Mission Impossible: Operation Surma is a fairly decent attempt at making a game based on the highly successful Mission Impossible franchise. As we all know that the old TV show got a new lick of paint in not one, but two films, one of them directed by John Woo and both of them starring Tom Cruise. Atari have been having some hit and miss games of late, but they look as though they're heading back towards the top with titles such as this and Driver 3 up their collective sleeves.
Developed by Paradigm Entertainment, the game takes place in the murky world that our other stealth heroes, Sam Fisher and Solid Snake know so well.
Good Morning Mr. Hunt...
A shadowy international conglomerate possesses a very dangerous virus, known collectively as the Ice Worm. It's a 'slicer' Worm that can bypass the most advanced of security and sneak in, steal military research and weapons research from the West. Enter Ethan Hunt and the Impossible Mission Force (Foundation) on a specific mission, but they soon discover that the IMF's ultra-secure database has been hacked and compromised, putting Ethan in serious danger. Ethan with help from his team must track down the people behind the sabotage and recover the Ice Worm at all costs - this review will self destruct in five seconds...
Third person stealth/action/adventure is the order of the day and in a much similar vein to the two great games of our time: Splinter Cell and Metal Gear Solid 2 with a dash of its own little inventive quirks and innovations. First of all, you're armed with a diverse array of pretty useful and very neat gadgets - and if those fail, you can always go head to head/toe-to-toe with the enemy since Ethan has some rudimentary martial arts training and combat skill.
Most of the time you're sneaking around and pulling off various kinds of stealth related moves, sticking to shadows and the like. My problem is that I'm used to the shadows in SC and these don't quite work the same way. Why the developers didn't go the route of dynamic shadows instead of particular /areas/ you can hide in, I don't know. But it's only a minor niggle and the game does become more challenging because of it.
It's pretty much in the same vein as SC however and the gameplay is pretty solid, with the other little innovations that make it much more enjoyable.
Of course, sometimes stealth fails and you need to use your other weapons, often Ethan can pick up a pistol and turn that on his enemies. In most missions you have a default set of things and more can be acquired as and when the mission dictates, this whole approach means that you don't have an insane inventory and you don't need to try too many objects to find the right one that works.
You can switch from gun to martial arts in the blink of an eye and time pauses when you change your inventory as well, this means you can take a bit of a breather and assess the situation. Most of the Missions in MI are stealth based, sneak around and do various spy like things, but some of them just call for brute force - kill anything that moves in any way possible.
Slow Motion Stuff and Fun things to do
Call it Slo-Mo call it Bullet Time, call it Terry if you like, the fact remains that it's been implemented into the game to heighten the sense of film-like visual action. But does it work? Yes it does and it works pretty well. The cut-away cameras can be triggered by holding down the A button when you launch into your various hand to hand attacks, during a stealth kill and when you drop from a bar above and enemy or attack them from around a wall.
Pressing the A button 3 times in a row causes Ethan to lay the smackdown on an enemy, or if you're running at the same time you'll launch into a flying kick with a single tap of the button. Hold the button down and you'll get a slow motion view of Ethan's boot-to-head action, highly satisfying.
When your hapless foe is on the floor, you can tap the button again to lay into them some more with a quick jump-punch attack that takes them out of the fight for good. If you press and hold A you'll also get this attack in slow-motion too.
Stealth kills have been implemented for those folk that like this kind of thing, and there seem to be a couple that the game picks from depending who you're trying to kill. Ethan being a good guy and all round nice person won't kill innocents, but he will render them unconscious ala SC with a swift whup to the back of the head etc. You can perform a stealth attack in three different ways.
Behind: Ethan will attack the foe from the rear and take them out with style and sometimes a great deal of pain, with just a single A button tap.
Around the Corner: Ethan hugs the wall and you time your button A press as they're about to turn the corner, you should see the stealth kill icon light up as well. Ethan will leap around the corner and take them out.
