Federal Ninja, Jack Bauer, has to have the worst luck out of anyone on the planet with the possible exception of John McClane from Die Hard. Those two should really get together. At the time of this review, it’s the fifth season of the critically acclaimed 24 television series and he’s still trying to save the nation one hour at a time as he’s pulled back into service. Although I had only started watching the series since season four, I’ve doing what I can to catch up with the previous adventures of Bauer and company. It was surprising to me that the popular series hasn’t had a game made for it until I heard that one was finally in the works. I’ll have to admit that the early videos showing some of the gameplay didn’t look too impressive and worried at how it was going to turn out. But now that the game is released and in my hands, how well did it capture the essence of the series?
24: The Game was timed on a PS2.
The Following Takes Place Between Seasons Two and Three
Although such marriages between Hollywood and gaming have been occasionally rocky in the past with the hairs on the backs of gamers’ necks prickling at the mere mention of it, in the game it actually works out pretty well. 24: The Game has a story written by 24 scribe, Duppy Demetrius, and the production values also include voices by most of the actual cast from the previous seasons. John Calley also signs on to score the title and the familiar multi screen cuts and sounds such as the familiar “thump” “thump” of the second by second ticker are also packaged into the experience. Sound design in the gameplay elements are also well done, with a lot of effects and explosive blasts reverberating through your speakers in many of the action scenes. This attention to detail also extends to the CG representations for the main characters in the cuts that tell the story, many of the faces showing a lot of detail and the emotional nuances that make them unique. Kiefer Sutherland, Elisha Cuthbert, Carlos Bernard, and others do a pretty good job in bringing their characters into the title and their likenesses in the cinematics and in-game add to the fanservice in making this feel like a missing season of 24.
The environmental graphics that you also get to see in the game are pretty varied, showing off places ranging from underground military bunkers to the offices of CTU itself. LA doesn’t look bad, either, when you get to see it during the driving portions of the title, but the same can’t be said for the cars. On the other side of the coin, some of the areas and textures can tend to look pretty dated. The title even makes use of Havok physics allowing you to send tables, chairs, and people falling down stairs although this last feels wasted on only one instance when you have to roll something into place to avoid getting blown apart. The animations that many of the characters sport and the detail that they are rendered in do the job, but they really don’t stand out. While many of the animations aren’t bad, some can appear to be kind of stiff, especially if you drop down from clambering over crates or in watching people dive out of the way of your car.
Questions such as how Bauer had met Chase Edmunds, how Kim landed a job at CTU, or who was behind President Palmer’s assassination attempt are answered in the game. The story is told in true 24 style with every nuance that you would expect out of the television show transplanted into the story cuts, camera views, and characters that you get to see here. The story isn’t perfect, though, and there are quite a few places where there are some odd holes including one plot device that was harder to swallow than some of the others that had come up before in the other seasons. Despite that, there’s still quite a bit for fans to enjoy here.
There are even bonuses such as filmed interviews with the cast, TV spots, and the opportunity to check out some of the in game character models with a viewer if you do well enough in the individual missions. It can be an interesting challenge to try and better your rating in each mission just to unlock everything that you can. In that sense, the title does have some replayability. The question is, though, is if you really want to play through some of these missions again.
This ‘season’ of 24 is told in between a potpourri of game sequences, each designed to put players into the same kind of timed pressure cooker that that Jack Bauer and other CTU operatives experience in the series. Players will get to play as Jack Bauer, but they’ll also be in the shoes and boots of several other characters as different leads and missions reveal themselves during the course of the episodes. The game doesn’t really last twenty four hours, though, but it does ‘present’ the timecode onscreen for whatever mission you’re in just as it does in the show to simulate the passage of time. You can expect a total of about ten or so hours of gameplay here through its fifty plus missions.
