24 is one mixed bag of a game. The presentation is outstanding, but there are too many gameplay problems to ignore.
The premise of the TV show (which, again, if you don't already know, then you needn't bother with this game) is that each season is one real-time 24-hour period in the lives of Counter Terrorist Unit agent Jack Bauer and his cohorts. Faced with some terrorist plot that typically endangers the entire city of Los Angeles, the entire country, or the entire world, the agents of CTU must race against time to foil the evildoers' efforts. Unlike the show, the game doesn't take place in real time, but it does present a story broken down into 24 one-hour chunks. The game takes place between seasons 2 and 3 of the show and presents a storyline worthy of 24, while also nicely filling in a few gaps in the plot of the show between those two seasons. Since the story is easily the best thing about the game, we don't want to give anything away, but suffice it to say that Jack, Tony, Michelle, Kim, and Chase all find themselves working to stop terrorists from really shaking things up in Los Angeles. The cutscenes that tell the game's story are truly outstanding, and any fan of the show will instantly recognize not just 24's well-known simultaneous use of multiple cameras, but also the distinct handheld cinematography. Considering the level of work that obviously went into the game's story, there are a few surprisingly careless mistakes, such as one hour that ends with Jack leaving one location and the next hour beginning with him instantly arriving at his destination. However, the bulk of the story is good enough that these errors can be overlooked. The characters all bear a remarkable likeness to the actors who play them, and the voice acting is uniformly excellent. Fans of the show may find the game worth their while simply because the game excels so much in this regard.
The bulk of 24's gameplay is made up of third-person shooting sequences. Over the course of the day, you'll find yourself in a diverse range of locales, from run-down apartment buildings to military bases to high-tech office complexes, and the environments are all nicely designed and feel pretty authentic. The 24 presentation style comes into effect sometimes in these sequences as well, and occasionally it's put to pretty good use. For instance, one sequence has you fighting your way through back alleys, and the screen divides between the typical third-person camera view and another view showing a live news broadcast of the situation. Unfortunately, the shooting itself is pretty problematic. The characters you control are so lock-on happy that, if there are bad guys standing around, it's difficult to shoot at anything but them. You may be tempted to fire at that conveniently placed explosive barrel sitting right there, but it's just not worth the trouble. At other times, locking on can be extremely difficult. If you have enemies shooting at you from some direction other than the one the camera is facing, or if they're standing extremely close to you, it's a real pain to spin the camera around so that you can get them in your sights. Still, for all these annoyances, the third-person shooting in the game is generally pretty easy. You can typically just take cover behind a doorframe or duck under a desk, pop out when your enemies reveal themselves, and take them down. Enemies will sometimes make use of cover themselves, but they're pretty dumb, and it's not unusual to see them just walking up against walls. Occasionally you'll be accompanied by teammates or be escorting another character, and these are no smarter than the bad guys. You may fight through a level only to find that your partner is caught in a corner several rooms back, requiring you to run back to collect them.
The second most prominent type of level in the game is the driving level, and these are a lot worse than the shooting levels. The environment you most often find yourself cruising around in looks quite a bit like Los Angeles, but this doesn't matter because these levels just aren't any fun. The cars you drive all handle pretty terribly, and the objectives in these stages often feel completely broken. For instance, there are a few levels where you have to elude your pursuers who, regardless of the fact that they're law enforcement officers, will ram into your vehicle with no regard for their safety, your safety or the safety of the innocent motorists around you. What's more, it seems as if these levels attempt to be white-knuckle chase sequences, but there are absolutely none of the thrills that come from a good chase sequence here, because no matter how fast and how well you drive, you can't shake them off. On the other hand, if you make one sharp turn, you might get lucky and lose them without any difficulty whatsoever.
Other than these two types of levels, the game throws a bunch of minigames at you, many of which appear to be somewhat complex at first glance, but all of which turn out to be incredibly simple. The most engaging minigame is probably the interrogation game, which requires you to manipulate the subject's stress level, as indicated by an onscreen meter, to extract information from them in a limited amount of time. It's pretty basic, but the presentation, at least, makes it entertaining. The ultimate example of incredibly simplistic minigames, though, is the keypad entry minigame, in which someone recites a six-digit sequence of numbers, and it's your exciting responsibility to enter those numbers on a keypad. But that's not all--you have to enter the numbers accurately! If you get even one number wrong, you fail! Sure, you may have the necessary skills to input 356892, but can you handle 914786? Lives are hanging in the balance! In all seriousness, this is pretty lame, and most of the minigames aren't much better.
Graphically, 24 manages to be both impressive and underwhelming. The cutscenes really are pretty remarkable, accurately capturing the look of the characters, the camera work and the familiar CTU environment from the TV show. On the other hand, the in-game graphics have a clean, realistic look to them, but the levels, while nicely designed, lack that additional layer of polish to them that would make them truly believable. Additionally, the game's frame rate plummets when there's a lot of action going on, which is pretty often.
The game's sound is, for the most part, more impressive. On the whole, the sound is pretty excellent, largely because the show's cast all do an outstanding job with their dialogue in the game. The game's guest stars, including Andreas Katsulas and Thomas Kretschmann, perform admirably as well. There are a few times where things fall apart in the sound department too, though, particularly when characters say things that seem completely inappropriate to the moment. For instance, at one point you're fighting your way through an apartment building riddled with gangsters and drug addicts, and women will occasionally calmly say things such as "Looking for some action?" and "See anything you like?" even while you're in the middle of a gunfight. This is completely absurd and really detracts from the experience. The game's sound effects are all serviceable, and while there isn't a great deal of music in the game, it's all recognizable stuff from the show that typically kicks in at appropriate times to enhance the mood of the onscreen action.
Aside from a few points like the aforementioned vehicle pursuit levels, which can be pointlessly challenging without being any fun, the game isn't very difficult, and it isn't particularly long, either. Most players should be able to complete it in about twelve hours. After that, you can go back and replay any of the game's missions hoping to earn a better performance rating, but unless you're desperate to unlock bonuses like a three-dimensional model of thug #2 that you can play around with or a video interview that reveals Reiko Aylesworth's feelings on recording her voice for the game, you probably won't feel much incentive to do this.
24 is one mixed bag of a game. The presentation is truly outstanding, and the story is good enough that fans of the show may find a rental and a playthrough worth their while for these aspects of the game alone. Unfortunately, while there's real potential in the source material for an outstanding game, the gameplay here just doesn't quite deliver. There are too many minor problems to ignore, which is all the more disappointing because it's clear that some people worked really hard to make 24 a quality product. If you're a fan of the Jack Bauer Power Hour, you might want to give the game a go, but otherwise, this is one day in the life of CTU you're better off not living.