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Boss Rush: The Shard (Mirror's Edge)

Boss Rush: The Shard (Mirror's Edge)


The Shard is not a boss in the truest sense of the word. It’s not a singular entity that you fight face to face, nor is it even one fight alone. The Shard is the name given to the final sequence of 2008’s divisive first-person free-runner Mirror’s Edge, and it’s also one of the most frustratingly difficult gaming experiences I’ve ever had the misfortune of being exposed to.

It’s been a long time since I played Mirror’s Edge, and while I can’t remember if it’s ever explicitly stated, it’s heavily insinuated throughout that the main character, Faith, is a runner, not a fighter. It’s in this premise that ME, if you’ll forgive the pun, finds its feet. Hitting the tiles, turning heel and bolting away when suddenly confronted by gunfire was exhilarating like nothing myself and many others had ever experienced and is undoubtedly the reason ME has endured to become a cult classic.

The flip side of this was that, in 2008 (and potentially still in 2015) a game about running away, let alone one with an un-sexualized female protagonist, was a tough sell. So, for better or worse, some fighting sequences wormed their way into the final product. Spoiler alert; it was definitely for the worse. The rhythm of hitting your stride on a sprint was frequently brought to a stuttering uncomfortable halt by a guy with a gun in need of a kick to the teeth. The fighting mechanics were clunky, inelegant and inefficient; actively detracting from the overall experience, their one saving grace being that they were few and far between. Until the games’ final moments at The Shard.

The final sequence of Mirror’s Edge stands as a perfect of summarization of the entire game. It begins with a test of your skills in figuring out the most efficient way to get from point a to point b and then tests your ability to get there. It’s the end-of-year exam for everything the game’s taught you so far, and while it’s not easy, it is rewarding. ME is one of those rare games that asks you to learn not just the rules of its code, but also the rules of its world. Observing your surroundings and recognizing pathways to the final room of The Shard feels like the natural consequence of some seriously immersive and organic game design. Unfortunately, once you make it to that room, the stair case at its center being your goal, it’s filled with so many dudes with guns that you barely have time to acknowledge that goal before Faith sees white and hits the floor.

Trial and error was an important concept in ME and holy shit was it important here. For all its faults, ME was remarkably forgiving with its checkpoints. It was difficult to get too upset about mistimed jumps when Faith would usually respawn mere seconds from where you messed up, and that efficiency went a long way towards making ME’s, sometimes obtuse, platforming acceptable. Although I appreciated it in The Shard, and almost certainly would never have bothered to slog through without it, this system only served to highlight what a misstep the entire sequence actually was. The doors open, Dead. Go left, Dead. How about right? Dead. Center? Dead. I saw that fade-to-white death screen more times in the hour it took me to scamper through the gunfire onslaught than I’d seen it in the entire game up to that point. Honestly, I’m surprised my television didn’t have a controller shaped hole by the end of it.

Despite this, I somehow remember ME fondly, but not everyone has been so forgiving. DICE have an opportunity with the upcoming Mirror’s Edge: Catalyst to come good on the promise of their original experiment and, from all accounts, the team seem to be aware of where they went wrong the first time. Combat isn’t the point of Mirror’s Edge and nor should it be. As much as I loved the original, The Shard is not an isolated incident; it’s the ultimate consolidation of everything Mirror’s Edge does poorly. All of its vices and virtues are brought together in one room and forced to fight to the death. Only time will tell if Catalyst can be the balancing act between fighting and fleeing that it needs to be. Maybe The Shard IS a conventional boss after all. But it’s the developers, rather than the players, who could end up chucking the controller.