The difficulty of the game is also preset, so if you’re a glutton for action or are having trouble with a particular part of the game, you may find yourself just having to deal with what it gives you. Fortunately, the overall challenge of the title isn’t so much that you need FPS sharpened reflexes and a degree in puzzle solving to get through it. The level of challenge felt ‘just right’ for a fan of the series that isn’t a huge gamer. Some of these missions can literally take only minutes to finish. There are still parts that can get pretty frustrating and not because of what the game throws in your face, though. Experienced action gamers may find a lot of what the game gives you to be on the easy…and somewhat repetitive…side.
CTU! Federal Agent!
The mini games are where the meat of the game is found. You first start out in the game’s third-person mode as Jack Bauer, and are introduced to the basic controls of how to take cover and use the manual ‘flick targeting’. By holding down the L1 button, you can lock onto foes highlighting them with a huge, yellow target with a smaller crosshair within it for precision aiming. The shooting controls can make this almost too easy to blow through legions of bad guys when they are thrown at you. You’ll also notice that there’s no blood in the game. Little white ‘puffs’ show where your shots land which I thought was really strange. Given the target audience that this is aimed at, an audience that has most likely seen Jack shoot, torture, and decapitate suspects, it was a strange concession to make.
One other thing you might notice is that the voice acting for many of the bad guys that you face off against can be pretty awful and some of the lines that they yell back at you are unintentionally funny. Being repeatedly asked “Who are you?” by a hardened mercenary in the middle of a firefight is something you’ll hear often. You might also get the feeling that there’s some kind of cloning facility at work here when you take out your hundredth bald headed bearded bad guy.
If you want to stop the killing, you can opt to call out and identify yourself in the hopes that whoever you are shooting at will surrender before your last bullet puts them down for good. This doesn’t work all the time and you’ll be dusting most everyone that you’ll run across anyway. You don’t get put on probation if you shoot bad guys that give up, but you don’t earn points towards your rating, either. If foes surrender, you can ‘restrain’ them with cuffs, adding points to your rating. You can also do the same thing to civilians to keep them out of harm’s way which was kind of a weird thing to do, such as when I had Michelle rescue a batch of hostages and then had her go around and cuff each one, probably to keep them from leaving work as there was still stuff to do.
As you battle your way through these sequences, you can also pick up health packs or make use of ‘healing stations’ to keep yourself in the fight. ‘Recharging’ at a healing station looks kind of weird, reminding me that this was a game and not an episode. Many of the areas have additional rooms and hallways that you can sometimes explore, allowing you to find precious body armor, add health packs for your inventory, or use adrenaline that can boost your health for a bit making you a meat shield for as long as it can last. You also have access to a PDA that lists your objectives, weapons that you may have picked up, and even a map of the area that you can use if one has been uploaded to you by CTU. There’s even a kind of ‘radar’ function built into the thing allowing you to detect enemies within a given range so you can plan ahead. And just like the TV series, you will also be using the ubiquitous cell phone to get the latest. You’ll also occasionally find yourself working against the clock, such as in having to escape a base before everything is locked down.
“The only reason that you’re still conscious right now is because I don’t want to carry you.”
It’s not all shooting, though. If foes get too close or if you feel like being a Viking, you have a melee attack that can usually knock most enemies flat on their back. The odd thing is that you can’t really cuff them when they’re on the ground, or force them to surrender. Apparently they just try to keep getting back up until you either knock them out or shoot them on the ground. And if you want to jump on top of foes on the ground to stomp them into submission, think again. There’s no jumping in 24: The Game. You can climb over stuff, but for some reason you can’t jump over obstacles…only kind of run through them.
Some of these missions will also have you sneaking around to do things such as in following a tour group and sneaking off to do something else before they start moving again. You’ll be able to sneak around, enabling you to get behind foes for a ‘stealth kill’ or knockout blow, or try to avoid the guards as you slip by unnoticed. They’ll really only notice you if you cross their field of vision or if you fail to stealthily take one of them out. In keeping with most of the gameplay, it’s pretty forgiving. You can even drag bodies out of the way, although this had its own problems. Losing your grip is way too easy and you might find yourself fumbling around with the arms and legs to pull on more than in actually dragging them to where they’re out of sight.
