By Colin Yu
This past week, I had the opportunity of reviewing Mission: Impossible , Operation Surma for the Playstation 2 developed by Paradigm Entertainment, and for the Gameboy Advance developed by M4 Ltd. After experiencing both, the only thought I can fathom was, Were the developers Paradigm and M4 at the same meeting??? The differences between the two are so astonishing that the only similarity that they have, other than bearing the same title, are the names of characters and locations used through the story. I would highly recommend reading the console review to fully grasp the contrast. Nevertheless, this review will go by the belief that M4 wanted to distinguish itself from the console version and deliver an entirely new experience.
Operation Surma is a new installment in the Mission: Impossible series. The story revolves around a mastermind who has the ability to hack into highly advanced security systems, and it's up to IMF's top elite agent Ethan Hunt and his team to handle the situation. Those who have played through the console version will recognize the names of the locations and characters, but that's as far as the parallel goes. The story unfolds in a completely alternate way, including the kidnapping of one of the IMF teammates, and the murdering of an essential character. Oddly enough, in a certain way, these two previously mentioned incidents contain more intrigue story-wise than any plot twists in the console version. The characters themselves also undergo a facelift, as the console's skinny Jung Ho and brunette Jasmine characters become fat and blonde, respectively. It's almost like a Twilight Zone of the console version, complete with a population of people who look completely identical to each other.
The first issue that needs clarification before this review continues any further is that contrary to what many may assume, Mission: Impossible , Operation Surma for the GBA is NOT a stealth game. Instead, it is a fast-paced action adventure played in a third person overhead view, and consists of running from one room to another rather than sneaking around. This is contributed to the fact that there will often be a countdown timer forcing the player to complete the objective as soon as possible. This in turn may cause the player to explore less and frequently run into brash situations, which invariably eliminates the use of stealth.
To say that there are no stealth tactics would be a lie though, albeit a minor one. It advertises on the back of the package box that the game contains the ability to, use the shadows to infiltrate,? but there is not one shadow to be found in the entire length of the game. What the stealth tactics do entail is the ability to hack computers, disable security devices, and wear disguises. Also included is the skill to perform a takedown move that will render an unaware victim instantly unconscious. That's about the extent of all the stealth that's available in the game.
MIOS is one of the rare games that will require the player to glance at the instruction booklet first before playing. Otherwise, approaching the game gung-ho will most likely leave the player confused and aggravated within the first few minutes of play. This is due to the lack of a training session to help you learn how to use the gadgets or the rest of the game system. The game begins by telling the player what to accomplish, rather than how to accomplish it, which is still hogwash unless the player is aware of what the tutorial's hinting at.
In fact, at first glance, the gadgets in this game are sure to baffle. Even at a second glance, they'll still look foreign. Among the uninspiring assortment of gadgets are the most bothersome items in videogame history: the Scanner and the Jammer. These two items are required to disarm electronics such as security cameras. Both the Scanner and the Jammer have a blinking colored light next to their icons. When searching for a security camera, Ethan must use the Scanner and wait for the blinking light to turn from green to red. Only then can Ethan switch to the Jammer, and then wait for its red light to turn green. As if this wasn't a vexing process already, Ethan must always use the Scanner to detect the device even when it is standing right in front of him. Why M4 did not combine the two gadgets into one is beyond me. As it stands, this system takes a rather long time to perform and it becomes a test of patience. This contradicts with the fast-paced nature of the game, and will no doubt lead most players to forgo the procedure and run through security systems, since the alarm will discontinue once Ethan's far enough away from the situation.
Strafing becomes an integral part of this game simply because it gives the player the advantage in strategy. While holding the R button, Ethan's gun is locked to shoot in a certain direction. This means that if an enemy is visible on the other side of the screen, Ethan can lock the gun in that direction and go in blazing. Without the strafing and anticipating the direction of the enemy, the victor of the battle will most likely be the opponent.
Catching the player off-guard will happen most frequently while Ethan is using a gadget other than a gun, since he can only hold one item at a time. Unlike the console version that will pause the gameplay while the player shuffles through the inventory, the GBA version forces the player to select in real-time. This means that while the player is using the Tracer to track someone, or using the scanner to detect security measures, if an enemy spots Ethan, the player will mostly likely be forced to run away to scramble through the inventory for a gun.
