By now Jack Bauer, the resilient hero of 24, has to be wondering if every day he's alive is going to be spent taking down terrorists, staying out of jail, and trying to smoke out the mole at CTU. It seems like every few months another group of baddies do their worst on Los Angeles and it always ends up being Jack's job to spend the whole day kicking their butts and make sure nothing bad happens to his fair city.
On TV Jack Bauer is a one-man army you don't want to go up against, the kind of hero that will do whatever it takes to save the day. If you're a fan of the show then you already know that he is on his fifth day of saving the President, protecting L.A., dismantling bombs, and yes, even trying to sustain a love life. It's just one day at a time for Jack, a guy who apparently never eats and loathes sleep.
It's his superhero-like way of getting the job done that makes him such an attractive character for a video game. You watch even one episode of 24 and you know that it would make a solid video game; it just feels like the type of product you might expect from a Metal Gear Solid adventure or something starring Sam Fischer. The shows are full of unique characters, inter-connecting stories, and plenty of all-out action sequences that keep you on the edge of your seat. I'm surprised it's taken this long for Jack Bauer to find his way onto a video game system, but now that he's here we're sure glad to have him … for the most part.
Fans of 24 will be happy to know that SCE Studios Cambridge, the developers behind Jack's latest adventure, has managed to get the show aspects perfect. The cinemas are taken directly from the TV show, with handheld camera work and multiple boxes on screen at once. This is a story that, while somewhat simpler than its TV counterpart, manages to feel exactly like what you would expect from a season of 24. If you're the type of person that wants to know everything about Jack and his bad days, then this game was made specifically for you.
24: The Game takes place between seasons 2 and 3, giving the game a chance to offer a new story with a brand new evil villain. Things start out simple enough with a routine boat investigation that is supposed to turn up the deadly chemical weapon ricin. Before long there will be an attempt on the Vice President's life, a few car chases, a couple of kidnappings, and a whole bunch of bombs to contend with. Sounds like just another day on the job for Jack Bauer.
I won't get in to all of the specifics about the story, but needless to say that this is one adventure that is filled with twists and turns, all leading to some of the most exciting sequences in 24 history. Nearly every major character from the show finds their way in here, including the entire cast from CTU and a few of the older (and favorite) villains from previous seasons. Although not every character has a lot to say (President Palmer gets about three minutes of screen time), the developers should be commended for going back and re-introducing many of the players we've come to love (or hate). Expect Kim to get into more trouble, watch Chase try and stay deep undercover, see Chloe hack the computers and save the day; all of the clichés are clear and in focus for this 24 game.
But once you're done watching the cinemas and trying to make sense of the story you are left with a game that could have been a lot better. No matter which character you're controlling -- Jack, Tony, Kim, among others -- you'll always be fighting with the sluggish control scheme. The auto aim proves to be the toughest enemy of this game; it's constantly aiming at the wrong thing or failing to hit its target. You'll find yourself battling the controls for at least the first few hours before getting used to it.
Thankfully the enemies in 24: The Game are pretty stupid. It will take some of the enemies 30 seconds or more to shoot at you after he's seen you, giving you plenty of time to get your aim down and take him out. These enemies aren't the best shot, either. In many of the levels all you have to do to avoid them is run around in plain sight, giving you time to figure out where you need to go next.
Along with running around and shooting terrorists, 24 also features a number of disappointing driving levels. Thanks to its structure, 24 never comes off feeling like a Grand Theft Auto-rip off; your driving missions usually involve you escaping somebody or chasing somebody, both of which end up being extremely linear. Things are not helped by the fact that L.A. has been reduced in size for this game. Don't expect the sprawling city of Los Angeles, you are pretty much only getting a chunk … and a not very interesting chunk at that.
It's easy to see what is wrong with the driving right away, it's hard to control. The cars just don't feel right and things tend to be more frustrating than fun. While playing through the game I started to realize that this reminded me of another PlayStation 2 game made by Sony, The Getaway. 24 does not have the attention to detail, but it does have the control problems and the same unexciting look. Jack Bauer is at his best when he's out of his car.
Oh, and I can't forget to mention the bevy of mini-games. Whenever you need to pick a lock or hack a computer, 24 decides to throw you a funky little mini-game, most of which require some kind of puzzle solving. These sections aren't difficult, but a couple of them can be a little frustrating at first. By the end of the experience a few of these games actually started to grow on me, I probably wouldn't want to play them as a stand alone experience, but they weren't bringing this experience down either.