In some of these on-foot missions, you’ll occasionally have a fellow CTU member with you or even a team that tags along to help out. Sometimes you’ll be called upon to defend them while they do their job, shooting one bad guy after another until they’re safe. Occasionally, you can even tell them to stay put or to follow along with you. Sometimes this doesn’t work too well. One time, I had told a character to stay put, making them seek the nearest cover. Suddenly, they bolted off into the room ahead, through gunfire as they alerted the enemy, and leaving me to chase after them. After clearing my way through, I found them backed up against a wall “taking cover”.
When you can’t dish out orders and your team members go off on their own with the AI in control, that’s when things can also tend to get dicey. Sometimes your team members will run into battle blindly (although they can take a lot of punishment), or they might stay where they are if you decide to run through a field of fire forcing you to come back and get them. Sometimes they’ll bunch up behind you, trapping you against walls or corners on occasion until you can wiggle yourself out.
The AI for the enemy is also pretty awful. While its fun to mow down hordes of foes, it gets pretty repetitive and there’s very little challenge with how easy it is to target them. The AI will take cover, run patrols, and alert others if it can, but only in the most basic sense. Most of your enemies here will choose instead to charge blindly ahead and sometimes stop, waiting for you to come out and shoot them dead. When they take cover, they pop out from behind corners to take pot shots at you or from behind crates and desks like whack-a-moles as they try to avoid your shots.
Even if you manage to shoot them and fail to get a headshot, they’ll usually stay where they are instead of seeking better cover or in surrendering. Sometimes I’d be fighting some foes that had hidden themselves behind some boxes and would just run up and behind the crates to elbow and shoot them after knocking them on the ground. Why? I was tired of watching them pop up and down like jack-in-the-boxes. Some foes, when alerted, may just stand there until you decide you’ve had enough, running up to them and taking them out.
The clunky feel of the third person camera also didn’t help. The camera needed almost constant adjustment from me just to see where I was going, and this was when it was set to automatic mode. Instead of snapping to where you would aim which would make some sense, your character would snap to where the camera was pointed sometimes doing complete 180s as you hit the targeting button. This made for some annoying moments as I spun the camera around to where I wanted to aim at. There were also times when the cuts would actually get in the way, shrinking some of the playing view to accomodate a particular ‘story’ moment. While I liked the cuts in between the missions, I thought they just got in the way during the actual gameplay.
The camera also has the tendency to not be able to hold its angle. If you want to look up or down, you can but as soon as you let the stick go, it rights itself along a horizontal plane which can get annoying when enemies are shooting at you from above or below, making you pretty dependent on the flick targeting to maintain your view. Some of the dark areas in the game also make getting around a little confusing, especially with the camera being what it is, but at least you can adjust this to brighten everything up.
“If you don’t tell me what I want to know, then it’ll just be a question of how much you want it to hurt.”
The puzzles of the game involve using your PDA or CTU resources to hack through passcodes, defrag data, or disarm systems among other things. You’ll unscramble letter sequences, link nodes in a network ‘map’ to connect to targeted systems, or link together nodes to disarm devices or hack through electronic locks. CTU’s PDAs can pretty much do anything. Some of the sequences are also timed. They’re challenging enough to be interesting, but they’re not too difficult.
The game also brings in the interrogation sequences which will test your ability to break people with your words. These are perhaps the most “24” sequences of the entire bunch and no, you don’t get to shoot people in the leg if they’re pissing you off. The voice acting and the way the lines interweave with each other make these sessions feel as if they were lifted from the show. You decide what to say, whether it’s to be calming, neutral, or aggressive to coax your next lead. This has to be balanced out against what the person you are talking to is feeling and you get an idea of this through a screen that shows a kind of ECG waveline. If they stress out, they may snap and you lose any hope of getting anything useful out of them. You’ll also be working against the clock to break them.
