Games time forgot: Mission: Impossible

I have to be completely honest: this week’s forgotten game is not good (or, as any number of you will be happy to point out, “was forgotten for a reason”). It sticks out in my mind not because it was particularly good, or innovative (though it does have some clever moments), but simply because it was really goddamned hard in a time where I only bought one game every six months, and was stupid to realize that difficulty and game quality didn’t necessarily have a positive correlation.

It was ridiculously difficult and unfair in all the wrong ways, and thus kept me hooked for at least two months. Moments that could have been spent playing Space Station Silicon Valley or any number of halfway decent N64 games were instead replaced with the Russian Embassy mission repeated over and over and over again.

Though the game does one or two things correctly on accident, it’s pretty bad. Should you choose to hit the jump (please note that I didn’t make some sort of disgusting “your mission, should you choose to accept it” reference), you’ll find a mixture of nostalgia and retrograde self-loathing wrapped around a mediocre licensed title. You have been warned.

Story:

Mission: Impossible is an adaptation of the Brian DePalma film of the same name, despite the fact that the movie came out in 1996 and the game didn’t hit until 1998. Why the guys at Ocean assumed there was a sizable crowd of gamers itching to fill Tom Cruise’s shoes more than two years after the flick came out, I cannot imagine.

The game follows much the same structure as many licensed titles: a few of its missions directly parallel moments from the film, and a few are comprised of positively horrendous, movie-unrelated scenes typically involving poison gas or moving platforms. Also, presumably as some sort of bonus, there’s one more (bad) mission tacked on to the end of the game after the proper film story has been told. I can’t remember anything about the assumed plot of that extra mission, but I do remember that the very last level is an on-rails sequence where Ethan gets to shoot at everything in sight with a battleship cannon. So, that was pretty cool.

Though the music in these YouTube videos feels instantly familiar to me (I unintentionally spent hours listening to each song as I replayed every mission over and over), I’m rather amazed the actual Mission: Impossible theme is only played during the boring-ass briefing sequences. A tune as heart-pumping and badass as that deserves to be used during the most intense action scenes, but the game thought it’d be fun to completely waste it on glorified PowerPoint presentations.

Gameplay:

Mission: Impossible is a 3rd person action/stealth/bad game which can also be played in the first person perspective, if you are an idiot.

The majority of the levels typically involve Ethan Hunt, crack IMF agent, infiltrating a secret enemy base using the most generally nonviolent means possible. In theory, this sounds awesome — a stealth game where nonviolence is mandatory! — but in reality, it usually just breaks down into a bunch of horrendous trial-and-error. Did you spike the ambassador’s drink, but didn’t get to the bathroom quickly enough to take him out and steal his face? Better start over. Did you rush to the bathroom this time, only to pull out an item and get arrested by a guard? Back to the beginning of the level with you.

When the game isn’t busy whacking you over the head with almost-clever stealth levels which really just consist of checking off a list of dorky subtasks in order to accomplish something really straightforward, it dabbles in moderately entertaining minigames, like sniping assassins who are tracking Ethan (the only part of the game in which you don’t play as Ethan, interestingly, except it’s not really that interesting after all), or the recreation of the famous rope descent scene, viewable above. Though these digressions aren’t actually good in and of themselves, they do their job inasmuch as they break up the gameplay and appeal to that stupid fanboy part of our brains which thrills at the sight of  a familiar movie setpiece recreated in the interactive realm.

No, wait, I just remembered — near the end of the game, it pulls an Assassin’s Creed and essentially denies it was ever a stealth title. You spend roughly the first half of the game sneaking around and being careful, but when you get to the train level at the game’s climax, all of a sudden Ethan Hunt is supposed to act like John Rambo. This is satisfying if you are ten years old and a moron, as I was, but looking back on it now it seems like an unusual and cowardly change of pace, meant to give the climax a more explosive punch than it might have had if the game had stayed true to its stealth underpinnings.

Why you probably haven’t played it:

Because it’s bad. Because it’s really, really, quite bad. I try to find something interesting in every forgotten game I highlight, but apart from the incredibly inconsistent levels — which, if I were in a generous mood, I’d call “varied” — there’s nothing special about Mission: Impossible save for the fact that I spent roughly half of 1998 playing it over and over again. I played it not because I enjoyed it, but simply because it was there, and difficult and cryptic enough that it presented a challenge.

If nothing else, my nostalgia for Mission: Impossible just proves how goddamn stupid I was as a kid.

Anthony Burch