Why I love the Jacknife level in Mirror's Edge

It's worth being angry to appreciate the game's standout chapter.

Why I love

In Why I Love, PC Gamer writers pick an aspect of PC gaming that they love and write about why it's brilliant. This week, Lorna runs out of a very deep hole using parkour.

There’s something about trying to wrestle a monitor from your desk with the express intention of hurling it out of a window, only to find said window has long been painted shut, that really makes you stop and think: what am I doing? Mirror’s Edge inspires many such moments. Moments of pure rage. But in among them, there’s something else. Something special that keeps you from drowning this game in acid. 

In a game of (often literal) highs and lows, Jacknife, Mirror’s Edge’s second chapter and its longest, remains a flawed gem for me. It has made me angrier than any level bar the last, but when I sit back and regard the game in its entirety, it’s always Jacknife that I come back to as the standout. 

While a good slice of the action of this game takes place on rooftops, Jacknife offers a blistering run through some truly memorable alternate locations. From the streets and the depths of the storm drains back up to the heights again, diversity is shovelled at you like coal into a fire.

I think that’s what appeals to me the most. As beautiful as the rooftops are, some breathing room is always a good thing. And what better way to contrast the sharp, primary look of the roofs and pristine offices than going down to the streets and underworld. Alleyways and cement trenches lead to grimy maintenance rooms, there’s a brief taste of the clean outside world, then you plunge into the maw of the storm drains. 

The chore of getting down there while a helicopter vomits bullets at you is infuriating when you’re exploring and pathfinding for the first time. If you’re masochistic enough to be speed-running the level it’s ten times worse. And that helicopter… seriously? Can those guys spell “waste of public resources”?

At first I was appalled at where I found myself. What the hell am I supposed to do here? Where are the rooftops? Where are the brilliant dashes of colour against the sea of white? What have they done? I despised it. I hated struggling to navigate the perilous gantries of the imposing underground chamber, with its glistening columns stretching to infinity, let alone avoiding the searching beams of the snipers on the upper levels. 

Struggling and feeling lost here feeds your resentment. But then, slowly, as muscle memory developed and my pathfinding improved (often thanks to some useful YouTube speed-run videos) I started to appreciate the location. Despite it being such a dank, lonely place, in which you’re made to feel so small, I began to enjoy the little touches. The lighting, the water, the scuffling and squeaking of my shoes as I wall-ran and short-cutted, and occasionally managed to double jump beams.

Gliding down a slope in a sheet of water cast in a Halloweeny green was one moment that became a favourite. Right up until I realised I’d have to scramble back out of another drain, amid platforms and pipes. And then, bliss, I was back up to the rooftops with their jumble of air-con units and architectural bric-a-brac. 

It isn’t just the paying out of such contrasting places that stands out. It’s the pace. Had I the chance to indulge my usual gaming habits and lollygag, meander, and generally faff about, the level may well have lost some of its charm. But taken as it is, at near breakneck pace, it transcends the string of locations to become a fluid, urgent tour, doused in panic. 

The level practically drags you along before suddenly thrusting you into the role of pursuer as you set off across the rooftops after the titular Jacknife. This switch from hunted to hunter is masterful and exhilarating, used again later in the boat chapter, but to lesser effect.

The more I examined this chapter, and the more I allowed myself to become immersed (largely through self-imposed repetition) the more the negativity fell away, leaving only a deep appreciation and respect for the level design. A design that undulates beautifully through changing locales, playing with pace and testing your abilities at every turn. 

Like the game itself, Jacknife isn’t for everyone, and it will stretch your patience to breaking point, especially with the numerous glitches. But love it or loathe it, it remains the most memorable chapter in a flawed but brilliant and original game. 

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