Wednesday, September 14, 2011

N64 Month: Mission Impossible

Mission: Impossible
  • Publisher: Ocean (N64), Infogrames (PS1)
  • Developer: Infogrames (N64), X-ample (PS1)
  • Release: 
    • Nintendo 64, 18 July 1998
    • PlayStation, 23 November 1999
  • Genre: Action
  • Players: 1
  • Save:
    • Battery/4 files (N64)
    • Password, Memory Card/1 block (PS1)
  • Rarity/Cost:
    • N64: Common (US$5-10)
    • PS1: Common (US$5-20)

This article was updated on 19 August 2013.

The loss of many key franchises was a detriment to the success of the Nintendo 64.  One of them is Metal Gear, the "Tactical Espionage Action" series.  To be honest, the franchise had existed before and wasn't that much of a hit until Metal Gear Solid released as a PlayStation exclusive, but when it hit, it hit big.  I have played it later on, and it was such a wonderful experience that I feel sorry for all those N64 fanboys who refused to add to their interests (and still do so).  But, fortunately for them, we got the next best thing: Mission: Impossible.

The older readers of this blog would recognise Mission: Impossible as a TV series from the 60s and 80s, starring the recently-deceased Peter Graves as Jim Phelps, point man for the non-governmental agency IMF (Impossible Mission Force). Phelps would accomplish missions by assembling a team of specialists and tricking information out of their adversaries.  For this reason, Mission: Impossible was different from other spy-fiction TV shows of the '60s.  However, this game is based instead on the 1996 movie, a reboot directed by Brian de Palma of Scarface fame. The movie passes the protagonist mantle onto Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise), who loses his team in an ill-fated mission and must work outside his agency in order to take revenge and save the world while at it. So far the four-entry series has a good critical reputation, with the exception of the John Woo-directed M:I 2.

This game's 20 missions are divided into five acts, and share numerous key scenes from the film, including the Russian embassy in Prague, the CIA headquarters, and the train from London to Paris.  The story is also the same.  The CIA has this thing called Non-Official Cover list, or NOC list, which lists all of their undercover agents in eastern Europe.  And wouldn’t you know it, half of the list got leaked onto the open market!  So the IMF organise a mission to steal it back from the Russian embassy. In addition, the movie-based content is bookended by original scenarios set in an arctic base and concerning the misadventures of Basil Prokosh, an ex-Soviet wannabe warlord.  So, like Goldeneye, it's not a 100% faithful adaptation, but the changes they did make only help the story from a gameplay perspective.

You have to follow objectives in a strict order.
While I likened this game to the N64's counterpart to Metal Gear Solid, it plays more like Goldeneye in a number of different respects.  There are two difficulty levels, here named "Possible" and "Impossible", and on the harder setting, not only are enemies stronger and equipment scarcer, but additional objectives must be completed. Each mission has a series of objectives that must be cleared, and in many cases, you must complete some objectives within a specific order before you can even attempt to clear others. It's painfully easy to forget a step or two, so learn to use your radar in order to find them. Green dots are people, red dots are items you can pick up, and white dots are places where you can use those items.  However, killing the wrong person or destroying the wrong object could prevent you from moving on, forcing you to restart.  If a guard sees you doing something suspicious, that's a Game Over.  If you kill the wrong person, that's a Game Over.  If you complete certain objectives out of order, that's a Game Over.  If you lose all your health, well... that goes without saying.

To its credit, Mission: Impossible is not lacking in differences of kind.  There are plenty of action-oriented scenes, but many missions focus on stealth, with painful -- if not game-ending -- consequences should you draw attention to yourself.  The levels set in the CIA headquarters, for example, sit on the farther end of this scale, so much so that you have to use non-lethal weapons like dart guns, stunners, and... fire extinguishers.  As for actual firearms, there's not much in terms of variety -- there’s a pistol, a suppressed pistol, an Uzi, and a rocket launcher which, surprise surprise, looks like another pistol.  Although you don’t have to worry about reloading; ammo for both lethal and non-lethal weapons is counted by the round, not by the magazine. Furthermore, ammo and health carry over between missions within the same act, unless you retry from the start menu, in which case they reset. On the other hand, there is a wide array of gadgets and other items which are used to complete objectives, although the one that gets the most use by far is the Facemaker, a mask of sorts which you use on certain people to borrow their identity.

Aiming with a pseudo-first-person view.
(To think you can't do this in MGS!)
A few other missions provide more innovative fare, such as controlling a sniper protecting a computer-controlled Ethan, or manning the turret on a getaway gunboat.  Other missions are almost completely non-violent in nature, such as the party at the Russian Embassy.  These play out like those old text-adventure games, in third-person 3D form.  In practise, these can grow boring once you’ve figured out what to do, since it’s always the same experience every time.  And of course, the world-famous computer terminal cable drop is playable.  It may be a short spark, but somehow it burns bright.

Unlike in Goldeneye and MGS, you are able to jump in this game, although the mechanics for doing so are rather stiff, like everything else about the controls.  On the other hand, I found it easier to pull of headshots (or maybe I'm just good).  The graphics quality (at least for the N64 version, see below) is sub-par.  Not only does the frame rate waver quite a bit - going really, really slowly at its worst), but most textures always seem grainy, as if there was a texture filter applied at all times. And I know how tough getting the rights to an actor's likeness can be, but agent Hunt in the game looks absolutely nothing like Tom Cruise!  Nor does he sound like Tom Cruise, either.  Oh, I forgot to mention; even though most of the dialogue is presented with captions and no voiceovers, there are a few odd spoken clips here and there.  Plus, some of the missions are kicked off with one of the franchise’s world-famous briefings.

Now, unlike the other entries for N64 Month I have written/planned, M:I received a port for the PlayStation a year after its initial release.  (I was thinking of including another multi-platform game, Vigilante 8, but have decided against doing so due to time constraints.  Some other time...)  Gameplay-wise, the two ports are identical, sharing the same plot and the same 20 levels.  The PS1 version's graphics are better in a number of ways, with higher-resolution textures and a more stable frame-rate, but then again most N64-to-PS1 ports are. Also, as opposed to text captions, all dialogue in-game is voiced, although like most examples at that time, the acting quality is cheesy at best and just lame at worst.  So it's more of a pick-your-poison decision: no voice acting or bad voice acting.  Or, you can always take a third option and not buy this game at all.  After all, there's a reason the IMF briefings say, "your mission, should you choose to accept it", amirite?

+ Wide variety of missions.
- Strict trial-and-error gameplay.
- Somewhat stiff controls.
- Poor texture quality and frame rate in the Nintendo 64 version.
- Poor voice acting in the PlayStation version.

Control: 2 facemakers out of 5
Design: 3 facemakers out of 5
Graphics: 2 facemakers out of 5 (N64) / 3 facemakers out of 5 (PS1)
Audio: 3 facemakers out of 5 (N64) / 2 facemakers out of 5 (PS1)
The Call: 65% (C)

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