Why Fight When You Can Run?
It is an idea that most games discourage, to say the least. Combat, hitting things, shooting things, cutting things, breaking things, slaying monsters, just fighting seems to be the big focus of most of the more well known, popular games on the market. I am not going to say it is a bad message or it gives games a bad name or any of that nonsense, because frankly doing something like cutting down massive monsters with even bigger weapons is nothing short of satisfying. The point is that fighting is the focus of too many games, so much so that even most commercially available game engines are pre-built to handle some kind of combat, and the mass media has developed the stereotype that games are inherently violent. It is a pity, really since there are so many great games I would rather play about making things or blooming flowers or running and jumping.
I recently got my hands on a copy of Mirror’s Edge, and while not a perfect game to be sure, I found I thoroughly enjoyed it. Its name is pretty well known nowadays, but for those unacquainted with it, Mirror’s Edge is a game about running, or rather moving without stopping. While there is combat, within which you are able to take guns out of enemy hands and go FPS, the game itself discourages it. For one, it is not easy for an unarmed person to approach a group of armed gunmen and take a weapon without taking a few bullets, but more than that stopping to fight breaks your momentum. Perhaps it is because the combat is imperfect, to put it lightly, but regardless of the reason, in a game about momentum slowing down is the last thing you want to do.
It is for just this reason that I enjoyed it as much as I did. Combat exists, but in most of the game, all modes included, it is almost entirely avoidable and unnecessary. In fact, the enemies are more obstacles to your momentum than targets to eliminate. There was something refreshing about playing a game that just wants players to run. Outside of the combat bits in story mode, there is no tension from fear of death, just the desire to go keep moving and never slow down, looking for anything in the surroundings that can be used to move the next rooftop. While players do not one-man-army a swarm of baddies or topple a foe twenty times their own size, doing something like, say, running up a wall to jump across a chasm between two buildings and sprinting through, above, and below a maze of obstacles all ending with a wall-run to a zipline is just as satisfying–some of the more absurd times can be easily found on youtube and are beyond believable. It is reminiscent of older times before plots gained complexity and graphics started mattering as much as they do now, when all you had was a goal as simple and pure as get here and do it really fast. No, it is not the first game with such a premise, but despite its shortcomings Mirror’s Edge is a great momentum game.
In more recent times, less combat-oriented games are not as infrequent or doomed to obscurity as they used to be. If anything I can think of more games that I have played in the last week without combat than with, but when it came out Mirror’s Edge got a lot of attention because it is the first first-person parkour game, and a genuine first is a beautiful sight. I could have used Minecraft or Don’t Take it Personally or something even more detached from combat, but the inclusion and discouragement from combat in the game is one of the main things that inspired this little string of thought.