Retro Vault is my video series looking at vintage games from back in the day – both popular ones and those forgotten over time.
The video can be found below, but if you’re more of a reader I’ve provided a modified version of the script after the jump so you can read my thoughts in written form instead.
When you think of 8-bit gaming it’s easy to immediately conjure up visions of simplistic gameplay, one-button controls and sounds strictly limited to bleeps and bloops. Well, that is, it’s easy to conjure up those visions if you’re a complete weapon.
Those of us old enough to bore people with tales of that era fondly remember some of the most ground-breaking experiences we’ve ever had in gaming, with boundaries being smashed on a near monthly basis despite the obvious limitations of the systems these games were being designed for.
A brilliant example that’s been sadly forgotten over the years is Rescue: The Embassy Mission on the NES. Originally named Hostages and published by Infogrames for the Atari ST and Amiga in 1988, it came to the NES a year later with a shiny new title but the same brilliant gameplay.
The plot’s pretty bloody simple by today’s standards but it gets the job done. The French embassy has been overtaken by terrorists and it’s up to a crack team of six SWAT types to get inside the building, shoot the terrorists in their prick faces and rescue the hostages being held captive.
Media often reflects the burning poitical issues of the day and gaming is no different. These days you’ve got the likes of Papers, Please covering the issue of immigration, Fallout 4 contemplating the aftermath of a nuclear attack and Her Story warning of the very real and horrifying threat of listening to folk music.
The ’80s had seen a total of 31 terrorist attacks on Embassy buildings – more than any other decade in history to that point – so it was no surprise that we ended up with games like Rescue: The Embassy Mission, which gave players a chance to step into the horrible situations they were seeing on the news every night and give those pesky terrorists a slap in the dick.
“But Chris,” I hear you ask. “That’s a pretty complex situation. Wasn’t it 8-bit and that? Wasn’t it basically Pong with terrorists?” Well you ignorant prick, prepare to be impressed.
Rescue: The Embassy Mission is split into four different and distinct sections: approach, secure, infiltrate and rescue. I just made those names up but they’re quite cool so I’m going with them.
The first section puts you in charge of three snipers as they approach the building. That said, they’re not really in a position to be doing any sniping because they aren’t able to get a decent shot where they are.
So what you have to do is take each guy, one at a time, over to their sniping position. You do this by guiding them through the streets, using stealthy tactics to avoid the enemy searchlights. If you get caught by a light the terrorists open fire on you, usually leading to you being gunned down in a mess of unholy gore. Well, okay, you just fall over and die a bit.
What I love about this section is the number of options open to you. It may not seem like much these days but back then the ability to dive over a wall, hide behind a door or drop to the floor and roll or crawl to avoid being spotted felt ridiculously in-depth.
You go through this process three times, trying to get your snipers to a nearby building so they can leg it to the roof and get in the correct position. They don’t all have to make it: as long as you get one of them home and dry you’ll move on to the second section.
Here your snipers – or at least those who are still alive – are now in position and have their guns trained on the embassy. It’s up to you to use your scope to check out the windows and see if you can spot any terrorists wandering around. If you do, you have to pop them with a bullet upside the nut and take them down.
This may not seem like the most effective way of dealing with a hostage crisis, since unless the terrorist group you’re dealing with are the notorious window-huggers of Albania there are still going to be a load of baddies elsewhere in the building out of your sniper’s sight. But there’s a point to this, and it’s the third section.
If you’re the more perceptive type you’ll remember I said there were six team members, but so far we’ve only seen three. That’s because the other three are hanging around on the embassy’s roof, having been dropped there by a helicopter.
These guys are the real action heroes: it’s up to them to get into the embassy and take on the terrorists face-to-face, and they plan to do this like all sensible people would: by abseiling down the side of the building and arsing themselves through a window.
There’s a knack to controlling the abseiling sections: go down too quickly and your agent will plummet to his death, no doubt causing the terrorists to laugh and make wanker gestures off-camera.
Speaking of the terrorists, here’s why my snipers were shooting them through the windows in the previous section: because any they missed will spot my abseiling assailants and give them a one-way trip to the pavement: FIST class.
Once I’m lined up with a window I have two ways of getting in. If my snipers have already taken a window out I can just climb in, but I prefer doing it by smashing through a closed window and shouting “YAAAASSSSSS” as I do.
And then, when you get into the building, Rescue: The Embassy Mission reveals its final surprise: it’s only a bloody first-person shooter too.
Yup, now that I’m inside the embassy I now get to wander around, tracking down the terrorists using the map and taking them out face-to-face.
And then… well, that’s it. The game ends. And I think this is the exact point where it becomes clear why Rescue: The Embassy Mission isn’t as fondly remembered (or, indeed, as remembered at all) as it should be: it’s shorter than an Eskimo’s knob.
Because, you know, it’s cold and that.
With a bit of practice you can complete the entire game in less than 10 minutes, and even though you can ramp up the difficulty level to make things a little more interesting, it’s still not enough.
In fairness, what it offers is massively impressive for the time. The onslaught of 8-bit inspired indie games we’ve had over the past few years have somewhat skewed our perceptions of just how little these systems were capable of.
So while it’d be all well and good if I said Rescue could have done with, say, four or eight completely different embassies to infiltrate, it’s more than likely its tiny file size just didn’t allow it, especially since I’d imagine so much of the code will have been taken up by what’s essentially four game types in one.
These days, then, it’s little more than a wee curio: a little nugget of gaming history that offered a disappointingly short experience, but one arguably well ahead of its time.