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Mirror's Edge

Takes a leap of faith into the future

Mirror's Edge isn't just a shooter. It's actually a sort of anti-shooter. Only with guns. It takes the basic shape and feel of an FPS, but then ditches the focus on destruction and fury and instead goes for elegance and style - and still does guns really well, when it feels like it.

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You're Faith, resident of an ominously sanitised near-future city. But the arctic cleanliness masks political corruption and police brutality. Criminals and dissidents have been pushed underground, resulting in the foundation of a covert network of runners - couriers carrying sensitive packages of information out of sight from heavily monitored regular channels.

Faith is one of these couriers - impossibly athletic, sure-footed and fast - and she's about to get tangled up in the city's darker side because her city cop sister's been framed for murder.

All of which is really just an excuse to get you running, picking routes over rooftops, scurrying across walls and sliding secretly through the impeccable metropolis. The good news is that it works. It really feels like you're running - or jumping, or shimmying, or skidding.

The controls are as simple as up and down. Literally, in fact - they're context-sensitive so that any press of L1 makes you go up for jumps, wall runs, skipping over fences, and any press of L2 does the opposite, for sliding under obstacles, nailing smooth landings or dropping from ledges.

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There's other stuff - like pressing 'X' to activate the odd switch or button, and R1 to whip around 180 degrees - but the key is the intuitive simplicity of the 'over and under' control mechanic. With such simple-to-master controls it lets you concentrate on the more important issue of going as fast as possible without stopping.

The whole deal is about momentum. Run uninterrupted for more than a few steps and Faith picks up speed, with her breath getting louder and her vision blurred at the periphery. The trick is keeping it this way, preserving your momentum as you duck pipes, scale crates and leap from rooftop to rooftop.

It's all in the timing - hitting L1 to vault for a handhold rather than knocking into a wall, or L2 to roll out of a high jump without a screen-reddening crunch. It's all about speed, agility and grace.

Stringing together a flat-out run with the wide-angled first person perspective is properly exhilarating. You experience both tension and relief with every upcoming obstacle neatly dealt with and vertigo-spinning gap safely crossed.

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The other thing about not having a thunder-clapping gun smacked centre-screen is that it gives you a chance to really take the world in. And in Mirror's Edge, there's a lot to appreciate. Like the echoing rooftop silence, broken only by the hum and throb of distance traffic and an occasional bird's flutter.

Or the game's stern, assured use of colour, breaking up the dystopic white with stark, single-tone themed levels - the grimy green of a chasmous storm drain, the deep polished blue of an illegally-entered office - and the streaking red of obstacles highlighted by Faith's heightened runner vision senses (which is a bit of a cheat, strictly speaking, but adds to rather than spoils the game's looks).

Maybe the most important thing of all is that the whole package - the controls, the responsiveness, the perspective - works together to the point that when you mess up, it feels like it's your own fault. When you fall it doesn't feel like you're struggling with a broken machine, it feels like you're too clumsy to control it.

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