From Above: If you're on a pipe or other such useful overhang and the enemy happens to be passing below you, you'll see the icon for a stealth attack light up, a simple press of the A or B button will send Ethan flying down to land nicely on them as they pass - they'll never know what hit them.
Ethan can also /grab/ foes with a quick press of the black button, they can then be forced to open handprint locked doors and other such things. You can press the black button again to release the guard, or you can press the A button to release the guard into a state of unconsciousness. Ethan can also hide and carry bodies, which is vital in some places.
What Spy game would be complete without the usual array of hi-tech toys that appeal to the fans of the genre? Well, MI does not disappoint in that area and here's why.
IMF Contact Lenses: Ethan comes equipped with a pair of natty contact lenses that have a night vision mode. Useful for seeing things like laser tripwires. They also come built in with a small mini-mission-map. The map shows room layouts and salient features/objectives - when tagged with tracking darts enemies can be monitored also. Luther will often update this map with other objectives as the mission unfolds.
WASP: A mini kind of helicopter that has a stun gun attachment, it can get places where Ethan can't and often features in some of the game's trickier missions.
Masks: The IMF will often make a mask for Ethan to wear, to outwit and confuse his opposition and these crop up now and then in the game.
Micro-cord: A great little gadget that can be used to get up high onto a pipe or to relieve those MI movie moments when Tom Cruise is suspended above the computer. It can be toggled when attached properly between a vertical and horizontal mode - this comes into its own later in the game when you have to access several computer hard-drives in a special system.
Digital Binoculars: A multi function pair of binocs that allows Ethan to view areas from a distance to scout, or to listen in on distant conversations and take Digital Photographs of various objectives.
ELP (Electronic Lock Pick): Useful for opening electronic or specially locked doors, the device is context sensitive so it will apply the appropriate ELP to the right situation. If you trigger an alarm and a panel is nearby - you may also use the ELP to shut off the alarm, but you only have a small amount of time to hack the panel.
Laser Cutter: If the ELP can't unlock a door, then the Laser Cutter just might. It's as small as a maglight and packs quite a beam into the compact frame.
RCV (Remote Camera Viewer): Once Luther has hacked the security system you can use the RCV to look through those cameras, making your job that much easier and checking various rooms for clues and objectives.
Sonic Imager: Fisher has his optical door scope; Ethan has the Sonic Imager, which allows him to look through some doors and walls to see what's on the other side. Extremely useful if there's a guard behind a door, since Ethan can kick the door open and apply boot-to-the-head action!
Guns, we need lots of guns, and I personally have one favourite amongst these weapons and no, it's not the Sniper Pistol, although that is pretty fun to use.
Tranq Gun: As the name suggests, this gun fires a dart coated with a knock-out drug, onset is quick and the opposition is rendered unconscious without harm.
Electronic Warfare Gun: This gun is capable of firing darts that embed a tiny microchip onto their target, allows the IMF Contact Lenses to monitor their position and movements. Embed into a surface and draw a guard's attention, prior to vanishing in a harmless puff of smoke, or fire a hacking device that allows Luther to hack a functioning security camera.
Pistol: Standard issue for the IMF.
Sniper Pistol: A Hi-calibur pistol equipped with an optical scope, this is the choice weapon for the IMF agent who wants to take people down from a distance, but doesn't need a bulky sniper rifle.
FAAR-7: I've nicknamed this gun the RoboCop pistol because it's a high-power, rapid fire, ammo guzzling monster - however this is my all time favourite weapon in the game, and it makes lots of things very dead - very fast.
Graphics and Models
MI isn't a bad game for graphics and the character models are pretty good, it has some nice lighting effects and some very nice spot effects. The implementation of the night vision and laser trip effects could do with some tweaking, but overall it's a nice mix. Textures don't seem to warp and there's been a decent level of graphical quality applied over all, a little more to the actual models than the rooms and level design however. The enemy models are pretty good, with a decent variation between certain levels as you progress, you will find that the further you go however some of the faces look awfully familiar, but we can't complain about that since these are mook guards.
