Though it emphasizes running, jumping, ducking, and vaulting, Mirror's Edge also lives up to its first-person camera by offering gun-toting. While it's allegedly possible to finish the game without offing any hostiles, most players will find such an achievement hard to accomplish. But more importantly, trying to do so would mean missing out on one of the game's best features: its simulation of weakness.
Faith is not strong in combat. She is easily overcome by a few blows of a firearm stock or far fewer shots from its barrel. Her fragility in combat is no greater than her fragility in movement (death is easy in this game), but the player's sensation of Faith's weakness in the former help accentuate her strength in the latter.
Faith can run fast, jump accurately, slip in-between and under obstacles for shelter. She can bounce off walls with ease and balance on precarious outcroppings. But she can't really melee without becoming overpowered. And she can't wield a gun like a Delta Squad soldier.
The player's best strategy for combat is close range fighting while in motion, either with jump-kicks launched from vaults off a higher surface, slides and shin-kicks that disable an opponent, or weapon take-aways that require precise timing. All of these gestures are acts Faith is good at performing; she is a runner, after all.
Then there are the firearms. Once Faith picks up a gun, her movement slows considerably. She becomes less agile, and certain acrobatics become unavailable. She can't easily withstand the kickback of larger guns, which require careful aiming. Yet, stopping to sight an enemy is antithetical to the expressive mission of Mirror's Edge; it is a game about rapid, fluid, human movement, not standing still with a slab of dumb machinery.
Combat in Mirror's Edge is consequently miserable. Miss the right timing to grab a rifle and down you'll go. Lumbering through a gun battle feels brute force and ungratifying. It's not uncommon to enter a new area, see a hostile, and feel genuinely angry and disappointed at having to deal with him. The game is a shooter that makes you hate to shoot.
Instead of reading the game's combat system as a weakness, we can understand Mirror's Edge instead as a game about a character's weakness. Whereas so many games simulate unlimited power, Mirror's Edge shows us the limits of power -- not only that of Faith, but that of the entire first-person shooter genre.
Its lack of on-screen interfaces undermine the idea that "health" is a valid way of representing ability. Instead, Mirror's Edge replaces the pleasure of violent engagement with the pleasure of running away, footfalls tapping pavement gratifyingly as bullets zip by.
Mirror's Edge is not a perfect game, perhaps, but it is something more important: it is an interesting game. It can be played and experienced on its own terms, for its own sake, if players would only allow themselves to take a single videogame specimen at face value rather than as yet another data point on the endless trudge toward realistic perfection.
While Keith Stuart's rejoinder against meeting expectations does remind us that innovation offers an important avenue for creativity, to privilege experimentalism still implies a view toward titles of the future. We must stop looking at the games we make and play in terms of how well closely the vistas they open match the ones in our mind when we come to them.
Rather than seeing these works as mere toasters or word processors meant to deliver on our expectations while we await a better version to come along, we must begin to understand what a game can offer us today: how it can serve as a mirror that presents a new view of our own experience of the world, rather than as a window polished to an incrementally greater shine, facing that same green pasture of familiarity.
With Mirror's Edge, we have one such example: a game about looking and moving in an unfamiliar way, about feeling frail when we are used to feeling powerful, and then feeling powerful again when we reject the convention to fight and choose instead to run like hell.