It's a good thing that at least there's ample variety to the array of guns, with each having their own strength in firepower. The .45 Silenced Handgun and the Submachine Gun will take approximately three bullets to neutralize an enemy, while the Carbine Assault Rifle and the Stun Pistol will handle the job with one to two shots. There's also the Sniper Rifle, which is capable of a one-shot kill utilizing the moveable crosshairs, but in the heat of the battle this gun is generally useless. Engaging in gunfights with enemies will almost guarantee losing a good chunk of health since they pack a wallop in firepower and accuracy. In addition, towards the end of the game, the difficulty noticeably rises, as it requires more bullets to dispatch an enemy, and opportunities to perform a stealth takedown becomes almost nonexistent.
As if the aforementioned problems weren't frustrating enough, the worst flaw of MIOS is yet to come. By far the most irritating aspect of the game is the save feature. Compared to the intuitive save system on the console version, the GBA version is unorganized. In this system, there are three save slots that conveniently suit the three save points for each segment of a mission. The problem lies in the lack of one crucial save point: at the beginning of a new mission. After Ethan manages to complete the final segment of a mission, the story continues onto the next mission without a save point. This means if Ethan compromises the new mission before reaching its first save point, he must start over from the third save point of the last mission, requiring him to complete it again. To the unskilled and the unprepared this is a harsh penalty to pay, and will likely be the breaking point, causing many gamers to simply give up on the title.
Another awkward feature of the game is the way missions are handled. Mission objectives are always given through static dialog cut-scenes, which are generally extremely vague descriptions of what needs to be accomplished. The objectives will fall into these categories: a) obtain access to a room via a code card, acquiring a disguise, or hacking a computer; b) plant a sticky bomb on a designated location; and of course, the most annoying objective humanly possible, c) escort/protect a high-profile character. In general, most of the given objectives are dull and confusing. If it wern't for the game's only saving grace, the map, there wouldn't have been enough sanity left for me to write this review. The map will show where Ethan is currently located, and will highlight where he needs to go to fulfill his objective. This is extremely helpful not only in figuring out what Ethan needs to do, but also as a useful guide since each location has many accessible rooms for Ethan to easily get lost in (which makes this version a tad more non-linear than the console version).
The following description will efficiently illustrate how one section of MIOS will epitomize all the faults encompassed in this game. ***Mandatory Spoiler Alert*** It's the third save point of the mission and I must escort a scientist back to his lab in order to obtain a security key. Of course as a helpless civilian, the scientist must calmly walk instead of running, unaware that I'm under a time limit of ten minutes to complete this task. Also, if I run ahead of him to the point where he is off-screen, he will automatically stop in his tracks like a lost, frightening child. Ultimately, I get to a point where I have to disable a security camera with the Scanner and Jammer, which in essence means waiting and watching as the countdown continues to fall. I succeed in getting the scientist back to his lab, and soon thereafter finish the mission.
I quickly get tossed into a new mission, where the first objective is to disguise as the scientist and hack into the mastermind's computer security system. After the cut-scene, I abruptly discover that I must hack the computer in twenty seconds. I'm running around aimlessly, trying to find the computer when time runs out, and the mission's compromised. So I am forced to angrily redo the scientist escort objective of the last mission, and eventually fight my way back to the hacking scene. I finally figure out where the computer is, and I hack it. Alarmed, the mastermind discovers Ethan's real identity, and calls his guards. Straight out of the dialog, the then-empty room is now suddenly populated by eight guards, and then continues to open-fire at Ethan while I shuffle through the inventory looking for a decent weapon. Shortly, Ethan's killed and the mission is over. Return back to the scientist escort objective? rinse, lather, endure frustration, and repeat if desired.
This Mission: Impossible, should you choose to accept all its nuances, is still not highly recommended. The fact that this title has sub-par visuals, feasible sounds, only five missions, and an easily-forgettable story with a highly unsatisfactory ending, demands that Mission: Impossible , Operation Surma for the GBA should be passed over for the incredible lineup of other games available for the system. Wait for this one to appear in the discount rack. Transmission end.