Mirror’s Edge had a hell of a lot going for it. Simple, striking graphics, a neat concept, and, most importantly of all, the ability to make you feel like the sort of agile, graceful, fleet-footed motherfucker that would give Usain Bolt pause for thought.

What it’s less fondly remembered for is its story and ill-judged action beats, which explains a lot about Gregor Panič’s debut title Welkin Road. It owes more than a little influence to the parkour classic, along with a dash of Portal and, uh, Spider-Man, I guess?

“If you’re anything like me, you’ll die. A lot.”

When you first start the game, currently in Early Access on Steam, Mirror’s Edge is almost certain to be the first thing on your mind, as you’re dropping into a sparse, minimalist red-and-white landscape with little to do except run forward. This early section of the game introduces the basic parkour movements: run, sprint, jump, crouch, crouch while jumping, wallrun, jump while wallrunning, crouch while jumping while wallrunning, and so on and so forth.

It’s simple, but rewarding. Mirror’s Edge stripped down to its barest essentials, extraneous details like ‘plot’ or ‘environment textures’ trimmed out to leave the focus squarely on running, jumping, and falling (quite a lot, in my case).

Welkin Road 2

Where Welkin Road steps out of EA’s shadow is in the introduction, roughly halfway through the first level (of 11, each rather expansive) of the second core mechanic: grappling. Each of your protagonist’s curiously realistic-looking hands dons a ‘grapple glove’, and with them you can attach to, and swing from, floating orbs. You quickly have to start worrying about changing directions mid-swing, swinging in circles, shortening and lengthening the ‘rope’, and chaining grapples – and that’s all before later levels introduce new mechanics like green orbs, that move other elements of the level while you’re attached to them, or blue ones that deactivate after a few seconds of use.

“The game’s puzzles are a bit more Portal than Portal 2

Welkin Road builds these elements into Portal-esque navigational puzzles: you know where you are, you know where you want to be, you just need to combine your moveset and the environment to get from the one to the other. The downside of the puzzle mechanic is that it slows the oh-so-crucial momentum you build as you barrel through levels, each moment you stop to think robbing you of that feeling of divine agility initially so crucial to your enjoyment.

This is made worse by the fact that, if you’re anything like me, you’ll die. A lot. A lot a lot. Like, all the time, again and again, until you’ve spent more time falling than running and you begin to wonder if you should really be a professional videogame journalist anyway because aren’t they meant to be good at games and oh god you’re not good at games who are you really fooling anyway?

Welkin Road 1

Ahem. The point is, Welkin Road is hard (or I’m shit, take your pick really). The kind of hard that can get frustrating as you fall to your umpteenth death on the same puzzle. The kind of hard that can get infuriating when you know exactly what you need to do but somehow lack the manual dexterity to pull it off. The kind of hard that can make you want to throw your keyboard at your flatmate when you’re pulling off a perfect maneuver and the goddamn glitchy, fussy grapple mechanic keeps making you miss and it’s definitely the game’s fault and not mine, OK?

In that sense, the game’s puzzles are a bit more Portal than Portal 2. One of that sequel’s improvements was to make sure that once you knew how to solve a puzzle, executing the solution was never the tricky part. It pushed your brainpower, but rarely your coordination, which was ideal for physical malcontents like myself. Here though, too often spotting the solution is the easy part, and pulling it off the challenge – fine for the most part, but more frustrating when the too-fiddly controls seem to be what are holding you back.

Mirror’s Edge is almost certain to be the first thing on your mind”

I’m not quite sure there’s enough in Welkin Road to keep me around to the end. I’m three levels in, and already it feels like repetitive, the same few mechanics endlessly reconfigured to arbitrarily extend levels, adding length rather than depth. The fact that the best score I’ve gotten so far is a ‘C’ doesn’t exactly help either.

I still remember how joyous those first few minutes were, the brilliant simplicity of this minimalist parkour. That gets lost somehow as the game layers on mechanics and puzzles, an exhausting array of pop-ups explaining new elements for me to figure out. That’s something else it shares with Mirror’s Edge then: the game doesn’t trust its core mechanic enough to just let it be, to let us run, and jump, and fall, and feel free.