'Mirror's Edge' by Ea Dice
Our basic argument is that there isn't any such thing as a building. A building properly conceived is several layers of longevity of built components.'How Buildings Learn' by Stewart Brand
Hummingbirds and flowers are quick, redwood trees are slow, and whole redwood forests are even slower. Most interaction is within the same pace level — hummingbirds and flowers pay attention to each other, oblivious to redwoods, who are oblivious to them.'A Hierarchical Concept of Ecosystems' by Robert V. O'Neill
In 'Mirror's Edge', you run, jump and climb from a first-person perspective over, through and beneath endless rows of buildings. Sometimes people shoot at you, and sometimes you have to fight them, but they are never more than obstacles to the running, jumping and climbing.
From its opening on the rooftops — the most obvious of parkour settings — through offices, ventilation ducts, elevator shafts, concealed substructures and more, you are always running and climbing from one artificial enclosure to another. You climb through sewers; you climb through a subway station; you climb onto helicopters; you climb across cranes. A late-game setpiece has you scale an unfinished corporate atrium — complete with an ominous phallic structure at its center — where, early in the climb, an external elevator zooms past your line of sight, taunting you. But it is not the building taunting you — it is the person who made it. The buildings never care what you do. They are redwoods, and you are a hummingbird.
Your name is Faith Connors. You have a special perspective on the world that allows you to see the game's environments not as they are, but as a collection of brightly glowing tools to get from one place to another. Run near a pipe and it turns red, letting you know that you want to climb it. Once you climb it, the red disappears — its usefulness expunged, it becomes a tool discarded.
To your eye these buildings emerge from the ground as glass-white obelisks, darted with color from flags and ads for nicotine patches & local politicians. At eye's reach to arm you can discern color — blues and oranges, reds and purples — but past a certain distance even the windows bleed out. You do not care about the buildings. They are redwoods, and you are a hummingbird.
If you've played 'Portal', the parallels are clear: A svelte Asian woman solves physics jumping puzzles in an oppressive dystopia while defeating machine gun fire & taking questionably useful direction from a talking voice in her head, and also the end credits theme is named "Still Alive".
But have you played 'Breakdown'? I'm sure you didn't, but I'm absolutely convinced the developers did. That game — a 2004 Xbox release, and possibly the original first-person punch-'em-up — shares a tight mechanical focus on arms and legs. You are meant to view this world as if it were cinema you create, and the primary means of immersion into that cinema is to constantly lie to your face about "your" physical presence within the world.
In 'Breakdown', your goal is to traverse a single building in search of answers. In 'Mirror's Edge', your goal is to traverse many buildings to deliver answers — first as a courier, slinging packages for clients, and then as an avenger, slinging yourself for the sake of your sister against increasingly ferocious opposition. But both have the same answer as to what makes up a building: people and objects, constantly at war with themselves and each other.
The quotes at the start of this review are not from books I've read; they're pulls in an essay on software architecture. That article attempts to unpack the reasons why software most often reduces to what the authors call "a big ball of mud" — comparable in their estimation to the "squalid, sprawling slums" (their words) of shantytowns. (This may shock you if you're used to picturing programmers as ivory tower intellectuals preoccupied with mathematical purity — nope, we're no smarter than the rest of you. Most of us can't even do math that well.) They ask a surprising question: "What is it that they are doing right?"