Oi, Persia. Get out of it. Croft, skedaddle.
All you acrobatic platforming types
are all the same. Born with a silver spoon jammed right in your faces, and snooping around dusty, sandy levels like some kind of tourist. The heroine of Mirror's Edge
is called Faith, and her world is a long sprint away from filth and privilege. She's a courier in a modern-day alternate world where the dazzlingly, clinically clean windows are just one symptom of a nanny government in overdrive.
It's a world approaching political satire - everything in Mirror's Edge is under surveillance. Every bit of information is monitored and controlled, and if you eat a bowl of Corn Flakes at breakfast, you'll be on the Kellogg Lovers' Register before lunch. Senior producer Owen O'Brien explains that it's not fanciful futuristic sci-fi. "It's a city that doesn't exist, but it's a contemporary city," he says. "We've taken things that are happening in the world - social, architectural, political - and we've combined it all in one place."
A new kind of courier
That's where your courier job - 'running' - comes in. You're paid to transport information that people don't want tracked by the government. You're hired for your ability to run across the city, to leap undetected across the skyline, and to risk your life for the freedom of shady information. But in the run up to an election, they're taking unusually strong measures to stop it, including abducting your sister. And sending bloody great helicopter gunships after you.
Although Faith has plenty of moves tucked away in her acrobatic arsenal, the methods by which you'll get to them will be surprisingly simple. It's all been boiled down to context-sensitive up and down. Up can be clambering, jumping and all the things that feel naturally attached to the direction 'up'. Down unsurprisingly will let you slide and parachute roll to reduce damage from a great fall.
The controls might sound rudimentary and overly simple when put like that, but it's what you can do, chaining them together with wall-walks, balancing and Faith's thundering sprint, that really makes you hold your breath when you're watching. Seeing Faith in action, your mouth goes pleasantly slack before you've even fired a bullet.
Nobody could accuse Mirror's Edge of trying to be Devil May Cry - guns are limited in availability and ammo and they're instantly encumbering. You'll find yourself better off relying on your gymnastic reflexes to navigate the levels, which are inspired by real places. Take one vast cylindrical underground silo: it seems like the stuff of Bond fantasy, but O'Brien assures me that it's modelled faithfully on a storm drain in Tokyo - all part of keeping the game shy of fantasy.
But the design is the key; the story is told in a combination of gameplay action, motion-captured sequences, and 2D comicbook-style that's difficult to fault. The clean simplicity of the in-game action is pulled off so well, you can understand why people reacted suspiciously to the first gameplay trailers.
Seeing Faith make those moves is pretty impressive, but it's the world she runs
in that slaps you on the face. Was this clinical city intended from the start? O'Brien explains that it was. "We had this visual idea from the outset... not only does it look great, but it's useful for the player. You only have to put a red door in, and players know where they have to go." Is this system is a little bit subtler than the massive blue grappling-hook rings of Tomb Raider, then? Yes, but O'Brien adds that players will be able to use the Runner's instinct, constantly risking
your life throwing yourself off skyscrapers gives you an instinct for which bits are jumpable and which will lead to a Wile E. Coyote death plunge.
Mirror's Edge looks incredibly gripping and has a beautiful heroine as its central character. This is a high-concept shooter that represent's a new EA, as the mega-publisher tries to reposition itself as a gamer's friend... and it's working. If the move-chaining system works well enough to reward persistent gamers and compensates for the simplistic heart of the control system, then this is going to make everything else out there look like it could do with a bit of polish. And don't worry, Lara Croft fan-fiction writers, it occasionally slips into third-person, so you will get to look at her bum from time to time as you prance around.