Genre : Action
Release Date: December 2, 2003
Mission Impossible: Operation Surma has released on all three major platforms, and as with most major multi-platform releases from major publishers (Atari, in this case), had a Gameboy Advance version - I stress the word "version", as it is by no means a port. Sometimes the GBA gets gems out of these home console to portable transitions, such as Rockstar's Max Payne remake or THQ/Sega's wonderful Jet Grind Radio revision. Mission Impossible games haven't been the greatest in the past, and while the cheap Splinter Cell carbon copies that were the home console versions of Operation Surma were a massive step up from the extremely below-average older games, they still aren't what I would consider to be "high-quality gaming". With a relatively low level of expectations to live up to thanks to the mediocrity of its big brothers, does the GBA version of Mission Impossible: Operation Surma make the cut?
This game is a wreck from the very beginning - we're talking "Ford Pinto versus a Hummer"-level wreck. A boring, ugly, nonsensical - and did I mention ugly? - cutscene makes a sad attempt at setting up the story by showing ugly 8-bit era graphics punctuated by badly written sentences that attempt to explain what Ethan and company are trying to accomplish. I could not follow any of it. To figure out what was going on, I pulled the manual out of the box, but it wasn't much help either. Apparently, it has something to do with two separate "enemy organizations" that have broken into a maximum-security prison and an "advanced weapons facility". They have the ability to make keys that can unlock all of the "highest security complexes in the world at will". Ethan's mission? To stop these two "enemy organizations" from selling keys. That's what I gathered, at least. It's laughable, at best.
The game is split up into five separate missions, though none of them are really that different from each other. Players struggle with the controls to guide our hero Ethan Hunt from room to room, doing whatever his boss commands in a series of interruptions that the manual refers to as "cutscenes" (they are actually nothing more than a static, pixilated drawing of a man with badly written text underneath). Trying to accomplish the most simple of tasks, such as walking through a closed door, is unnecessarily difficult. Ethan must be positioned perfectly for the door to be opened, else he simply stands against it like a mannequin. Navigating from room to room should never be this hard.
Attacking enemies is another arduous task, thanks mostly to the extremely primitive inventory system. The L button scrolls through the inventory, and whatever is selected is what you have equipped - no ifs, ands, or buts about it. If you need to put on a disguise in order to make it past a few enemies, you cannot equip a gun at the same time. If, for some reason (and this does happen, inexplicably), an enemy or two decides to open fire upon you even though you are disguised as one of their own, you'll have two options: run up to the enemies and attack with your bare hands, or take off your disguise to return fire, which causes the rest of the (non-buggy) guards to realize you are, in fact, not a member of their "enemy organization". It is hard to say why the AI in this game behaves in the way it does, but I can say that it, in combination with the terrible controls and the absolutely horrible inventory system, helps make Operation Surma one of the worst games I've played in the past year - perhaps even the worst I've played this entire decade so far.
Each of the five missions has the same formula - try to make sense of what the "cutscenes" are telling you to do, make a sorry attempt at actually doing it, and every once in a while, saving. That brings us up to another issue I have with the extremely unpolished feel of this game: saving. Thankfully, the game is not based around a password-save system (there has been too much of that lately), but the way it does work is nearly as annoying. You cannot save at any time, but instead are, without warning, presented with a black screen asking you to save. It's not that this is ineffective, it just shows how little effort Atari put into developing this game. Some would say the development team who worked on this game "has no class". I would have to agree with that sentiment.
The graphics are, as you have probably assumed by now, utterly atrocious. They are almost down to the level of quality that the NES pushed out on a good day, but still not anywhere near what we expected from the 16-bit generation, never mind a 32-bit 2D handheld like the Gameboy Advance! The character sprites are blurry, and the backgrounds are nearly flat-shaded, with little to no presence of impressive shading or lighting techniques. The animations are extremely simplistic, with just enough frames to make something look like it is "moving", but not enough to make it look like it is doing whatever action it is supposed to be doing. Overall, this is definitely the worst looking game I've played this year.
The sound is on the same level as the graphics. It exists, but it barely manages to do that right. The music is a few repetitive, badly covered bits of the Mission Impossible theme. The sounds are a collection of slapping and crunching noises. All of it sounds like it came from a bad Master System title that wasn't allowed to sit in the bargain bin with the rest of the games.
Mission Impossible: Operation Surma is a complete failure in terms of presenting an enjoyable gaming experience. It does qualify as a "video activity", but using the word "game" would be giving this horrible release too much credit. I cannot say much more about this game, with one exception: if money is involved in your acquirement of this game, I pity you.
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