Reviewed: March 18, 2006
Released: February 28, 2006
Unless you have been living under a rock (or some other Fox Network deprived area) for the past five years you probably all know about “24”, and Jack Bauer, his estranged daughter, Kim, the ultra suave President Palmer, and the rest of the eclectic cast that makes up CTU Los Angeles.
For five years these people have kept America safe from all sorts of terrorist plots from abroad and even a few internal threats using their amazing skills with weapons, computers, and carefully worded techno-speak.
When I first learned they were making 24: The Game I had that same uneasy feeling when I learned that Acclaim was making an Alias game back in 2004. Apparently the rule of network-to-video-game licensing is that if your show can last five years on TV you qualify for a video game.
At least 2K Games was able to get Fox totally onboard with this project and secure SCE Cambridge to recreate this franchise on the PS2. I’m guessing that since Sony created the game that is why we won’t be seeing it on Xbox or GameCube anytime soon. And while 24: The Game does an uncanny job of capturing the real-time, multi-window drama, it falls just short of uninspired when it comes to gameplay.
It would have been easy for the writers to come up with a whole new “day” of adventures for Jack and his team, actually they did, but I wasn’t expecting them to actually create a bridge between existing TV seasons. The story, as you quickly learn, takes place between Seasons 2 and 3, so we get to be with Kim on her first day at CTU (nice promotion from babysitter in Season 2 – thanks dad), and we get to see President Palmer, now in a wheelchair, recovering from his toxic handshake assassination attempt. We also get to witness the budding relationship between Tony and Michelle.
If these names or events mean nothing to you then why are you reading this review or considering the game? Go rent or buy the DVD season boxes and come back after you have at least watched the first 48 hours so you know what’s going on. Seriously, this game is designed for the fans of the show and probably won’t interest, or even make sense to “outsiders”.
24: The Game is broken up into 24 chapters (wow, what a surprise) with each chapter continuing the main story or some sub-plot of that story. Much like the real show, where you end up at the end is usually very far from where you started. I’m amazed at what these people can do and where they can go in 24 hours.
You start off by making a raid on a cargo ship and defusing a bomb then quickly flip over to Chase who has gone underground into a criminal organization that is preparing to assassinate the Vice President. He gets discovered and must shoot his way out of enemy HQ. We then flip back to Jack who must foil the assassination attempt, and so the story and plot twists continue for the next full day of exciting non-stop action.
Each chapter is prefaced with Kiefer’s raspy, “The following events take place between x and x”, and sub-stages of the levels are blended together with those famous multi-panel displays with the clock in the middle that usually mean a commercial is coming. And while the game is conceptually in real-time, there are only a few parts where you actually get a clock ticking down some arbitrary time limit.
The designers have managed to create quite the eclectic mix of gameplay elements. You have standard action segments with plenty of shooting and apprehensions, then you have driving missions, puzzles to test your mind and reflexes, a sniper level, an interrogation mini-game, and some unique and visionary gameplay twists ranging from satellite tracking to defragging a hard drive.
Sadly, the weakest element of all this is the on-foot action and shooting, and thus you’ll find yourself doing this the most and disliking it most of the time. It’s not so much that the 3D engine is bad, although it has problems, or the targeting system is flaky, or the camera has issues. My biggest peeve with the missions is the scoring and reward system.
You see, you are ranked for each hour of the day based on a whole lot of criteria that you really don’t know until you are done with the hour and can see what you didn’t do. This means that if you want to earn those high scores, good grades, and questionable bonus material, you will need to replay almost every hour of the game multiple times.
I’ve ended several levels thinking I did exceptionally well only to find out I was supposed to arrest x-many bad guy or restrain x-many civilians. One level even wanted me to “announce” myself as LA CTU x-many times, which probably explains why I didn’t have as many surrenders as I should have. Driving is especially challenging when you are not allowed to damage the car or “scare” pedestrians.
There are also some questionable design decisions when it comes to stealth. About 7-8 hours into the game you play as Kim who is forced to sneak through “a level”. This includes going through an air duct where you aren’t supposed to make any noise but no matter how slightly I nudged the stick forward I was always detected. I ended up just running through the stealth levels and sucking up the damage. You take fewer hits when you run than when you sneak and get caught. Lesson to be learned there Sam Fisher…
Enemy AI is a joke, not only with stealth missions but combat in general. Stealth is obviously affected when nothing you do visible or audibly makes one bit of difference as long as the enemy cannot see you (your character’s body). Combat gets crazy when people start running around, even right past you seemingly unaware of your presence at that moment in time.