Unfortunately, the mini-game of dialogue soon turns into an arcade simulation that tests your reflexes instead of your grey matter. The choices you select either move their stress level higher or lower, but now you’ll also have to match this with a bit of nimble button mashing work to make sure your choice hits the ‘sweet spot’ on the ECG meter to get a positive response. Too many misses, and you might stress out the subject. Later sequences move the stress ‘sweet spot’ making it even more of a test of reflexes as you try to ‘hit the dot’ to break someone.
Then we come to the driving parts of the game that take you to places like downtown LA or out into the country at night. If you’ve played any of the recent Grand Theft Auto titles, these are going to feel as if most of the good parts were taken out. Even if you haven’t, they’ve got their own share of problems that still make them a weak part of the title. None of the vehicles that you start out with in any of these scenarios handle well, unless you decide to flex your CTU authority to seize a car or get a chance to pick up a patrol vehicle and even then you’ll have to deal with some pretty awful controls. Most of them feel as if they haven’t gone for a tune up in decades, barely grinding past what feels like 30mph. And you’re expected to chase down leads and escape pursuers that seem to have better vehicles. Adrenaline pumping excitement it was not.
Your car can take some damage before it starts to catch fire giving you the cue that you have to jump out and find another vehicle. But forget about jumping free from the vehicle as its moving and rolling to safety. To even leave a car, you’ll need to come to a complete stop…assuming you are allowed to even leave the vehicle. Some missions may have you in a car with someone else and if it catches fire, there’s no way out until it blows. Apparently, no one in the car has the good sense that you do to get out and find something else so its until death do you part.
Even more aggravating is that you can’t shoot back at anyone that is pursuing you making it feel like some city-wide demolition derby. The single minded AI tries to ram your car and just corner it against a divider or in traffic, leaving it up to you to back up and try to speed away…and it’s the only thing it does. The only tactic you’ve got is to try and get the AI hung up on an obstacle to ‘lose’ them. Either that, or ram them enough to destroy them. One eyebrow raising moment was when there were four or five cars chasing me on my way to CTU and when I made it through the gates, the car came to a sudden stop while my pursuers came in flying after me. Whoa.
There is also the occasional moment when the power of the script crushed any hopes for you to do anything different. For example, in one mission, I was told to question a suspect only to watch him flee in a van. I guessed right that they’d go around a block and cross a street close to me so I turned my slow SUV around and waited for them to come by. Sure enough, they did, and I hit them head on, stopping them. I thought I was supposed to stop and question this guy, but when nothing happened I moved back and let the van go and chased it down “as I was supposed to”. The game is already pretty linear, but moments like this kind of underline that fact.
A Game for Fans
If this game didn’t have the attachment that it does to 24, I don’t think that I would have enjoyed it as much as I did. It’s definitely a game just for the fans, especially in the sense of its production values and in answering the questions that some may have had between seasons two and three. It’s the 24 flavored script and the strong presentation supporting it that made the experience better than it could have been. But even the fans that are gamers will have to be pretty forgiving to look past the flaws in the gameplay. The cobbled together collection of mini-games and other sequences in the game can feel pretty dated, especially the driving, and the overall level of challenge feels aimed at the casual gamer making many of the missions feel ‘too easy’. None of the sequences do anything to really stand out (aside from the interrogation ones) and in many cases feel as if they’ve inherited some of the worst features of that which is already out there.
Gamers that are interested in the series may be better off in renting the previous series to see what all of the fuss is about, especially if they’ve already played titles such as Grand Theft Auto, Mercenaries, or Metal Gear Solid. But if you’re a fan and a gamer to boot, you may want to experience 24’s missing day more as a weekend rental…unless you absolutely have to have every piece of 24 in your collection.
– World 1-1