I write about the danger of defying expectations and (once again) mourn the sad fate of Mirror's Edge.
Everyone has a few games that they can't help but love. For me, Mirror's Edge is one of those games. Don't get me wrong: the game has plenty of shortcomings, and I agree with most of the things Sinan Kubba suggests in his article about how to fix Mirror's Edge. However, I think the game's biggest obstacles can't be overcome with iterations and simple fixes. Mirror's Edge was a victim of history and misaligned expectations.
The game's design philosophy is a sharp departure from most modern games, in that it makes the player work hard to pull off amazing things. Its beautiful graphics seem to put it alongside Assassin's Creed or Call of Duty, but underneath its sheen lies a difficulty system that is more Ghosts 'n Goblins than Gears of War. This is understandable: times change, and so do people. For better or worse, most players simply don't want games to be as challenging as they once were. Thus, many of the things that seem like flaws in Mirror's Edge are simply anachronistic design choices.
Not only did Mirror's Edge defy people's expectations, it wasn't even designed to address them. Thanks to unclear pre-release coverage and player's preconceived notions, Mirror's Edge became a victim of its own achievements. Somewhere along the line, a strong popular belief that Mirror's Edge was meant to be played non-violently gained popularity, thereby setting the stage for frustration and disappointment. While it is possible to finish the game without killing any enemies or using guns, it is an extremely difficult way to play. I can't remember another time when a single achievement or gameplay variant asserted such a strong influence over how people thought the game should be played.
I'm not exactly sure where all of this leaves us. As romantic and wistful as I might sound, I am well aware of how hard it is to purge one's mind of presumptions and comparisons before diving into a game. They hype machine is relentless, and I think it's natural to want to follow an interesting game throughout its development. Jorge and I have even extolled the benefits of hype in the past: high expectations can push people to take risks and push boundaries in terms of design and criticism. Sometimes the most interesting games are the ones that disappoint us. Mirror's Edge is a perfect example: folks are still talking about it nearly three years after its release.
Striving to maintain a blank slate when approaching every new game is fool's errand, but I still think gaming whiplash is a powerful force that is rarely addressed. When players hurtle towards a game anticipating a specific experience, the shock of the unexpected can negate a game's positive aspects, turning strengths into sins.