Fans of the show might notice a few other problems with the game, especially when it comes to time management. 24 has always had to fudge the reality of their stopwatch, without speeding up time there would be no way of fitting a full hour into a 44 minute show. But 24: The Game takes this art to a whole new level, you can literally complete what the game calls an hour in under 15 minutes. The problem is that a lot of the levels (especially early on) don't seem to have much going on; there's a brief cinema laying out the story of that episode and then it's up to you to perform some kind of action mission, once completed you're treated to another cinema and then the clock counting up to the next hour. It feels like the first six hours can be done in only a couple hours, while the game tops off at around 10 hours. That's about half of the time it would take to actually watch a season on DVD.
When you play the game it's easy to see what was cut out in order to bring it down to the shorter running time. For one thing you almost never see things from the perspective of the bad guys, which is something you see on the show nearly every episode. The problem with cutting this out is that we never really get a firm understanding on why all of this is happening, they decided to completely ignore turning the villain into a real person, he's just an over-the-top character that has decided to cause damage to L.A.
Another aspect from the show that has been changed is just how much stuff is actually going on. On TV each 24 episode is dense with connecting plots and personal strife, but this game has toned all of that down. This story has really been shaved down to the bare essentials, literally just the plot points that keep this story racing ahead. Some gamers might not care about all of the character tangents and misleading signals the show is so good at, but considering how well the rest of the story elements are presented it's a shame they didn't go all the way.
One reason everything feels so much like the show is because nearly every actor lends their voice. Hearing Kiefer Sutherland bark out orders and announce what time it is before each episode brings a lot of authenticity to the project, when you're in the middle of a call to CTU and have Tony and Michelle guiding you it really feels like what you would expect from a game based on 24. Not every line of dialogue is perfect (sometimes Keifer sounds confused by what is supposed to be going on around him), but everybody gives it their all and helps to provide tension to an already exciting story.
And I can't forget the sound, either. The sound effects in the cinemas are fantastic, capturing every sound of CTU perfectly. Heck, even the music is appropriate and well-timed, again making you feel like you're right in the middle of another exciting 24 adventure. I do have some problems with the in-game sound effects (such as the fact that it barely makes a sound when you punch somebody), but by and large 24's sound mix is pretty darn good.
Unfortunately the graphics are something of a mixed bag. On one hand the cinemas look amazing, every character's look is surprisingly close to the original show. There are moments in these cinema sequences where it's almost hard to tell the difference between the game and the show, especially when there are multiple screens at once showing you four different events going on at that moment in time. But once you get out of these cut scenes you get something that is kind of ugly.
Nobody is going to complain about Jack's model, he's large and has a nice attention to detail, but what is around him is somewhat disappointing. It's not that the in-game graphics are particularly bad; it's that the graphics engine never feels like it is keeping up. The game suffers from more than a few frame rate issues, some of which are so bad that you'll wonder if your system is starting to give. Another problem is that the animation never looks quite right; it has a very odd look that keeps it mimicking the TV show perfectly.
On the positive side, 24 does manage to offer up a lot of interesting environments to kill people in. You're constantly going to new places that look just like they were plucked straight out of the popular TV show. And while the game isn't always consistent, there are a few levels that are both exciting and innovative.
Despite having some control problems, 24: The Game is well worth playing if you're already a fan of the TV show. Not only is it fun to experience another exciting day in the life of Jack Bauer, but it also fills in some back story you wouldn't normally get. This is far from perfect, but it manages to do a few things I wouldn't mind seeing in future games. I especially love the structure of the game; the "real time" aspect of the title brings a lot to the story telling. I also really enjoyed the way they tried to copy the camera style of the show; I'm hoping that more developers will experiment with different styles of cinemas to tell their story.
If you're not already a fan of 24 then this might not be a game for you. It's not that it is steeped in back story, but rather that there are superior action games on the market that do a better job of easing you in. That's not to say that non-fans won't enjoy it, but it might not be the same experience for somebody who doesn't already know names like Nina, Mandy, and Ryan Chappelle.
As a first attempt 24: The Game gets passing marks, but we all hope that future installments are more refined. There are a lot of things the developers of 24 should be proud of, now it's time for them to bring us a game that lives up to the potential of the TV show. Do it right and Jack Bauer may just give Solid Snake a run for his money.
More On:24: The Game
Companies: 2K Games
24: The Game manages to duplicate the shows frantic pace and distinct look while providing an interesting story fans will want to experience. Unfortunately it also features some bad control and terrible driving missions. But who said Jack's day was going to be perfect?