Weapons and gadgets have some nice designs and they look functional, the level of detail on some of them could have been a bit better and the textures on some of the guns do look a bit drab, but all in all, I can't grumble too much about it.
Plus, they have Ving Rhames likeness in the game too...but he's the only one they have, I don't know why and I don't think I want to speculate, but Tom Cruise was however involved somewhere along the line, but neither his voice or likeness appear in the game.
Level and Mission Design
MI features some decent level design and the various areas that you visit are pretty well realised, the puzzles are nice in places and there's a certain IMF feel about the game that will have you humming the remixed and jazzed up theme for days to come. There are enough 'COOL' moments that make the player smile, such as when you first come across the hard drive hacking section, it might make you swear and complain, but when you get into the swing of things (No pun intended) you'll find that the Mission isn't that Impossible at all. The level design isn't quite up to the standard of games like Splinter Cell but it does the job and you can't fault it for that.
The missions aren't all the same either, there's a number of surprises that force an almost stealth mission into another direction, and this is a welcome change of pace to see. It breaks the gameplay up nicely and I can say that I was able to finish the game, after some hair pulling in places - and the whole thing was pretty well worth it.
It's not really a mega-long game, but for me it was long enough, I would have liked to see more...but my problem is, no game is really long enough for me these days and the rewards are always negligible when you complete them.
Nothing much I can say about most of it, it's adequate, apart from near the end of the game when there's just one Cut-Scene that had me grinning like the wolf I am, I won't say which one, but it has to be one of the coolest escapes for a game character ever and that's all I am going to say on it.
Argh, this is my major gripe with the game to be blunt, at times the AI seems almost superhuman sense wise, and can often spot you when a normal man would have the trouble seeing that far on a clear day if you were wearing a bright green jump suit and had a sign that said: ETHAN IS HERE on it.
In combat however they seem to pretty ok, they're not as dumb as rocks, and they're not super elite Ninja GunKata wannabees as well. Which is nice to see, but I still reckon the AI needed a few more tweaks.
The music is context sensitive and if you do something seriously wrong or you're in a stressful situation, the remixed MI theme kicks in and your heart starts pounding, I have no complaints or overtly praiseworthy things to say about it, apart from the fact that it should have come as a CD with the game!
Ving Rhames as Luther! What more do you want or need, this has to be one of the best things to come to the industry since...since...they got Tony Jay to do the voice of the Elder God in Soul Reaver. Ving delivers his lines perfectly and hearing him somewhat spoils it for the rest of the cast, but they do a good job, no amazing performances from anyone - but you don't need award winning dialogue or performance in a video game - it's easy enough to listen to, the script's pretty good and that's all that matters to me.
Hits and Misses
Someone should take the best bits of MI, combine them with the power of the SC engine and perhaps throw in Hideo Kojima's sense of direction to the whole thing. Now that would be a game made in the dreams of rabid reviewers like me, MI comes so close to being one of the best games but a slightly fiddly camera, a simple combat system and a few minor niggles with the game's engine let it down. However, don't let this put you off if you're a fan of this genre and the movies or old TV show, this is a worthy addition to the franchise, it's just not a ground breaking game by a long shot.
The uppers are certainly that there's a lot to do in mission and the varied tasks are fun and at times highly challenging. There are a lot of weapons, gadgets and toys to keep the MI fans happy and you do have the mighty Ving Rhames to guide you through the tasks. There are some cool puzzles and entertaining Cut-Scenes.
Downers: This game needed a better gun combat system and a more fluid martial arts element, but what they do have works fairly well and doesn't detract too much from the overall experience - the AI needed to be dumber in regards to being able to spot you in a so-called dark area, from the equivalent of half a mile away at times. Game needed to be longer and some missions were too short.