Mission Critical

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Mission Critical is a 1995 first-person Adventure Game with Real Time Strategy elements from Legend Entertainment. Gameplay Roulette was implemented fairly well here with the strategy elements being almost optional (the player can adjust the Difficulty Level from Easier Than Easy to Harder Than Hard on-the-fly). The game also features Full Motion Video when interacting with people or during Cutscenes and is prominent for casting Michael Dorn of the Star Trek: The Next Generation fame, as well as Patricia Charbonneau, best known from Desert Hearts (both being shown very little, as the game is not focused on interacting with people). The gameplay style is reminiscent of Myst, as it is in first person and the player has to search locations, uncovering the past. Unlike Myst, however, several critical puzzles are timed. Unfortunately, the timer is not shown, so the player is often left guessing. For example, the first puzzle involves preventing the meltdown of the ship's nuclear reactor. Also, if the player takes too long solving the puzzles necessary to start the strategy portion of the game, the game will end in a Nonstandard Game Over.

The RTS potion involves the player directing the ship and its Attack Drones to destroy the enemy forces, made up of the same type of units. The ship acts as the base and is immobile. It serves as the repairing and rearming location for the drones. It also launches missiles at the opposing ship, although those missiles are usually intercepted by the enemy drones. The drones act as the main offensive and defensive weapons, as the ships themselves are pretty defenseless against them, so the main task boils down to eliminating the enemy drones and then swarming the enemy ship. Besides the difficulty, the game allows the player to adjust the speed of the game (this is handwaved by the player using experimental Phlebotinum to drastically decrease his reaction time to be a match for computer-controlled UN drones). Before the main battles, the player is given the option of playing through several tutorial scenarios, meant to prepare the player for the final showdown.

The game's Backstory is fairly detailed, although finding out about it is not necessary to complete the game. Decades before the game's storyline (i.e. the year 2134), continued progress and industrialization of the world led to massive ecological problems. Also, scientists were attempting to create self-aware AIs. Their attempts resulted in disaster, mostly due to the inquisitive nature of the AIs and the tendency of humans to overreact. Fearing that "unchecked technological development will kill off the human race," most United Nations members pass an international law placing strict limits on technological research, most notably... in AI development. Due to the extreme measures UN took to enforce the law, several nations have declared that they would rather die than be denied this freedom and created the Alliance of Free States, including United States, Canada, China, Singapore, Australia, Japan and major off-world colonies. As the result of the Alliance seceding from the UN, the latter responded by invading the former, starting the First Secession War. After the initial period of fighting, which resulted in the complete destruction of Atlanta, Georgia, with a nuclear warhead, there came a ceasefire, while both sides were replenishing their ranks and rebuilding their war machines. At the end of the ceasefire, the war began anew and increased in intensity, spilling over into the colonies. By that point, humanity has discovered Faster-Than-Light Travel, and both sides began to look outside the Solar System for means to defeat each other. By 2134, the Alliance has determined that, due to the UN having several technological advantages over the Alliance, the war will be lost within five years.

Around this time, an unmanned Alliance probe discovered alien ruins on a faraway planet named Persephone. Fearing that the UN also has knowledge of the ruins, the Alliance hastily dispatched the unarmed science vessel SV Jericho to examine the ruins for signs of Precursor technology, which may turn the tide of the war. The light cruiser USS Lexington was assigned as an escort. On approach to Persephone, the Alliance ships were ambushed by the UN heavy cruiser UNS Dharma, destroying the Jericho's Attack Drones (the main offensive and defensive space combat weapons) and rendering it helpless. The Captain of the Lexington pretends to surrender the crews of both ships, but leaves behind an unconscious officer (the player), claiming that the officer was killed in the battle. The shuttle is rigged with a nuclear warhead, which detonates while docking with the Dharma, destroying the UN ship and killing the crews of both Alliance ships.

