Review: Impossible Mission (Atari 7800)

By Drew Wilson

In this review, we check out a game that’s not to be confused with the Tom Cruise movie. It is Impossible Mission for the Atari 7800. We take a look to see if this action adventure game is worth playing.

This particular game was released in 1986. In some respects, it could be described as an open world concept in that you could go to any room you choose as you try and explore each room. On the other hand, it could also be described as a dungeon crawler in that you are exploring an underground area. In any event, this is an early game that does play with what elements go into describing the genre of a game as it employs characteristics from other genre’s such as survival and puzzle genres.

The goal appears to be that you are trying to navigate around this underground base finding “puzzle pieces”. You do that by searching through bookshelves, lamps, beds, devices, and garbage cans to name a number of the different things you search through. In the process, you have to avoid all the killer robots in the room. Your only weapons are your jumping capabilities (as a method of avoidance) and the computer terminals that allow you to temporarily shut down the robots if you happen to have located the correct card from on in the game play earlier.

To search through something, you simply have to push and hold the joystick up. A search bar will appear and you’ll figure out if you find anything if you run down the searching bar. If you have to run away and come back, the search bar mercifully doesn’t restart.

What you are looking for are items. These items are a puzzle piece (apparently the main item you are after in the game) which is denoted by a card and scissors, a password to reset the lifts (denoted by a lift and a down arrow), or a password that temporarily disables all robots in the room (denoted by a robot and “zzz”). The latter two items can only be used once before it is used up, so you have to strategically use the items wherever they are seemingly necessary.

To use items, you have to access a computer terminal in that particular room (sometimes, there are two terminals you can use). You use it like you would searching for an item. You then select a menu item and activate it. When done, you select and activate “Log off”.

Temporarily shutting down robots will cause them to stop moving and firing their laser weapons for a limited period of time. It turns out, you are allotted a fair amount of time to actually do things before the robots become reactivated. This allows you to access otherwise seemingly impossible to reach items in the room for the purpose of searching.

Throughout the game, there are numerous lifts that you use in each room (outside of the lifts that allow you to travel between certain rooms). You press up or down to navigate between floors with them. Unfortunately, sometimes there are specific combinations you have to use to get to certain parts of the screen. If you find yourself unable to get back, finding a nearby terminal and using the reset lifts can be useful if the default locations will allow you to get back out of the room again. Alternatively, dying will also reset the lifts, but you only have so many to use and you need all the lives you can get your hands on as you play through this game for other purposes.

There are two different robots in this game. The most common are the uni wheeled robots. While they vary in color, they are basically the same kinds of enemies. Some shoot a limited range static weapon. Others, meanwhile, simply roam around on a particular platform. What they all have in common is the fact that they cannot board an elevator. This is significant because some will give chase to you. If you stand on an elevator and the robot doesn’t use its weapon, the robot cannot get you. These robots can be defeated simply by power of observation as they all have a particular pattern to their movements. Some simply stay in one location. Others move in bursts, firing when stopped (I never saw a robot able to both move and fire at the same time). In any event, once you can establish a pattern, you can find ways of circumventing their defenses and search through the various things in the level.

The only other enemy I saw in this game are the round grey spheres. Some of them fly around in a particular pattern while others will simply gradually move towards you. Curiously, if these spheres come into contact with a robot, the sphere vanishes, leaving you with fewer enemies on screen. In a game where you have no traditional weapons, this isn’t a bad thing in the least.

What all enemies have in common is the face that coming into contact with any of them kills you. If they touch you, your character flashes, indicating you’ve been hit. The only other ways of dying are either falling through one of the many pits found throughout this game or getting shot by the electrostatic charge weapon fired by some of these robots.

Another thing you can find are rooms with really large computers with a black and white checkerboard on them. My guess is that you can feed puzzle pieces into them for a round of what amounts to Simon Says. I don’t know for sure, but I do know that if you select the stripe along the bottom, you can exit the game after. Reason why I’m guessing that you need puzzle pieces is because, after a while, you can successfully match the pattern, yet the computer acts as though you didn’t solve it.

Generally speaking, this game has a number of interesting ideas going for it. I really like the more open nature of this game because you can decide which rooms you want to visit and in what order. The only real rule is that the rooms get more difficult as you move to the right. I also like the fact that item use is there and it can have an interesting impact on the game. The temporarily shutting down of robots really makes things interesting in terms of strategy. Another good point is the fact that you have a large number of lives. I think you have at least 25 free lives. You go through a lot quickly in some cases, but it’s good that the large number is there to allow for better replay value.

What I’m not a fan of is the fact that there is hardly any useful information available to you on display. You don’t know how many lives you have left as there’s seemingly nothing telling you this. Another thing is the fact that there’s hardly anything that really allows this game to come together. It’s ultimately a bunch of puzzles scattered throughout in this large interconnected chamber, yet there’s not much that really strings anything together. The only thing that actually get’s this game to come together are the large computers. Unfortunately, the likelihood of being able to “solve” these computers is so remote, there is little opportunity to really explore anything that could give a hint at what an end game scenario even looks like.

Graphically, this game was good. The full screen was used and what was on there could be easily identified. The game also ran quite smooth as well which is a nice positive. I think more could be done in the intro screen and the backgrounds for each room could have more going for it besides a single color. A simple and subtle texture could go a long way in improving the graphics of some of these areas. Still, it’s a good game with respect to graphics.

The audio is a major pitfall of this game. There was no music that I could find. While the footsteps were a nice touch, that’s really the upper limits of what this game was capable of doing. There’s the sound of robots moving around and the sound effect of when one fires. In addition, there is the sound effect of when you die (whether it’s through getting hit by a robot or falling down a pit). While that’s seemingly a nice sizable list on the surface, there’s next to nothing beyond that. Since you do invest a fair amount of time in this game before losing all of your lives, this does get repetitive after a while.

Overall, more on screen information would have been useful. The graphics were good but the audio left a lot to be desired. Still, I found that this game can easily be enjoyed in spite of all of these pitfalls, so I would say it’s a good game all around.


Furthest point in game: 1400 points.

General gameplay: 16/25
Replay value: 7/10
Graphics: 8/10
Audio: 1/5

Overall rating: 64%

Drew Wilson on Twitter: @icecube85

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