24: The Game Review
24: The Game gets the 24-part right, but the game-part comes crumbling down very quickly.
- A sharply written storyline that's at least as good as what the show typically offers
- Stylishly directed cutscenes
- Great voice acting.
- Gameplay has too many cooks in the kitchen, and none of them are very good
- Driving missions are just plain awful
- Too many minigames that only barely qualify as actual games
- Frequent animation glitches
- In-game camera is terrible.
As far as hard-boiled, TV action drama goes, Fox's 24 rules the roost. The show is wildly popular and with good reason. The Kiefer Sutherland-fronted drama's gimmick of depicting a counterterrorist unit fighting unfathomable danger in its 24-episode seasons, which occur over the course of a single day in "real-time," is a hard thing to pass up if you like your TV gut-wrenchingly tense and utterly ludicrous. So it's with no measure of surprise that someone would put together a video game version of such a popular and action-oriented show. 2K Games and Sony Europe's 24: The Game plops itself right in between the second and third seasons of the show, and goes straight for the jittery, fast-paced style of the TV series--and pretty much nails it. Unfortunately, all that time spent emulating the show's style clearly needed to be reined in a bit for the sake of making the gameplay something other than the clunky bore that it is. Like the show's action, 24's gameplay tries to throw in everything but the kitchen sink, but in this case, it couldn't make any one of these attempts work well enough to be fun.
The storyline of 24: The Game is just about as good as you could possibly hope for from a game version of the show. It features practically all of the principal characters from the show, including Sutherland's Jack Bauer, the constantly freaked out CTU agent whose misadventures make up the bulk of the show's airtime. In this particular adventure, we initially join Bauer and crew as they're about to run up on a boat that reportedly has a huge weapons cache and a lot of the chemical weapon ricin, and which is parked in an LA harbor. Of course, that's only where the story begins. Kidnappings, terrorist attacks, assassination attempts--these are just everyday occurrences for the CTU agency, and every single one happens over the course of the game's single-day timeline.
Before you even ask, no, 24: The Game is not 24 hours long in terms of gameplay time. It's closer to seven or eight hours to complete the missions. The shorter length isn't a detriment to the flow of the story, however, since the game simply tends to jump around a bit more and at a little faster of a pace. It doesn't feel like things are cut out as much as things just move more briskly (though the occasional illogical location jump does occur from time to time). And that's really the strongest thing 24 has going for it. This game never feels like it slows down, even when it goes into stealth mode. The story just keeps moving at breakneck speed, never stopping to explain itself more than it has to. Sometimes, it can be a bit overwhelming. For the record, if you're not a huge 24 fan, there will be characters and situations that never quite fit into the equation without prior knowledge of their roles. But that handicap aside, this is a taut, sharp storyline that's just as well-written as anything you'd see on the TV series--which makes it all the more a shame that it doesn't play very well.
The fundamental flaw in 24's gameplay design is that it tries to cover too broad a spectrum of styles and mechanics without ever stopping to make sure that anything in that spectrum is satisfying on its own merits. The most time you'll spend doing any one thing in 24 is with the third-person shooting. You control Jack and a few other key heroes of the story throughout 24's adventure, though all of the characters handle precisely the same (with the exception of Jack's daughter, Kim, who must remain stealthy pretty much at all times due to a lack of weapons training). For the most part, 24 is very much a run-and-gun type of game. Terrorists, mercenaries, and other assorted bad guys will come running in or be patrolling various sectors of random enemy bases, crack houses, and so on. Sometimes you'll have non-player character associates shooting alongside you, but mostly it's a one-man (or woman) show.
Not that you'll have much problem dealing with the bad guys alone. The artificial intelligence for the enemies in 24 is what you might call a bit dim. Sometimes they're smart enough to take proper cover, and occasionally enemies will run off when they spot you to sound an alarm, but mostly they'll stand in one spot or walk right toward you, periodically firing their weapons wildly with only a mild hope of ever hitting you. It takes a few shots to take most enemies down, but that's not very hard when they're standing still.
There are some cover-fire mechanics, as well as a decent variety of weapons, but again, none of these features matter. Cover fire is only useful during stealth missions (and even then, only in rare situations), and you mostly never have to think about what weapon is in your hand. The game automatically switches you to the best weapon for the task and is usually pretty good about it. If it's a stealth mission, the silenced weapon is always kept as the default, whereas in major firefights, the game will always switch to the most-powerful weapon in your inventory as soon as you pick it up.
While this might make the third-person shooting sequences sound like the easiest thing in the world, they're not. As long as you can pick off enemies from a relative distance, you're in fine shape and will rarely take much damage. But the second you get in close, you're hosed, thanks to the spastic camera. If you're in a tight space when fighting an enemy, or if there's other downed enemies in the close vicinity, nothing works right. The camera starts snapping around obnoxiously, making it nearly impossible to see where the guy shooting you in the head is standing, and for some bizarre reason, the button that searches dead enemies is the same as the melee-attack button. Trying to target and shoot enemies at close range just makes the camera worse, so you pretty much have to physically attack them. But if there's a dead guy at your feet, your character will start trying to grab whatever he's got on him while you're being pumped full of lead.