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Mission Impossible: Operation Surma

It’s night, and you’re on board a helicopter. The pilot hands you a tape machine, and pressing the only button it starts to play. “Agent 6FPQ3, your mission, if you wish to accept it, is to retrieve the Russian satellite disk. Stolen from government offices in Kuwait, we need it back before the terrorists take over the world. Survive by stealth and pick up weapons as you go. That is all. This tape will self destruct in five seconds”. Chucking the tape out of the window, it’s time to prepare. Climbing down the rope ladder into the top secret and heavily guarded Russian base, you’re now on your own. A radio link to HQ is the only contact with the outside world, and with no weapons you must fight to survive. Hide in the shadows, stealthily kill guards and drag away their bodies, steal weapons and decode security doors. No, this isn’t a voiceover for the new Steven Seagal film, it’s the backdrop for Atari’s new title Mission Impossible: Operation Surma. Thankfully, the lead character looks nothing like Tom Cruise, and is instead one of those heartthrobs your mum would swoon at.

Now ill admit straight away; I’m no fan of the films, and have a pet hate for Tom Cruise. No, I’m not one of those weirdo’s who fancy the twiglet-like legs of his ex wife Nicole Kidman (I can’t stand her either), and neither do I wish I had his bank balance. Just look at most of the film roles he has taken on; he was a racing driver, a pretty successful racing driver. Going through a rough patch in which his life falls down around him, he meets a girl who helps him rebuild his reputation, and goes on to become a good racing driver again. Then he was a cocktail maker, a pretty good cocktail maker. Going through a rough patch in which his life falls down around him, he meets a girl who helps him rebuild his reputation, and goes on to become a good cocktail maker again. Then he was a pilot…

However, Atari have done well by purchasing just the film license and not the floppy-haired-now-skin head’s name. By creating their own lead character gamers have the chance to familiarise themselves with him, whereas if I had to control Tom “don’t look me in the eye because it might spook me and I’ll end up spilling the beans on my already obvious plot for my new movie” Cruise then I’d just wander about fearlessly in front of guards in order to get shot. In the head. Many times.

In true Mission Impossible style, the opening movie has viewers just waiting in anticipation for the infamous line ‘your mission, if you choose to accept it’, and after a chilling underwater adventure our new hero finds the tape recorder. It’s here when fans will swoon and those annoying people who love to recite words from films they’ve seen before will spoil the experience. Again. As the story goes, the ‘shadowy international conglomerate’ Surma have developed a powerful and highly advanced computer virus known as the Ice Worm. Bypassing and slicing through every security system developed, this group is able to hack in and steal information from the military, including mission data, secrets and weapon technology. The whole scam is unearthed when a well planned operation is scuppered and sabotaged, in which our new better-than-Tom-Cruise hero (Ethan Hunt) and his Impossible Mission Force are drafted in and dumped into the unknown, with the hard task of tracking down the bad guys and the Ice Worm technology. With no guns. Or fancy gadgets like 007. Or those cheeky catchprases. This is the grown ups version of Bond, just like beer is the adult version of penny sweets to kids, minus the hang over. Ooh yeah.

The first thing worth telling you about is how crap the opening movie looks. The screenshots from the actual game engine are fuzzed up and look incredibly like a PSOne title. Standing amongst the crowd inside a GAME store in sunny Darlington, watching this opening clip was murderous, just knowing I’d have to touch it when I get back home. Luckily, the way the clip grabs the player is very well planned out, as it starts off all quiet and innocent, in a professional way. A heartbeat vibrates as you see the character sneak about on screen, infiltrating a terrorist camp. Next minute, the drums kick in, and a more modern version of ‘dum dum, dum dum dum dum, dum dum dum dum, dum dum dum dum, dum dum nun nun nur, nun nun nur, nun nun nur, nur nur’ blares out. It’s almost enough to make you diddle in your pants, and I loved it. Rock on dudes! The main menu screen is a rather fetching shade of orange, with the background changing to show different poses of our hero. One he’s pressed up against a wall, then has a guard by the neck, next he’s kicking a foe in the mush (Matrix style, I might add) and to cap it off, the infamous stance of laying flat in mid-air, with the rope keeping you from falling. This is cool, it tempts people in, and with the mix of air guitar-inducing music clips and drumming bits that’ll have you slamming your palms on every flat surface within three feet. It’s a f***ing good way to start a game.

The first level is the usual training affair, with the developers giving you a fighting chance by giving a tutorial filled with everything you’ll need. Turn the camera with the right thumbstick, move with the left, stealth by tapping the left trigger, activate stuff with Y and climb objects by running into them. Very easy to learn. After making your way to the first door, you are faced with the dilemma of passing two patrolling guards. Whilst being stealthy means hiding in the shadows until they pass, there’s no place for Manhunt fans who would just love to run out behind them and kick their victims to death whilst holding a plastic bag over their face. Instead you have to resist the urge and hide, before turning the corner and kicking the next mush in the back of the head and taking him into the shadows for a good rummage. The next section is spent familiarising you with the many gadgets that an IMT (Impossible Mission Team) agent will come across, which includes a cool sonic imager. Go to a door and you can see through it for hidden dangers, like guard’s ponsing around or camera’s waiting to record your moves for a second-rate late night television show. The end of this section turns into a proper objective, with Ethan required to snap pictures of some data towers. Doing this gives you the binoculars, which have received some fine attention to detail from the developers, which stretches far beyond the usual ‘zoom in, zoom out’ functions in other stealth titles. This beauty has a built in camera, scanner, information thingy (you lock onto something in the environment and by pressing B a reel of information pops up), a distant noise detector and three, yes three levels of zoom. So spot a distant guard banging his bishop and you can get a dirty photo to send to his mother, close up noises of him panting, a table of information telling you the facts of life plus three levels of zoom to delve right in there with him. But why would you? Attention to detail with the scope is outstanding too, as when you look at an object in the foreground the landscape behind it goes fuzzy, much like a camcorder and TV camera’s do to focus your attention. It’s little tings like that which win over critics, including me. The best gadget of all has to be the micro cord, though. Aim at a pipe on the side of a building and the thing locks on and shoots a wire at it, propelling you to new heights. Shuffle along over a guard and release to knock him out by landing your fat, hairy arse on his head. Nasty.

