Review by Donald Love 87
This review is longer than the game itself!
There are games that are long and adventurous quests that will take up countless hours in the three-digit range. On the other hand, there also exist games that are good for just a quick fix for your addiction to videogames that'll keep you on your toes for just an afternoon. Both of these are usually okey, as the shorter games often have much replay value, or today some might have a very involving story. But there are short games, and then there are EXTREMELY short games.
Here's something that can't be complained too much about though. Rescue (as this will be referred to from now on) is pretty good looking for being an NES game. The sprites and environments are large and detailed, and the game even has cutscenes! Of course they aren't that detailed, but for a NES game just the thought is enough. The only real problem with the graphics is that sometimes the animation is a bit stiff, and that the palettes are somewhat limited making some areas appear rather one-colored.
The coolest thing about the graphics though are the first person segments. While the NES of course can't really output any 3D areas it solves it by using still image screens you navigate through in a manner similar to Swords and Serpents or Deja Vu. While not so exciting today it's a fresh and exciting thing in an NES game.
Sound effects and music
The sounds of the game is nothing that special; while the NES is good at outputting sound effects when it's not trying to emulate something found in real life - like the "boing" jumping sound of Super Mario - it's way worse off when it's supposed to be cars, helicopters or gunshots we're hearing. Because of the nature of this game the latter alternative is what you'll hear, and it just isn't that good. While it's not entirely fair to judge the game on the console limitations, there ARE in fact games that have made things like engines sound better, and with less annoying results.
As for the music it's better, and for a game that is as short as this one it's got a surprising five or so tracks. While it sounds a bit better, it still can be debated if the music is really fitting for this type of game. It's clear that they went for a somewhat agent-sounding theme during the sneaking stage while the action phase has a bit more active theme, it still never feels 100% spot on. One really neat thing technically is that when you're playing the first stage - the sneaking one - and find a safe spot like a doorway to hide in the volume of the music is actually decreased; it's just a fun little detail.
Gameplay and controls
The first thing you see is the intro of the game which actually sets up everything rather nicely; a car drives up to the Embassy and some terrorists storm out of it and into the building. Just a few seconds later, the SWAT team you play as arrive in their van with loud sirens. Then you're taken to the main screen and if you press start there you'll be taken to a menu where you can pick you mission; first you select between the ranks of lieutenant, captain and commander, then you select between operations training, target, ultimatum, trigger and jupiter. While this might make it sound like there are several different missions for you to play, it's actually very misleading since there is only one and these are just different difficulty levels. The ranks are rather common difficulty settings in that they affect enemy reaction time and aim, while the different operations mostly affect the time you're given to complete the game (20 minutes on the easiest, 10 on the hardest) but also affect the number of hostages and search lights in the stealth stage. It's a bit of a shame that the game tries to fool you with this, and the text on the back of the box is intentionally vague to make it sound like there's more content than there is.
But as for the content that's actually here, let's start off with the first level. This is basically a sidescroller where you need to use stealth to get your three agents to buildings with stairwells to good sniping spots across the street from the embassy, all while the terrorists use searchlights to look for you and will fire if you're spotted. Now it's pretty cool; you can run with the D-pad, if you press down you'll go into a crawling position instead (extremely slow but it can help avoid some high searchlights), by pressing up you can hide in door openings or similar hiding spots and with a press of A or B you'll do a quick roll which will help you get under some searchlights or if you feel daring you can do a roll of faith straight through one. By pressing the A or B button while in hiding you'll bring up a map of the street where you can see how far you are from the buildings you need to go into to get to your spot. Start will pause the game, and that's true for all of the parts. As mentioned you've got three agents to get into three different positions, and they basically work as three lives; you can continue playing the game if one of them dies, but if all three are shot down it's game over. The three different positions need to be taken in order too, and you can't have two agents in the same spot, so if you get an agent into a spot you'll have to play this stage longer with the next one. If your first sent out agent dies, you won't have to play the second way all the way to the second spot though, but instead he will replace the first agent in the first spot. When it comes to actually avoiding the searchlights, it can get a bit frustrating. The screen often feels like it scrolls forward too late, and while it's pretty easy to predict and learn the movement of the searchlights they still can be hard to avoid sometimes. If you jump into the background to hide it can be annoying since you have to wait for a while before popping out again, sometimes making you miss an advantageous spot where the searchlight is far away. Also, the searchlights have a bit bigger range than they really show, so if you're really near and a bit unlucky you'll get shot down without actually being in the beam. It's also a bit random with the terrorist's aim since sometimes they hit you even in a situation like that, but sometimes when you might WANT to kill yourself (like in a failed perfect run where your first agent died) you can stand a few seconds in a searchlight being fired upon without actually being hit. It's pretty neat from a realism and programming perspective, but it can be frustrating from a gameplay one.
