24 is one of the most popular and innovative pieces of work currently on television today, so it's no surprise that video game clones of the 24 concept--a big, tense situation playing out via multiple perspectives over the course of a single 24-hour time period--would start to show up on the scene. 24 actually has its own game coming out next year, but the running start with the concept goes to Capcom and developer CiRCLE's Without Warning. The gimmick here? It takes place in a chemical plant overrun with terrorists, and spans a 12-hour period. The perspectives of six key characters are featured as well, causing the story to dart around quite a bit. But whereas in most cases when you tell a story from multiple character standpoints, that story and said characters are usually required to be interesting, Without Warning offers nothing of the sort. The plot is flat and painfully generic, the characters are terribly wooden rehashes of tired action game/movie clichés, and on top of all of that, the gameplay is about as dull as a game about shooting terrorists in the face can possibly get. So while Without Warning might have an interesting concept, it does next to nothing with it.
The plot description in the previous paragraph is just about as much story depth as you'll get from playing through the entire game. A terrorist group led by a French-Canadian mercenary has broken into a chemical plant on US soil, and plans to do something seriously evil with the chemicals housed in the facility. A military unit is sent in to take them out, and is subsequently gutted in a brutal attack. Only three soldiers, Kyle Rivers, Jack Hooper, and Ed Reagan, are left. In addition to them, three civilians are trapped onsite, including Dave Wilson, a plant security guard; Ben Harrison, a TV news cameraman that gets stuck in the plant when his news helicopter is shot down; and Tanya Shaw, a plant office secretary. Everyone's either trying to escape, or kill all the terrorists.
Throughout the course of the game, you play as each of these characters at one point or another, although you'll never grow to care about a single one of them. These characters are about as deep as an inflatable pool. One might argue that in an action game, you're not supposed to care about the characters as much as you are the action, but that's not so much the case here. Because of the whole shifting perspectives thing, you find yourself playing a lot of the same sequences over and over again, but with different characters. If the interactions, dialogue or situations were at all interesting, that repetition would be forgivable. But none of the three is in any way interesting. The story never transcends the basic "Terrorists! Get 'em!" kind of stuff that we've seen in hundreds of other shooters. The dialogue is cheesy and badly written, the voice acting is even worse--with actors apparently recording their first and only takes of their lines--and every single situation the game puts you in is just stupidly predictable, taking any measure of thrill or excitement out of the picture. Thus, you're left with a game design that feels terribly lazy and repetitious, thanks to poor execution of its somewhat ambitious premise.
Another problem is that Without Warning largely fails to make the act of shooting evil terrorists fun. The basic shooting mechanics are OK on paper, with a target-lock feature mapped to the left trigger button, and shooting to the right trigger. The problem is that when you shoot a bad guy, you never actually know what's going to happen. Sometimes you'll get lucky and pick off a guy from hundreds of feet away with a machine gun. And sometimes you'll have to shoot a guy three to four times with a shotgun at point-blank range to take him down. In fact, you're often better off trying to stay as far away as possible from any bad guys, as target locking enemies at relatively close distances causes the camera to snap around in a spastic fashion. It also doesn't help that each character is basically relegated to one weapon type. Whereas in just about any shooter in existence, you can pick up weapons of fallen enemies, this is not the case in Without Warning. It's arguable that the special-ops soldiers are probably fine with their automatic weapons, but when you're playing as a security guard with a weak pistol, you'd have to envision him eventually wanting to pick up a fallen AK-47 at some point.
Apart from weaponry, there isn't a lot of difference between most of the characters. All three of the soldiers and Dave the security guard handle roughly the same, apart from a few differentiating tasks assigned to each of them (Reagan is an explosives expert, so he diffuses a lot of bombs via some dull minigames, whereas Kyle has a sniper rifle as a bonus weapon, so he can pick off enemies from great distances). As for the secretary and the cameraman, their whole thing is "no confrontation." Ben's more interested in filming than shooting, and Tanya's just trying to get the hell out of dodge. The problem is that the story is paced out such that it takes hours to even get to the sections featuring Ben and Tanya; and when you do, you realize that it was all for naught, because trying to play stealthy in this game is the antithesis of fun, and in the off chance you do find yourself in combat, the weapons at your disposal aren't exactly good.
Again, not that the shooting is any better. Fighting off hordes of angry terrorists ought to be at least a viscerally pleasing experience, but it just falls flat, thanks to the limp weaponry and enemies that range from brain-dead to superhuman. Enemies are good at finding cover for the most part, but in some ways the game might have been better off without this bonus because it's already hard enough to take most enemies down. You'll actually be happy when the artificial intelligence randomly screws up and gets stuck running around in a circle or up against one environmental object or another--it'll make your life a lot less frustrating.
To make matters worse (or perhaps better, when you consider how frustrating the game can be), there's no element of surprise or unpredictability throughout any of the action. If you walk into a room, you will know where the bad guys are going to come from before they even step foot into your field of view. Any time there's a door leading to nowhere, a random corner that you haven't investigated, or any other sort of hiding place, you can expect terrorists to spawn there wantonly, because they will. Even better (or worse), the game practically waves a flag in your face to let you know enemies are coming via a significant drop in the frame rate every single time new enemies spawn. Between the weak shooting, predictable enemy spawning, and generally unimpressive AI, you're not going to have much fun playing this game.
The one thing that Without Warning has going for it is an entirely decent graphics engine. Given that it takes place inside a chemical plant, it's unsurprising that the environments would be styled in bland, industrial color tones, with lots of crates, barrels, and whatnot littering the areas. But for the most part, the game does a good job with all of these things. It may not be the most aesthetically pleasing environment, but all the different set pieces, breakable objects and environmental textures are nicely detailed. The character models, however, are a different story. The main characters are decently put together--despite the fact that their mouths never move during cutscenes--but the enemies are just plain ugly. They animate stiffly, barely react to getting shot (save for a few overwrought death animations) and upon close inspection, reveal horrid-looking facial maps and bodies. On top of all of this, there are the aforementioned camera and frame rate issues, ultimately negating a lot of the graphics' appeal.
The audio is mostly awful. As mentioned before, the voice actors used for these characters are beyond cheesy. Nobody sounds like they actually should, and every line is delivered with the kind of overly edgy intensity that would make Paul Walker blush. The terrorists occasionally mutter anti-American epithets and scream "Kill the soldiers!" in entirely indecipherable accents, but that's about it. There isn't a lot of music in the game, and what little is there doesn't make much of an impression. The sound effects are the lone standout, with some intense explosion and gunfire effects, but they aren't enough to salvage the audio presentation.
Without Warning can't be blamed for wanting to try something a little bit different than the average shooter--the problem is that the only thing it does differently isn't done very well, and the remaining components are so generic and hackneyed that they completely murder what small measure of originality the game has to offer. It's a dumb, frustrating, and boring game that clearly needed a lot more time in the pipes to become something entertaining, and it's not worth your time.