Awesome for 24 fans, but the "game" part doesn't really work
It’s kind of a stretch to call 24: The Game a “game” because that is not the reason that anyone has played it. As a piece of the 24 universe it is meant to fill in some gaps and tie up some loose threads between seasons 2 and 3 of the show, and to that end it does a respectable job. Several threads from the end of Day 2 that were either hardly addressed or not explained at all in Day 3 have lots of light shed on them. However, as a video game for the Sony PlayStation 2 game console it’s really a paint-by-numbers game that gets too ambitious for its own good and consequently falls on its face.
The TV show of 24 is rife with material from which to create a game; it has action, interesting characters (both good and bad), numerous and insane plot twists and the ever-growing suspense that comes with its ticking clock. You can play as several characters from the show including Jack, Chase, Tony and Kim (along with many other non-playable characters from the series) who look pretty amazing. Every actor from the series has lent their likeness (and most voices as well) to this game to make it feel totally authentic and in that regard it does not fail. Furthermore, actual writers from the show penned the game’s story, so that early-seasons feel is pretty much cemented. And no, this game doesn’t take 24 hours to complete; it’s more along the lines of 10 hours.
There are three primary modes of play; third-person action (shooting hordes of enemies and stealthily sneaking around), mini-game puzzle solving (hacking into computers and electronic door locks) and driving missions. We’ll start with the third-person action because it does take up the bulk of the game, but it also has its own bulk of ups and downs.
The basic controls are the left stick to move, L1 to target an enemy and R1 to fire your gun. There’s also a “cover” system in 24: The Game and it works pretty well in small fights; simply press X behind something large enough to hide behind such as a stack of crates or a wall to have Jack put his back to the wall. Pressing L1 while in cover will have him peer out to see if any enemies are around and target them if any are, at which point you may open fire at will. It’s once we get past these “basic” controls that problems start cropping up. For starters, if there are two or more enemies that Jack can aim at, the camera will almost always auto-aim at the wrong one whether it be the one farthest away, the one not shooting at you or the unarmed one you shouldn’t shoot at all. Pressing left or right on the left thumbstick will change targets but you have to press hard or it won’t always work.
The fun that third-person shooting offers is all the weapons you can choose from; pistols, shotguns, automatic weapons, better automatic weapons and a good old punch in the face if you need to. You can take weapons and ammo from any of the dead henchmen you come across by pressing Square while standing over them. 24: The Game even has an option to auto-equip the best weapon in your arsenal, so if you find yourself running low on 9mm ammo for your pistol and you search a body only for more enemies to come running at you, you may find yourself suddenly firing your new Soviet rifle at them. The thing is you will have dead henchmen left and right to pick ammo from because the enemy AI is incredibly stupid; they either don’t shoot back or have a cover pattern that makes them easily hittable. If you stand far enough away you can simply take cover and mow down a dozen enemies before any of them can get a good shot off at you. This only appears to be a problem from a pure gameplay stance, but as a 24 fan I can excuse it because in its own strange way the game is actually keeping with the way the show unfolds; Jack against an army of ten terrorists with automatic weapons, and all he needs is his 9mm, 15-shot pistol to take out nine of them and then kill the tenth with his bare hands and maybe a nearby chain. However, while everything is peachy from far away, once you get in close you will wonder if you’re playing a finished game. If you’re confronting more than one enemy up close the L1 aiming system will be shot to hell with the camera spastically jumping around everywhere except at the guy who’s filling you with of bullets or repeatedly punching you in the head, and by the time you either manage to look at the enemy or run away your life will almost be completely depleted. This incredible annoyance will cause you to twitch with anger, so if you can, avoid any close combat and invert the controls if you have to.
Speaking of needing patience, there are some rather lengthy driving missions, and unfortunately they are the least fun part of the game because every vehicle you can control in this game handles absolutely atrociously. It feels like you’re driving on ice with bald tires and you’re actually controlling a piece of wood. Every mission involves either you chasing a villain or you getting chased and rammed by several enemy vehicles, and if the controls weren’t so bad these missions would actually be fun; suddenly reversing, swerving about and even losing your pursuers by forcing them to crash into oncoming traffic is some level of fun, but the fact of the matter is that you will almost always need to play a driving mission at least twice to actually pass it, and some of the ones later in the game require even more patience. Luckily every mission, if lengthy enough, has auto-save checkpoints that will keep you from having to start all over if you fail a mission, and you will when driving.
