Have You Played? is an endless stream of game recommendations. One a day, every day of the year, perhaps for all time.
Some people install the latest Crysis game whenever they buy a new PC, to push their upgraded hardware to its limit. I install Mirror's Edge. If I want to feel good about my purchase, then Mirror's Edge succeeds by being as unfailingly gorgeous now as it was six years ago. Better still, its mechanics - about movement and speed and grace - leave me just as breathless and uplifted as its pristine cityscapes and colourful interior design.
You'll have heard plenty about Mirror's Edge by now, and you'd be forgiven for thinking it was a beautiful world which was lousy to play due to its undesirable combat. That's unfair. The combat doesn't work as well as it ought, but I still find so much of Mirror's Edge fun. Steering protagonist Faith across rooftops by stringing together first-person leaps, climbs, shimmies and slides is exhilarating, requiring precision in ways most other parkour-sporting games don't, and therefore making you feel connected to its world and rewarded for putting in practice.
I also love the puzzle environments. There are times when you are being harried and hurried by guards with guns, but there are also plenty of moments when you're left alone in a six-storey atrium and challenged to reach the top. Leap over here, pull yourself up there, wallrun on this to reach that pipe - each individual movement is simple, but the process unlocks a new method of looking at the environment.
Despite lackluster sales and by now infamous combat, Mirror's Edge has endured in the minds of those who played it, I think, because there's something spirited and poetic about it. It's a game set in a dystopian future under the thumb of an oppressive regime, but its city is clean and beautiful in a way that makes you want to live there. That's more frightening than videogames' traditional, Blade Runner-inspired vision of bad futures.
Its story is also bunk, told limply through comic-style animatics, but it doesn't matter because its free-running movement mechanics are already a perfect expression of Faith's power as someone able to break free from the oppression of the city and fly above it. At a time when Gears of War's shoulder-padded marines and crunching cover-system seemed to reign supreme, Mirror's Edge had a lightness of tone that made it - makes it - a joy to inhabit.
Cripes, I think I've convinced myself to go play it again, and I haven't even mentioned the soundtrack or the impressionistic time attack challenge levels. (I also haven't mentioned the shoddy quick-time events, checkpointing or boss fights). Its £10/$20 on Steam.
[The header image on this post is from comrade Duncan Harris's Dead End Thrills, of course.]