The game really comes together when it starts blending the game elements so quickly you actually feel you are part of CTU. You’ll go from interrogating a prisoner to defragging a hard drive then trying to ID snipers using thermal imaging from a satellite. After uploading those sniper locations to Jack’s PDA you then get to shoot them down from neighboring skyscrapers using a Silent Scope-style action sequence.
But as previously mentioned, the game falls apart with the core action element, the on-foot shooting. The camera is inherently bad so you will need to use the L1 target lock to help ease the frustration, but the flick targeting is wacky and you will often have to unlock and relock to establish a new target. The target lock is a full-body lock and then you have a few seconds to refine that target, hopefully lining up a headshot.
In hostage situations you will need to miss the hostage and hit a small exposed portion of the bad guy. Itchy trigger fingers mean lots of civilian deaths and no bonus content for you. You’ll also want to watch for enemies who surrender. You might be unleashing a stream of bullets, but as soon as those hands go up you had better not finish him off or you’ll get in trouble. Of course cuffing a suspect is awkward and you have to be lined up just right to get the prompt. I’ve mistakenly bashed their skull numerous times instead of restraining them.
There is also a nice cover system in place where you can press X against a wall or object and take cover then peek out for the occasion shot. This isn’t as important in the beginning as it is near the end when the odds are totally against you. In fact, the shooting action is actually totally unbalanced. It’s annoyingly easy for the first several hours and tough as nails at the end with no gradation in the middle.
Another major component to the gameplay is driving and whether you are driving a CTU-issue SUV or a car you “commandeered” from a citizen there are usually requirements like doing less than $x dollars worth of damage or staying off the sidewalks so you don’t scare more than x-many people. You’ll also have to get from A to B in a certain time or avoid being detected. It’s all right from the basic spy manual but made slightly less entertaining by some swimmy car physics and a game engine that wasn’t really designed for large outdoor environments.
I’ve been watching 24 for five years now but only until Season 5 did I get to enjoy it in hi-def. The game tries to match that quality as best the PS2 can by offering widescreen and progressive scan support, but the game still looks unremarkable for the most part, at least during gameplay.
Character models are stiff and awkwardly animated but at least the faces resemble the actors who portray them. Watching Jack go from a cover position to a walk or into a run is far from seamless and these quick movements keep you constantly fighting with the camera for the best angle on the action.
What does stand out is the unwavering accuracy to the shows style and presentation. At any given moment outside of actually playing the game you can probably fool anybody passing by into thinking you discovered the “lost season” of 24. The multi-view windows depicting simultaneously occurring events, the handheld camera style of shooting, the extreme close-ups on faces, it’s all right from the show and fans will eat it up.
There are CG movies and then there are what appear to be in-game movies but those too are actually recorded game graphics, compressed, and played back. It’s hard to tell unless you plant your nose on a 50” HDTV. The movies all look amazing and the likenesses to the actors is downright eerie (in a good way).
Kudos to getting most of the original cast to do the voices, but I have a strange feeling this was their first time doing studio voice-overs. Things just don’t sound consistent or right most of the time. The tone of conversations will switch radically as evident by Tony’s interrogation of an Asian store clerk and Jack’s questioning of a VP assassin. Lines that follow one another are at way opposite ends of the emotional spectrum.
The music is ripped straight from TV with original composition and scoring by Sean Callery who also does the music for the show. It has all the cues and tempo changes to keep you on the edge of your seat or on some other emotional high when necessary.
Sound effects consist of a lot of gunfire, traffic sounds like car engines, squealing tires, and crashes, and a whole lot of techno beeps and whistles from all the computers, PDA’s, cell phones, and nifty CTU gadgets. It’s not quite James Bond or Alias, but it’s definitely realism with some forward-thinking liberties.
Well, if the game were truly real-time I could say it’s a 24-hour game, but in all likely hood you will beat that mark by at least a few hours. If you don’t care about scores and bonuses you can blaze through the story in about 12-15 hours.
There is a decent collection of bonus material that ranges from interviews with the stars regarding their role in the show and the game, as well as the traditional art portfolio that includes various character models in walking and running poses. Oddly enough, the tougher missions are rewarded with the weakest prizes.
You can access any of the earlier missions by choosing the clever “Previously on 24” menu entry, which recaps everything you have done up to your last save as well as grants you access to any unlocked bonuses. You’ll need some pretty decent scores (usually in the 90+%) to unlock the prize for each level.
I really had to struggle with this game and the review. As a game, 24 is not that strong of an entry into the PS2 library, but as a videogame treatment of a TV show, it does a remarkable job of nailing the presentation and style of the original content.
And therein likes the rub. Any true fan of 24 is going to get 24: The Game regardless of what anyone tells you – even me, and those are the same people who will curse and mutter about all the game’s weaknesses yet continue to play because really, this is the “lost season” of 24, and you can never have too much of a good thing.