market saturated with more-of-the-same first person shooters, this game emphasizes escape, evasion and maneuver. On top of that, everything is time-sensitive: the slower you run, and the more time you take to pause and take in the scenery, the faster your pursuers catch up with you, and the more you'll find bullets smacking into the ground around you.

Unfortunately, the game's a bit too realistic in some ways. When you miss a landing, and plummet into space (and this happens more often than is comfortable, even on "easy" mode) the last thing you see on screen is your hands, scrabbling and flailing for purchase on the thin air in front of you, as the screen wobbles and blurs to simulate your vision failing in your last moments (there's even a tunnel vision effect as darkness closes on you) and the sound rises to a roar in your ears. All in all: far too realistic, especially since the game's limited tutorial provides you little preparation, and death by falling occurs far too often.

Aside from that, the experienced of being chased and running away, combined with the fear of heights and falling, and the vaguely intellectual parts of figuring out the best route, make Mirror's Edge a visceral and primal experience. It taps into the basic experience of all prey creatures - running away from predators, and, make no mistake, in this game you are the prey creature, always on the run.

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