Okay, that's enough teasing. The really impressive thing that DICE showed at GDC was Mirror's Edge. It looks totally fucking awesome.
We've all heard that it's a first-person game that focuses more on movement than combat, but I'm not sure anyone quite believed it. Well, believe it now. I've never seen a game that captures motion, momentum and bodily inertia so brilliantly. Remember how Thief changed the face of gaming with its sneaking and lurking? Well Mirror's Edge is making the same kind of leap, only this time for, er, leaping.
Beyond the jump... more about jumping.
So if you look at the screenshot below you can see that there are some red bits and pieces in the environment. This shows the fastest way across the environment. It's an impressive system of visual signposting that doesn't look out of place in the ultra-clean utopian cityscape. This is a game about moving, and moving rapidly. You're a free-running courier called Faith, who has to make her way across the city without either getting apprehended by the cops, or plunging to her death. Knowing what to leap for and what to grab is utterly essential. Of course there's going to be multiple routes out of any given situation, but noticing the red stuff is probably going to get you on your way a little faster. It's not always obvious either – it's just as likely to be a thin piece of a piping or a hidden hatch, as a giant red girder.
Anyway, the GDC demo had Faith leaping across rooftops, scrambling over fences, mantling up over ledges and wall-jumping up out of trouble. It was actually superlative-defying, in that Original-Half-Life sense of the phrase.
This focus on movement seems like a significant shift in what game designers are getting interested in: movement needs to be better. Assassin's Creed had a taste of it, Prototype seems to have clicked with it, but Mirror's Edge has quite possibly mastered it. Again, let me say that I have never seen a game move like this. Watching the assembled crowd sway and squirm in front of the big demo screens makes you realised that no one has really managed to simulate anything like real movement in videogames. Mirror's Edge is a little different – there's an amazing sense of organic fluidity to how Faith moves. It's far more embodied than anything we've seen before. She slides under obstacles, or vaults over them, at the press of a button. I'd like to think that it's going to be quite easy to grasp too, making this one of those games that you will feel like a God for having mastered. I've spent years with my head down in FPS games, but none of them made me feel as giddy as watching this.
What's even more impressive is that violence is to be kept at a physical level too. You can pull a pistol from a guard, but it'll only last as long as there are bullets in the clip. The real fighting will come with fists and feet, kung fu, not rock-launchers. Not that fighting is the main solution: you're a free-runner of ludicrous skill, and so running away is almost always the best option. This means that much of what the game throws at you will be physical, spatial puzzles: how do I get over there?
The structure of the game is going to be a linear story, in which Faith delivers her messages and performs missions that she's guided through by a remote radio voice, but it's a living city beneath her. Peer over the edge and you can see cars and people bustling by. Be prepared to be tracked by TV helicopters and rooftop cops. It's clear that this is going to be a game with a strong storyline (the producer Owen O'Brien spent some time waffling about Faith's past and motivation before we got to the actual meat of watching it in motion) and I just hope that's allowed to go on in the background. This is a game where we're going to want to remain in control of throughout. I pray for more Half-Life, less, well you know how I feel about cutscenes.
Having only seen the game played by a trained DICE employee, and not yet had a hands on, it's hard to say whether Faith's free-running will really be as fluid or as free from getting caught on scenery as it seemed to be. And there's still enormous scope for DICE to mess up the delivery of the game as a whole (mentioning no names... Assassin's Creed). Nevertheless the divide between this and Battlefield Heroes basically confirms for me that DICE know exactly what they're doing. They're hitting both the PC's lowest common denominator and also striking out for that high-concept astonishment with mega-production values and previously unseen design ideas. If they can deliver on both they'll be a long way towards being one of the world's most significant developers.
No release date has yet been confirmed for Mirror's Edge. And I can't wait.