While the Xbox and PS2 versions of Atari's Mission: Impossible: Operation Surma had a decidedly Splinter Cell-like flavor to them, the Game Boy Advance game, based on the same property, attempts to lift a few pages from the Metal Gear manual. Unfortunately, the GBA game isn't as successful at copying Metal Gear as the console games were at boosting some concepts from Splinter Cell. Here, the game has you taking control of Ethan Hunt in a series of overhead secret missions that require you to be kind-of-but-not-really stealthy. It doesn't look good, and the gameplay is often awkward and frustrating.
The story in the GBA version of Operation Surma is pretty basic and uninteresting. As Ethan Hunt, you're sent into a series of missions by the Impossible Mission Force to combat a shadowy organization that has somehow gained the technology to unlock any high security complex in the world. During your missions, you'll communicate with other IMF agents, including computer whiz and Ving Rhames look-alike Luther Stickell and disguise master George Spelvin. These interactions are represented by bland cutscenes that feature text and static talking heads. You'll also get some short, illustrated mission briefings before the actual action. Not a lot going on in terms of presentation here, obviously.
The actual gameplay in Operation Surma comes off as a sort of watered-down Metal Gear clone. Ethan has one firearm, the "multipurpose gun," at his disposal, as well as an up-close instant kill move and a bevy of gadgets to solve problems with. Eventually, you'll get used to the way you interact with (and kill) enemies, but until you do, the game will likely try your patience. The game acts like there's a stealth component involved, but there really isn't much of one, since you spend so much time just running around out in the open, and the penalties for being "seen" are almost nonexistent. In situations where you try to use your "take-down" move to kill a guard without wasting ammo, the guard will often open up on you with his gun and remove a good third of your life bar before you can line up your character and execute the move. It's just frustrating to be limited by the slow movement of your character and to be penalized with a huge loss of health. You'll likely die a lot on the first mission--just getting used to the controls--before you finally learn how to manage your ammo and can effectively move around without getting killed.
The gadgets you have are vaguely useful but don't really seem all that impressive. Your gun can accept different kinds of bullets, so you can stun or outright kill enemies as the situation demands. You're also able to pick up disguises off of some enemies so that you can move around freely without being recognized. There are also a few little whiz-bang devices that will help you out from time to time, such as a tracker that lets you follow the movements of a person you tag, a scanner that will locate key electronic equipment, and a jammer that can confuse security systems so that you can slip by unnoticed. These gadgets' functions are executed with no fanfare whatsoever, so they're just not that exciting to use.
The graphics and sounds of Mission: Impossible: Operation Surma are below average when compared to other recent GBA releases. The Ethan sprite animates pretty smoothly, but that's about the nicest thing you can say about the graphics, since the backgrounds are pretty generic and the enemies mostly look the same. The music is also pretty annoying and repetitive. Furthermore, the sound effects are underwhelming and are sometimes hard to even notice. The game just doesn't take very good advantage of the Game Boy Advance hardware, which other games have proven is an amazingly capable little game machine.
Mission: Impossible: Operation Surma isn't the worst game you'll ever play on the Game Boy Advance, but it's far from the best. Even those looking for a tactical stealth action game should be wary, since this one is both frustrating to play and not very engaging. Those hungering for a handheld stealth action game would be best advised to keep waiting and hoping that Konami finally makes Metal Gear Advance.