Reviewed: January 3, 2004
Released: December 12, 2003
A Nintendo gamer by choice (or rather financial fate) I only have access to my GBA and a GameCube so when Mission Impossible: Operation Surma released on the PS2 and Xbox I was undeniably envious. I am a huge MI fan, both of the original series and the Tom Cruise flicks. I even watch Revenge of the Nerds just for the panty raid sequence set to the MI theme song.
I was surprised to learn that Operation Surma was coming out for the GBA and understandably curious as to how this big budget console game would make the port to the handheld system. Since I havenít experienced the console versions I canít really make any direct comparisons but I did enjoy my time with this game Ė perhaps a bit more than I should have.
Operation Surma puts you in the role of Ethan Hunt, once again tasked with saving the world, this time from a secret organization capable of breaking into any secured building in the world. As always, if you get caught playing this game Atari will disavow any knowledge that it exists.
The part I liked best about the original MI television series was the cooperative teamwork required to carry out these ďimpossible missionsĒ. This carried over into the first movie but MI:2 lost a lot of this team aspect and the game devolves further into a one-man show. Ethan has the ability to work indirectly with his team via static cutscenes but these arenít that interesting or even interactive.
Before each mission you are briefed on your goals and objectives with more generic cutscenes of the slideshow variety. It gets the job done but certainly not with any futuristic or high-tech flair.
Missions revolve around lots of stealth tactics and gameplay including a sneak attack that can quickly and silently dispatch most enemies. The only problem with this move is that you are usually spotted before you can execute the attack and will lose most of your life before you can equip a weapon and return fire. Ethan has plenty of Bond-like gadgets, but most of the time relies on his firearm and multi-purpose gun to get him through most encounters.
Gadgets include a gun that accepts various types of ammo to stun or kill guards. You can tag a person then track them with the tracking device and there is a scanner that locates important items. You can disable cameras with the video jammer and even make use of those famous rubber masks to disguise yourself and slip through secured areas. The gadgets all work but they just arenít very exciting to use. Itís all matter-of-fact presentation like using your Swiss army knife to open a can of beans and eat them with the attached spoon.
There are some control issues that will take you about an hour to master. Most of the first mission acts as a tutorial and you will likely die often and repeat it many times before you figure everything out. After than, the gameplay evens out while remaining quite challenging.
The game tries to emulate Metal Gear Solid with its stealth aspects, but the levels force you to remain exposed for extended periods, and even if you are spotted by a guard or a camera the results arenít as profound as they should be.
Operation Surma is certainly a bright and colorful game, which is a direct contradiction to the dark and stealthy gameplay. The top-down view works well enough but the camera angle and the colors had me thinking I was playing a sophisticated remake of Gauntlet at times.
The animation is very nice, especially for Ethan or slinks around very smoothly. There are nice animated sprites and backgrounds but for the most part the game is just slightly above-average and doesnít really compare with some of the other games we are seeing on the GBA around this same time.
The music is both annoying and repetitive, not good for a game that takes several hours to finish. The sound effects are technically accurate but not very loud and often get lost in the haze of music or perhaps the noise around you unless you are wearing headphones.
Much like the graphics, the GBA is capable of so much more in the sound department and itís a shame to see the MI license frittered away on a lackluster port.
You can expect 4-5 hours of gameplay with Operation Surma and there is no real reason to come back for more. With no multiplayer modes this game has a relatively short lifespan and overall value that makes it a decent weekend rental for true MI fans but something most of us can skip. There are multiple skill levels that will increase the challenge making the game nearly impossible to win (thus the name), but the actually gameplay never changes.
Mission Impossible: Operation Surma tries to fill a noticeable gap in the GBA library but ends up providing a mild diversion rather than the full-blown, stealth, spy-thriller it could have been. At times I had fun, but most of the time I was turned off by the frustrating gameplay and slow pacing of the action. There is nothing more demoralizing than slowly sneaking up on a guard only to have him turn and kill you almost instantly, wasting all your previous efforts.
MI fans will certainly find enough gameplay here to warrant a rental or discount purchase. I canít really recommend a full-price purchase since the game is just so short. Unless you enjoy replaying the same game over and over with increasing difficulty, this is a one-shot title and probably one that most GBA owners should just skip.