Version tested: iPhone
If you discount the 1348 counts of grievous bodily shovelware to date, the iPad's a pretty decent gaming platform. Where else can you re-purchase shiny "HD" versions of all your favourite iPhone games at between three and six times the price despite usually being exactly the same game? Those pixels aren't going to upscale themselves, you know.
The point we're trying to make is that it'd be really nice if we could just have a few exclusive titles to show off to make us look less idiotic for splurging all the cash we don't have on something we don't yet need. Titles, in fact, like Mirror's Edge, the sole impressive new addition to the gaming scene since Apple's slab debuted in the States.
Altogether a more free-flowing Parkour experience than DICE's original ever was, IronMonkey has created a breathlessly enjoyable experience that strips back the gameplay in a manner reminiscent of the relentless freneticism of cult 2D platformer Canabalt.
One thing that hits you immediately about the game is its quite beautiful "2.5D" interpretation of DICE's gleaming urban dystopia. With its striking use of primary colours, contrasting against the tower blocks and fresh blue sky, there have been fewer more appealing backdrops in a modern videogame. Complemented by the satisfying fluidity of Faith's animation and the intricate detail of the scenery skirting your peripheral vision, it's tailor-made for the iPad.
A rather superfluous plot chugs along trying its best to set the scene about "runners" and shady corporations, but there's really only one thing you need to know: Faith's on the run from bad men, and you've got to prod her to her destination fast. Set across 14 hazard-strewn environments, you must dash, jump, wall-run, slide, zip-line, disarm and karate-kick your way around urban rooftops and warehouses.
Blessed with superbly intuitive touch controls, Mirror's Edge for iPad has thrown out the offensively useless fake joypad method entirely, replaced instead by a simple suite of context-sensitive taps and swipes that become second nature in a matter of minutes. With a deft left or right slide of your finger across the screen, Faith breaks into a sprint in the appropriate direction, while a simple tap instructs her to jump. Sliding underneath narrow gaps while running demands a downward sweep, while scaling buildings can be pulled off with an upward sweep.
Some of the context-driven subtleties take a little bit of time to sink in, such as how to time wall jumping and wall running effectively, but some generous checkpointing goes a long way to eliminating most of the frustration from such a trial-and-error-heavy game. That said, there are occasions where you're inclined to think that the level designers dropped the ball entirely, with some poor signposting and murderous difficulty spikes conspiring to chip away at your initial admiration for brief spells.
A trait it shares with DICE's effort is how the game struggles to transition between the excellent free-running sections and the more taxing wall-jumping interludes. With level design that (at first glance) doesn't seem to marry with the control set, seemingly simple sections turn into a roaring war of attrition as you try to remain patient with the exacting demands of the learning curve.
Part of it can be down to you not observing situations properly, and an equal part is the game possibly not explaining itself fully. Simple elements become easy to overlook, such as the way Faith will helpfully clamber up a portion of the wall surface when wall-jumping. If anything, past experience and intuition often gets you into trouble, making you do things that actively work against what you're trying to achieve, like jumping prematurely out of a wall jump straight into a jet of steam. Once you extract yourself out of your own self-imposed rut and start paying attention to what works, you're less inclined to be the bad workman blaming his tools and start enjoying it once more.
There is a suspicion, though, that the combat mechanics could have been rather more developed than they were. Unlike the original, firearms have been completely disregarded, with Faith able to perform swift disarm manoeuvres as she runs past enemies, yet bizarrely reluctant to use them on the army of aggressors shooting at her. Because Faith is only able to slide into them or perform a running karate kick, it feels like the designers simply dodged the combat issue in a manner befitting of a free-running game.
Although this heavy focus on breathtaking free-running undoubtedly makes for an exciting focus, the downside is that you end up with a ludicrous end sequence where apparently the only way to defeat enemies is to karate kick them three times.
Once you've barrelled through all 14 levels, the temptation to speedrun them again with all your acquired experience remains fairly high, and the presence of online leaderboards and downloadable ghosts adds to the replayability immensely. Better still, being able to play two-player multiplayer on the same machine (taking half the screen each at either end of the iPad) and race each other across any of the unlocked levels is a truly excellent addition. Rivals mode, meanwhile, adds three beautifully abstract environments where players compete to collect the most bags within a time limit.
Although its current price tag feels weighty next to what we're used to paying in the App Store, it's worth getting a bit of perspective to quell the notion that £7.49 is somehow overpriced for a game like this. Firstly, at roughly one sixth of the price of a new console game, this is excellent value, and secondly, stood next to some of the other download titles on WiiWare, Xbox Live or PSN, EA is offering a game head and shoulders above the quality threshold offered at a comparative price.
In offering a slick touch-based reinvention of what platformers can offer, Mirror's Edge succeeds brilliantly. While by no means perfect, and a little undernourished in places, it's a game that points to a bright future for the device.
8 / 10