The game starts with the player regaining consciousness and finding himself the only one on board. The immediate tasks involve finding messages left by the captain and his Number Two, which instruct the player restore communications with Alliance Command and receive further instructions. The player also has to single-handedly repair some of the battle damage, including plugging a hole in the hull, preventing the ship's reactor from Going Critical, restarting the main computer, and repairing the communications array by taking a spacewalk. All the while, there are two unseen timers ticking away, one until more UN ships arrive to investigate the disappearance of the Dharma, and the other attached to the antimatter bomb the spy snuck aboard the ship and armed in case the Dharma lost. If the player has not managed to gain access to the Lexington's tactical systems by that time, the mission will be lost. Once the ships arrive, the player has to use top-secret Alliance Phlebotinum to defeat the enemy (the RTS portion of the game), buying him more time. After contacting Alliance Command, the player is ordered to withdraw the Lexington before more UN ships arrive. However, if the player chooses to obey that order, this results in a Nonstandard Game Over. The player must recall the lander craft from the Jericho and explore the planetary ruins in hope of finding something of use.

The game then begins to use Time Travel, allowing the player to see two versions of The Future with the events at Persephone being the focal point that decides the outcome of the war and the future of humanity.

Tropes used in Mission Critical include:
  • The Alliance: The Alliance of Free States.
  • Almighty Janitor: The player is a supply officer who is forced into this situation.
    • This is likely due to Captain Dayna being forced to leave a low-ranking crew member behind as opposed to a senior officer, as the UN captain would get suspicious.
    • It's also mentioned in the backstory that you were specifically requested by Captain Dayna just before the mission left: you were reassigned so quickly that your name wasn't even entered into the printed crew manifest. He suspected a traitor as well, and presumably, you and Tran were the only two he could implicitly trust.
  • Attack Drone: The primary offensive and defensive space combat weapons of both the UN and the Alliance.
  • Auto Doc: There's one in the Lexington's medical bay. It becomes useful later.
  • A.I. Is a Crapshoot: Subverted: none of the AIs in the game or the backstory are evil. The ones that caused the UN to ban them were merely curious, and the ELFs were defending themselves.
  • Bad Future: The result of the UN winning the war.
  • The Captain: Stephen R. Dayna.
  • Cold War: The ceasefire during the war was called the New Cold War.
  • Disproportionate Retribution: In the backstory, one of the AIs builds mobile platforms to explore the world. The authorities freak out and send in the army, forcing the AI to start making armed robots. Before the situation can get any worse, the authorities destroy University of Chicago (where the AI was created) with an orbital cannon.
  • Doomsday Device: The Tal-Seto collapser.
  • Dyson Sphere: Possible future.
  • The End of the World as We Know It: Class X-3 on the Apocalypse How sliding scale: the Tal-Seto collapser destroys everything within several dozen lightyears of any star system attached to the Tal-Seto jump network, which corresponds to a pretty significant chunk of the galaxy. Once activated, it cannot be stopped.
  • Full Motion Video: All humans are played by actors.
  • Imported Alien Phlebotinum: The alien technology that will decide who wins the war.
  • Kill Sat: At least one particle beam cannon is mentioned to be in Earth's orbit.
  • Meaningful Name:
    • Lexington: the Battle of Lexington was one of the first engagements during the American Revolutionary War, signaling the start of the fight for freedom from tyranny.
    • Jericho: the city where the Hebrews ended up after being freed from Egyptian slavery.
    • Dharma: Hindu for "righteous duty". The UN feels they have to stop the Alliance before their ways result in the end of humanity.
    • Erebus: Greek god of darkness. The location of Alliance Command.
    • Prometheus: titan in Greek mythology that brought humans the gift of fire, sparking progress. In the game, the Prometheus colony was the site of the creation of the ELFs.
  • Mini Game: Preventing the reactor meltdown, fighting UN ships, solving the ELFs' puzzle.
  • Nanomachines: Hype. The player can also find the diary of a crewmember whose parents were killed by an accidental exposure to experimental nanites, which liquefied their internal organs. The crewmember and his brother saw the whole thing.
  • Number Two: Jennifer Tran.
  • Precursors: The unnamed and unseen aliens who built the ruins.
  • Robot War: Started by the humans, no less, who also "win" because of their willingness to destroy the galaxy to stop the ELFs. All together now: Humans Are the Real Monsters.
  • Set Right What Once Went Wrong: The ELFs task the player to change the outcome of the war.
  • Unexpected Gameplay Change: After connecting to the tactical station, the player is forced to fight UN ships in a Real Time Strategy style.
  • United Nations Is a Super Power: Somehow, the UN becomes a legitimate government with its own military. Its member states are hardly ever mentioned.