So you’ve probably guessed by now that Mission Impossible requires stealth, and a hefty amount of it too. However, there’s only so many times that gadgets will escort you round trouble, and when everything else fails you must stand up and fight. Now usually when games have a single button for fighting, things start to get messy. A short burst of button bashing should suffice to kill or severely injure an opponent, but in this title there is no need. This guy is a professional espionage agent, after all. Standing still and pressing A will throw your standard punch, a quick few presses and you can get a good three-hit combo together, which can floor and enemy. If you prefer the more extreme, however, then run and hit the attack button to witness a wonderfully crafted flying kick. Thankfully, doing so on target or near about on your foe will result in a hit, whereas previous attempts from other games meant you needed to be spot on to score a hit. When your opponent is floored and scrambling to get a hold of himself, standing over him results in a finishing move, rather like the punch you do in Tekken when someone is floored and you jump into the air and land in a crouching position with the fist in their face. Also, like Manhunt and Splinter Cell before it, you must hide the bodies in shadows so patrolling guards don’t alert a whole team of searchers to hunt you down. Plus if you just left a mound of rotting flesh on the ground, anyone could fall over it and that would be a health and safety hazard. And we wouldn’t want anyone getting injured, do we guys and girls?

The way each individual mission is structured is quite clever too. Because you have an aim to end the game (which is to capture the disk) there are no two ways to which you can finish a level, which makes them very linear. But the arenas themselves are very big like Halo, which means you can strafe around the edges of a map and flank enemies, or go through the middle and dodge guards whilst hiding behind objects. And of course, there’s always a conveniently placed pipe to hang from. There are bits which feature small corridors, it just has too otherwise the environments wouldn’t make sense (you’re in a bad guys hideaway for god’s sake, not an open field), but the way the corridors have filing cabinets or pillars placed makes it so you are never out in the open for long. Add to that dark halls to hide in, over-lit areas to be seen and shot in and each area becomes much more exciting. But just as you think you have the upper hand, in flood the guards. Again, things are made easier with patrol paths, which means you can spend a few minutes watching for when they have their back turned for a few seconds, leaving them open for a punch in the mush. A bit of a let down though is the guards seem a tad thick. Whilst they will see you from a good distance, shout for help and chase you down, they sometimes fail to spot you coming down a staircase (it’s as if they can only see someone on the same level as themselves; born without necks to look up or down) or if you run around a corner and into the shadows, they fail to spot the obvious and just stand by the edge of the shadow waiting for you to come out. After a while they seem to get bored and forget about it, just walking away. But this only happened a few times, and thankfully isn’t something you will see very often, nor does it detract from the playing experience.

The exciting, gripping and equally challenging gameplay is complemented by very nice graphics. Using the Xbox’s power to Atari’s advantage, the detail on objects is impressive. For example, the winch gear on Ethans body actually stands out as if it were there, rather than past attempts of ‘painting’ the gear onto the body. People themselves look believable, although a tad uninspiring. The detail on faces is good enough to see the eyes move and the mouth open (albeit not very wide) but doesn’t look as impressive as, say, Splinter Cell. The area’s in which you play look very nice too, convincing the player that they really are in a top-secret base. Pillars aren’t just lumps of concrete with the sheer purpose of offering cover from gunfire and the sight of an enemy, but have those slanted black and yellow warning stripes painted or stuck on, and are placed to both give cover and hold up the roof above. However there are places which look unconvincing, where there is no texture on a wall or flagstones on a path look painted on rather than raised up with the cement filling in the cracks. Sure it’s picky, but when you’re hiding for your life from an enemy you’ll also notice these things. So whilst there are touches of brilliance, there are a few little niggles which bring you back down to earth, none of which however will detract much from the overall experience.

I’ll own up and admit it; I didn’t honestly think Mission Impossible: Operation Surma would stand a chance, and was putting on my goggles and mittens for protection against the inevitable slagging off. The first area you will encounter, for example, looks too much like something from 007 Agent Under Fire. The railings look out of place, buildings too square and the route too linear. It’s after disposing of the first enemy with a satisfying punch to the face that this love of tactical espionage begins, as you discover the art of running towards a gun-firing guard, doing a forward roll to dodge the bullets then lunging forward in a flying kick to knock him to the ground. After the first level, the controls seem to gel into your hand, and soon you’ll be ducking and diving Steven Seagal style between empty oil drums, taking out guards from behind and dropping in from above. Whilst little niggles like questionable guard AI and the occasional clipping occurring in the scenery, MIOS is a very enjoyable title which hands out tons of fun along with plenty of challenge, both physically (stealth etc) and mentally (finding ways of how to get past trip lasers and locked gates) without cranking up the difficulty too much. The kids will love foiling yet another mad mans plans to take over the world, and oldies will revel in the rocked-up title music and ‘impossible’ difficulty mode.

Now stand back; this review will self destruct in five seconds

8 out of 10

The author of this fine article

is a Senior Staff Writer at Thunderbolt, having joined in June 2002.

Gentle persuasion

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