After one to three agents are in position, the next part of the game will start. A helicopter will drop three agents down on the roof of the building, and you'll get to choose between one of those three or one of your snipers; let's start with the snipers. If all three are in position you'll have vantage points over all sides of the embassy facing the street, the northern side is blocked by another building. The image in this part will be mostly just one still frame showing your sniper, but a small part of is is from the view of a scope and this is where you move. By using the D-pad you can move your aim over the side of the building you're facing, and by looking through the windows - each side has a 3x3 pattern of them - you can try to shoot the terrorists from there when their silhouette appears. A is used to shoot, with B you can speed up the movement of your aiming and with a press of select you'll be taken back to the agent select screen. There's no way for you to die here, and you can just keep going until you're satisfied then switch to one of the agents on the roof.
When selecting one of the roof agents you can then choose which of the three available sides of the building he should rappel down on, and also which "column" of windows he'll be aligned with. The rappelling part of the game is a bit weird, with you having to alternatively press down and up on the control pad, but what's frustrating is that it seems like you can only move an inch down before having to press up not to fall to your death. When you've reached the window you want to enter, any of the three floors will do, you can press A to smash through it and go inside. Note that if you've done a bad job clearing out the area with the snipers there might be silhouettes of terrorists during this part too, and while they won't hurt you while just rappelling it's an auto-agent-lost if you try to swing through while someone is there.
After you've entered the building, the first-person mode mentioned in graphics will take over. While a bit bigger than in the sniper section, the action here will also take place on only a part of the screen. About half of the screen will be used for different info and counters; the timer, one that shows how many enemies are left on each floor plus a small map of the current floor where on easier difficulties you can also see dots showing where people are. You have to move through the building with the D-pad, which works like in pretty much any NES game with an first person mode (say, Swords and Serpents) in that you move on a grid and by pressing forward you'll take one "step" forward, left and right will turn you 90 degrees on the spot and with down you'll do a 180 turn (ok, in some games you can go backwards, but not in this one). When you run into a terrorist, or they run into you - interestingly enough the terrorists will move through the building just like you, and they might even go to a different floor or room - you have to open fire with A and use the d-pad to aim the crosshairs over the target. If you are too slow, you'll be shot dead and have to go back to the rappelling with one of your other agents instead. Manage to kill off all the terrorists, and you'll be treated to the ending sequence.
Basically, that's everything there is to this game. There are multiple endings depending on how well you performed; for the lowest difficulty you won't even get a proper ending while the others will show your time and how many of the agents and hostages that are still alive. Interestingly enough you are the only one who can harm the hostages by firing at them; the terrorists will never do anything like that! So while the game tries for a bit of replayability, which it should need since each playthrough is timed to take maximum 10 to 20 minutes depending on difficulty, it's still pretty easy to get all of these three or four endings and since you still get an ending - not a game over - for shooting a hostage or losing some of your agents there's no real reason to try to perform better if your goal is just to beat the game. Sure you can try for a replay on a higher difficulty to prolong the life, but even with all of those the game won't even last for more than a few hours.
Most likely you'll have understood how short a playthrough of the game is by now. But what is the verdict for the rest of it? Well first of all is that even though it's short most of it feels pointless; you can get the first guy to the vantage point, kill of the remaining two, skip the sniping by going to rappelling immediately and be just as fine (with the ending penalty for losing two agents though) as if you had spent time getting all snipers into position. Also, the sniping overall is just a huge waste of time since it's much faster to just run through the building looking for terrorists than trying to wait for them to peek out through a window. The game also runs on a reverse difficulty curve; you're much more likely to get killed when you run between spotlights trying to get your snipers into position than it is in any other part of the game; and that's the FIRST thing you do when you play yourself!
The thing about this entire game is that it's pretty cool as a demonstration to show off what exactly you can do with an NES; some nice cutscenes, enemies that actually move randomly instead of in predetermined patterns. It just fits well together too; getting in position, picking off a few enemies with snipers to prepare then clean up with the ground team. The problem is that while it works technically, it doesn't work good as a game. If you want to perform good, you have to use a more "gamey" strategy, while you have to basically roleplay if you were to play as the developers actually intended you to.
So is it a game you should buy or not? If you just intend to play it, then there are many better games to get for the NES and even while the gameplay is a bit unique and interesting it's still hard to justify the time to track it down and buy it for so little playtime (it'd be interesting to hear what people who paid the release price thought). If you're a collector, on the other hand, it gets more interesting as it's a nice little oddity which shows some parts of the NES capabilities that not many games do. But overall, it's a 5 out of 10. It's not a game you should go out of your way to find, though if you think the concept is interesting and are prepared for how short it is, it can still be enjoyable for a playthrough or two.
Rating: 2.5 - Playable
Product Release: Rescue: The Embassy Mission (EU, 03/27/91)
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