A few years ago, in a review written about this very same franchise, the J Man asked an interesting question: is it possible to dislike a game for what it isn’t? Eight years after that particular game was released, Ocean released this incarnation based on the Tom Cruise movie, that 10-year-old Uncle Dave had been quite excited for, thanks to a couple of previews in Nintendo Power that basically hyped the game to be a proto-Hitman, a more non-linear game with multiple solutions to objectives that would require players to outfox their enemies and work as a team, instead of your basic action game.
Finally, after months and months of waiting, Young Uncle Dave got his hands on a copy, ready to sneak, cajole, and disguise my way across the world…and instead…we got…another average-to-above-average action game…which brings up a follow-up to J Man’s original premise: Is it wrong to dislike a game for what it isn’t that you were specifically told it would be?
Now, before I bag on Ocean for pulling a bait-and-switch, I do want to point out that what we did get is a fairly good game with some exciting moments and some innovative features. You play, mainly, as Ethan Hunt, following the general plot of the film, going from crack IMF agent to disavowed after a mission at the Russian Embassy in Prague is sabotaged by a mole, and then launching a heist against CIA headquarters to lure the traitor out in the open. There’s also a B-plot of sorts pitting you and your team against a Russian arms dealer in the Arctic, but it mainly serves to bookend the main story and flesh out the length of the game a bit.
The majority of the game is played out in a third-person perspective, mostly spent looking for important items or speaking to NPC’s to find those items, most of which are tagged on an on-screen radar, color-coded to differentiate between people, places or objects. The controls are mostly smooth, but the inventory system is separated into “weapons”, cycled by B, and “items”, cycled by Bottom C, which is clunky at first, but not unworkable, especially since neither group will ever be particularly large, at most, you’ll carry roughly two or three weapons and three or four items at most per stage. A serves as your action button, and is context sensitive, jumping, opening doors, speaking to others, and receiving messages.
It’s also worth noting that this isn’t always a run-and-gun shootout waiting to happen. There are quite a few stages where you’ll be shooting your way from objective to objective, but other times, you’ll either be unarmed, or put into a situation where whipping out a gun will cause you way more harm than good, either in the form of critical NPC’s turning guns on you or arresting you…yes…you read that right. Arresting you. There are situations in the game where enemies have the power to make you put your hands up and surrender, regardless of your health, and regardless of whether or not you’re holding a gun yourself…it’s a bit strange, to say the least, and lends itself to some unintentionally hilarious moments, but it does serve to remind you that you are meant to get in and get out without raising too much of a stink in the process.
Aesthetically, M:I isn’t exactly cutting-edge…a lot of graphic effects and sounds are recycled frequently, and most of them are just plain silly. Finishing off an enemy will result in one of three animations, an awkward “falling down” move, an exaggerated “1960’s Western” death, and a standing backflip, all accompanied by a generic “Ahhhhh” sound. All the weapons in the game are one-handed, including the rocket launcher, oddly enough. Ethan frequently spouts off barely intelligible phrases like “Yeah, that’s better!” and “GOT IT!”
Movement animations basically consist of a stereotypical “sneaking” style, a constipated power walk, or an odd-looking sprint that I’ve never, ever seen in human form, all of which look worse if the character is holding an object. For God’s sake, this game came out in 1998…and yet, the Russian Embassy still has Soviet flags, a Karl Marx bust (not to be confused with CarlMarksGuy), and houses a branch of the KGB…those can’t be written off to an attempt to conserve memory space…
M:I also suffers from one of the complaints I had about Goldeneye…for all the gadgets you’re given, most of them only have one purpose, and that purpose is usually in the form of an objective…you’ll ONLY use the video freezer at one specific surveillance system, and you’ll ONLY use the gas injector on one specific door at the Submarine Pen. Even the Facemaker, which shows up in a lot of levels, only works on one person per level…there’s no instances of taking a guard’s identity and trying to blend in on patrol, as we were told in the previews, and no possibility to maintain a disguise into another level where it may be useful…it only exists to push the story to the next point…
…And in that last paragraph lies most of my disappointment with what Mission: Impossible turned out to be. We were promised a wide-open experience, unlike anything we’d ever seen or played before, where creative problem solving was the order of the day…but, instead, we got a rather linear action game with a handful of wrinkles and the name of a successful movie behind it…however, if you went into this without crazy high expectations like I had, you’d probably at least have a bit of fun with it, and most likely wouldn’t notice most of the problems with it, unless you were looking. Ultimately, despite the wide gap between expectations and reality, it’s not a terrible game, and in the fifteen years since its release, I’ve made my peace with it and learned to appreciate it for what it is.
Can be innovative at times, enough variety of gameplay to not get terribly bogged down.
Not nearly as innovative as what we were promised, graphics and sound feel very much unfinished.