Written by  :  carl brennan (2)
Written on  :  Jun 11, 2004
Platform  :  Commodore 64

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Made before "they don't make em like they used to" became true

The Good

-slick interface, gameplay -solid, state-holding game world -variably programmed robot defenders that extend replay value -attention to details -variety of games/challenges

The Bad

-objectives not obvious unless you read the manual -no difficulty level (it's always very very hard!)

The Bottom Line

"Another visitor! Stay awhile :) Stay FOREVER!"

The real beauty in Impossible Mission isn't the kind of gloss that magazine editors like to splash on their covers and pages, rather it's an intricate balanced challenge that draws the player in and doesn't ever let go.

I still play the original Commodore 64 version of Impossible Mission to this day because no game provides quite the same challenge. I still feel a sense of satisfaction when winning that game, and I still am routinely surprised by how much fun I'm having when I complete some particularly difficult maneuvre.

Put briefly, Impossible Mission enables you to be a secret agent. Now what is so exciting about secret agents? Well, they get into tricky situations quickly, gracefully, and make it look easy. Using the full available speed of the Commodore 64 CPU, this game delivers smooth, precise and surprisingly detailed action. Mis-judge your leap by a half-step and your character will slip off the edge of a platform you had hoped to land on.

The actual physics present in the game are very solid and slick. You will feel at all times like what your character did was what you told it to do. If it dies, it's your fault. On this solid base is built an intricate random puzzle generator. This is the game's replay secret.

The premise of the game is to find dozens of scattered puzzle pieces in an evil scientist's subterranean lair. To find a puzzle piece, your agent avatar navigates near an object that could be hiding a piece and searches it. To do this, it walks, runs, steps and leaps around on horizontal platforms and small movable lifts.

However, the evil scientist has built a mechanised defence system for his lair. In nearly every room you find are advanced, multi-purpose reprogrammable robot sentries. Every time you play the game, the robot's behaviours or randomly chosen out of a set of available action and reaction functions, so that at every stage of the game you are facing a new challenge. The robots can turn, move, kill an avatar by electrical discharge on contact, or in some cases fling an electrified energy field up to 6 feet long that will instantly fry anyone caught in it.

Some of these robots also display unsettling behaviours like occasionally checking their backs or moving left and right to unerringly pinpoint on the player's horizontal location. Their speed, reaction times and electrical fire burst lengths are all variable.

Added to the rolling sentry droid class is a large black electrified floating ball that advanced steadily in your direction at all times. You aren't safe from this one unless there's a wall or other robot between it and you.

Even this detailed description doesn't explain how addictively crafted the game is. The distribution of robot behaviours is not strictly random, but patterned so as to make each room more or less difficult each time you play it. One game a particular room may not threaten so much as a hair on your head while the next game it is an impassable maze of electrified fire.

The layout of each room is obviously hand-tweaked to provide a particular challenge. Some layouts require careful planning and forethought in order to access some levels using the platform lifts. Some layouts feature regularly impossible robot defense combinations that require the player to use a system password to temporarily disable the robots in the room. Considering the memorable nature of many of these rooms, it is probable that the 30 rooms that made it in to the game were chosen from a larger set that was created as potential candidates

At all times, the atmosphere is suffused with convincing sounds that give each room and even each iteration of each room a distinct sound. Not being an expert, I still have a strong suspicion that the background noise is algorithmically generated and that the white noise used during a robot's discharge is digitized speech distorted nearly beyond recognition.

If this review stopped here, then the game wouldn't be the kind that keeps me coming back 17 years after first playing it. The task of defeating the defenses built into the rooms is complemented by a side-game that combines a maze search and logic puzzle. The game even features a music-based sub side-game that replaces two of the 30 rooms in the scientist's layer with machines that generate snooze and platform lift reset passwords. This fascinating and memorable game is a twist on memory and simon says where a sequence of tones is played in random order then hidden under blank tiles, at which point the user has to click the tiles such that the tones sound in ascending order. The game is easy with 3 tiles in the sequence and gets nearly impossible around 9.

The maze search comes in on a small portable computer display panel. This display shows each room that has been visited so far, along with any elevator sections that have been travelled through to date. Not all rooms allow passage through them, and some that are connected are impassable from certain directions or if the platforms are moved into an obstructive pattern. Oh, did I forget to mention that the state of each platform in each room is preserved throughout the game? Little touches like this add to the realism of the game world.

The last sub-game is a true unique in action games. The author has created a puzzle-generation algorithm that routinely produces familiar-looking yet somewhat dissimilar game pieces. As you play the game again and again, you see regular patterns emerge in the shapes of puzzle pieces presented to you. To complete this phase of the game, you must first have all the puzzle pieces in all rooms collected, then use an intuitive user interface in your portable computer to match up puzzle pieces in groups of 4. Each puzzle completed gives a letter in an 8 letter master password that unlocks the scientist's programming lab entrance.

Oh, one last thing. All this sleuthing and puzzling is being done to prevent the scientist from carrying out some diabolical action at 6pm. The game begins at noon. Six hours seems like a lot of time, except that every time your spy avatar gets killed by a robot or by falling down a mechanical shaft, you lose ten minutes in regeneration time. Don't worry about losing track of time since your personal computer conveniently tells it to you.

And every time an hour goes by, you'll hear the scientist's voice ring out over the PA system when you next enter a room:

"Destroy him, my robots!"