There’s nothing especially good about Mission: Impossible. Yet whenever I plug in the Nintendo 64, this cartridge quickly finds its way into the system. Then I’m in. Getting past some of the vaguely-explained objectives, dated look and ill-conceived gameplay, some inexplicable nostalgia sets in and I begin to enjoy what is ultimately a mediocre third-person shooter.
Licensed games in the 90’s were inconsistent, at best. With the technology finally being good enough that developers would often try replicating films on consoles, many did. Mission: Impossible wasn’t one of those games. Thing is, an adaptation of a good movie doesn’t need to follow in the film’s footsteps exactly. Often, when games establish a strong appreciation for their source material and forge their own path from there, it results in a far better product.
That’s ultimately where Mission: Impossible wins me over. Unlike the PlayStation port that followed, the Nintendo 64 version had limited voice-acting. Only a couple of actors from the film were brought in for the voice work, neither of them being Tom Cruise. So Ethan Hunt’s quips are minimal and most of the in-game dialogue is read. Cut-scenes, however, are completely voiced, presenting a solid set-up for each mission, similar to those seen in the first film.
What firmly sells the game as a successful adaptation is the use of the recognizable music. In some levels, there’s ambient noise and music, such as the piano player in the Czechoslovakian embassy and a range of tracks that suit the theme of espionage nicely.
Much like Brian DePalma’s film, Mission: Impossible isn’t very good, but I can’t help but have some level of admiration for what it attempts. Think of it as a middle-of-the-road stopping off point between the quality of Winback and Metal Gear Solid and you get the picture. Somehow the game manages to convey stealth handily, presenting itself as a welcome alternative to James Bond while being less bombastic than Metal Gear Solid (but isn’t everything?)
Its immediately apparent entering into the first level – a Russian base packed with snow – that all of the ideas weren’t fully fleshed out. Dropped off by fellow IM Force agents, the idea is simple. You’re given the objective of assuming the identity of a Russian guard, introducing the role of the Face Maker (as seen in the film) and reconvening with IMF agents at a convoy. Playing through on the impossible difficulty tacks on a side-objective – destroying a generator. The remainder of the game plays out in this straightforward manner, taking liberties with the plotline where necessary.
Mission: Impossible hits the notes of an honest video game based on a summer blockbuster. There aren’t many refined stealth elements. The only stealth involved might be waiting for a guard to pass to disable an item or deal in information with one of Ethan’s associates. Somehow it works. The NPCs aren’t very clever here; they won’t take any special interest in Ethan if he’s more than several yards away and will quickly return to whatever they were doing if he runs away. The less action-oriented sequences are more demanding of stealth, often requiring the player to figure out some objectives through trial and error. These missions represent Mission: Impossible at its best and worst. Stealth-oriented sections tend to be the most atmospheric, providing the most depth for characters and amusing dialogue, but also relay the game’s linear nature. You complete the objectives and there’s nothing left to do but move on. Rinse and repeat over the course of twenty levels across five locations.
The most noticeable flaws are gameplay-related. On the run and need to change your weapon? Ethan has to stop, reach for the weapon, pull it out, then is free to continue. Jumping has a similar effect, pausing the character briefly when landing. Camera perspectives can be changed from behind-the-back to overhead, jumping to over-the-shoulder when Ethan goes to shoot. Lining up the crosshairs with your target is often less effective than running towards them and mashing the Z trigger. Following this tradition, controlling your avatar is more difficult than it needs to, never feeling as though his movements are meant for the environment surrounding him. It’s more than a little sloppy.
Still, there’s something implicitly likeable here. Mission: Impossible is a good game in the way Tom Cruise is a good actor. Sporadic yet enjoyable in a way that isn’t quantifiable and when broken into parts, may no longer seem reasonable. However, I still keep going back to the game, reliving the years when I didn’t know any better and might’ve called Mission: Impossible a pretty good film. And over a decade later – despite knowing better – I still think this is a relatively solid game. The mistake most people made coming into this was expecting that it would be comparable to Goldeneye, an unfair standard considering that this is a stealth/action-adventure title, rather than an FPS. Now that the 007 expectation no longer has a hold, Mission: Impossible is well-worth a second look.