Genre : Action Surma
Release Date: December 9, 2003
Let us take a moment, before discussing Paradigm’s new Mission: Impossible: Operation Surma, to consider the plight of the humble security guard.
Ever since the beginning of the current trend of stealth-based action games, the security guard has been the most frequently encountered antagonist. Whether he’s a simple underpaid wretch who’s making his rounds in a military base, or a highly trained soldier who’s just gotten the bad job this week, stealth-based action games dwell largely upon making the security guard die in a variety of quick and silent ways. Whether by silenced gunshot, broken neck, fractured spine, or poison dart, you have likely killed dozens of security guards in your videogame career, and you will likely kill dozens more.
So, the next time you’re silently creeping up on a security guard from behind, silenced pistol or deadly combat training at the ready, preparing to end his life, remember that the security guard is, more often than not, an unwitting tool of the establishment that you seek to destroy, and consider a nonlethal method of disabling him. Do it… for the children.
I bring this up, of course, because we’re about to talk about a video game about infiltration. In Mission: Impossible: Operation Surma, you are Ethan Hunt, the protagonist of the Mission Impossible movies, once again backed up by his posse of hackers and machine experts. To subtly keep the world safe from terrorism, Ethan is the Impossible Mission Force’s field operative, sent into enemy territory to steal information, rescue prisoners, keep track of criminals, and, really, do whatever the current situation demands.
In the thriving genre of stealth-based action, Operation Surma is heavy on the “stealth” and somewhat lighter on the “action.” Ethan’s not exactly a wimp, but humans in this game are fragile creatures, unsuited to being on the receiving end of gunplay. Therefore, as Ethan, you are encouraged to and capable of cheating like hell, dispatching enemies—and by enemies, I mean those unfortunate security guards—via silenced tranquilizer dart, stealth kills from behind or above or around a corner, or simply by punching them out. If you set off an alarm, you’ll have thirty seconds to shut it down, or your mission will end with your disavowal. This is easier said than done, since alarm consoles are few and far between, and the alarm going off usually means that two or three pistol-packing soldiers just showed up, which in turn usually means that Ethan’s dead meat.
There are occasional action levels to break up the sneaking. One mission involves covering your fellow IMF agent Jasmine, who’s found herself wounded and unarmed in the middle of an enemy base. As guards swarm the courtyard around her, Ethan has to pick them off from cover with his sniper pistol.
Once you’ve dealt with an opponent, their body can be picked up and moved to an out-of-the-way place so other guards won’t notice them, or, alternatively, you’ll sometimes need to use the corpse to circumvent a handy obstacle. An unconscious guard’s hand, for instance, can be used to open a lock with a fingerprint scanner.
You’re equipped with a variety of tools to help with such tasks, all of which have that ridiculously cinematic/futuristic glow to them. Ethan’s high-tech binoculars double as a shotgun mike and digital camera, a ridiculously small grapple gun lets him reach distant ledges and high wires, your neat little pellet gun can be used to set off car alarms and destroy security cameras, Ethan’s sporting the prequisite set of nightvision/infrared goggles for seeing in the dark and revealing hidden lasers, and on at least one mission, you’ll be tailing an enemy operative through the use of a minature flying camera referred to as the “Wasp.” Gadget freaks are hooked up.
One interesting touch, though, is that your toys aren’t really all that useful by themselves. The tranquilizer dart gun is nice and all, but you only have ten darts to go around. Ethan himself is your most potent asset, so Operation Surma is really a game that lends itself to quick wits and fast thinking. You can destroy every security camera you encounter, sure, or tranquilize guards in lieu of sneaking past them, but that approach won’t get you very far. You’ll have to start thinking in terms of distraction and stealth, sticking to the shadows and using your environment to your advantage.
The levels tend to be a bit short if you know exactly what you’re doing, but a combination of good level design and some really well-done AI gives you a variety of options. If a guard sees you at a distance, he won’t be able to recognize that you aren’t on his team, but get a little closer, and he’ll come over to investigate. You can use this to lure stray personnel into isolated corners, the better to take them out silently. Use other guards’ bodies as bait for the same purpose, or figure out what in the area can trigger a distraction.
Another thing worth mentioning is the general presentation of Operation Surma. It’s a lot cleaner-looking than PS2 games generally are, complete with facial animations for Ethan and crisp textures that don’t blur, even at range. The game’s riddled with interesting visual and vocal touches, like interactive light switches, eavesdropping on bizarre conversations (someone at Paradigm is an Office Space fan), being able to set off parked cars’ alarms, and the electrical flare of a breaking camera. It’s difficult to say much more about the graphics in an early build of the game, since quite a lot could, of course, change in the retail version, but they’re really pretty good.
In a field that’s rapidly becoming crowded, Operation Surma has the name-brand recognition it needs to stand out from the pack, but it’s got more than a license going for it. Anyone who’s interested in the silent elimination of hapless security guards—and really, who isn’t?—should keep an eye out for this one around the beginning of December.
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