Puzzle solving comes in both stand-alone missions and as requirements in the middle of third-person missions. The most fun “puzzle” is interrogating a suspect who refuses to give up necessary information. Jack or Tony will have the suspect restrained and you must utilize their powers of persuasion to extract what you need within a time limit, usually about four and a half minutes. Using Triangle for aggressive, Square for neutral and X for calm you must get the suspect’s heart rate within the “cooperation line” several times to progress. Every time a question is answered a green bar will fill up on the side of the screen, but if the suspect gets too calm or too panicked you will have to press Triangle or X numerous times to get the heart rate back in range, and once you get close to the end the sweet spot will move around, making it difficult to hit. The gameplay is fun and it’s funny to hear the suspect get more and more panicked, but if anything is off in this mini-game it’s the audio. Jack may go from yelling death threats to being calmly threatening to simply trying to soothe the suspect’s nerves all in a span of twenty seconds, and while this does fit with the objective of the game it just kills a lot of the tension (at least, until you look at the ticking clock in the corner again).
The other puzzle-based missions are fairly straightforward and simple. You have to rearrange red letters in a certain order until they turn green to crack electric locks, which comes up quite a bit and can’t help but feel too easy. Another one has you use the four face buttons to trace the correct path to two cubes (nodes) to unlock a door, (if you just sit at the beginning and take a few seconds to plan your path there’s really no challenge involved here), and there’s a hacking puzzle in which you have to partition a hard drive by ever-more-quickly matching the face buttons with the corresponding colored sections. One last one reminds me of the lock picking from Splinter Cell: you have to locate the sites of 10 bombs in a given area and you must rotate and swivel the left thumbstick precisely to find them and then stick with that exact spot for a few seconds to let it lock on, much like finding the sweet spot and jiggling in that area to pick locks as Sam Fisher.
And it’s that comparison to Splinter Cell that brings me full circle to what really plagues this game overall, which is that it just tries too damn hard to be too many different things and can’t pull any of it off successfully. It has third-person action like Resident Evil 4, driving and stealing cars like GTA, stealth like Splinter Cell and puzzles like something from a Touch Generations DS game. And how do you mesh all of these genres and modes of gameplay into one coherent game? I don’t know, because this game isn’t it. And furthermore, there are some large gaps of time and logic that the game makes no effort to explain. On the show there can be two or three concurrent storylines in one episode, yet in the game you almost have the exact opposite, one storyline that takes three hours. Also, on the show you often see the bad guys’ point of view and get some sort of understanding of what they’re doing, but in the game other than when the good guys are around you really don’t hear anything about their true objectives or true motives. This can be forgiven because this is a game, but even so that left me feeling down.
For the true 24 nut, all missions have “objectives” that help you unlock bonus content at the end of each mission. Character profiles and actor interviews make up the bulk of the unlockables that you can get if you achieve a grade of 90% or above in any of the 58 separate missions. The grades you get depend on several factors the game tracks and displays at the end of the missions. You can get bonus points for speed, accuracy, number of head shots, number of civilians rescued and more, while you get points subtracted for civilians harmed, vehicle damage, inaccuracy or taking too much time. The grading system is meant to encourage replaying the game, and for the action-focused missions such as storming buildings and rescuing people it works, but you have to be either incredibly hardcore or a masochist to want to do some of these driving missions again just to unlock a model of “Madsen’s Bodyguard #3.”
In the end, 24: The Game feels like an opportunity that wasn’t fully cashed in on. It packs much of what is great about the TV show into a game but also leaves you inexcusably hanging and scratching your head at many points. I recently acquired all five available seasons of the show on DVD, and after watching through the first two seasons I played this game, and it would take a fellow 24 fan that would do the same thing to really tolerate and maybe even enjoy 24: The Game. Otherwise, you’re better off renting it or just staying away.