It must be a Monday.
I have to admit, I was a fan of 24
once. It was a bristling, smart, action show with tremendous amounts of both suspense and violence. But I had to part ways with it when it stopped being masculine fantasy and began espousing torture
as the solution to every problem. 24
the game, however, is billed as being written by one of the “former writers of 24,” and thankfully avoids real politics, sticks to its little fantasy world and, to its credit, feels more like the first two television seasons than the episodes being turned out now.
Unfortunately, this dedication to the story and character development is the only happy hour in the twenty-four hours of the game. The other twenty-three are lifeless and plodding, like a workday. Of course, it won’t take you twenty-four hours to finish, more like seven or eight, but thanks to some bad design, under-developed mechanics and sloppy A.I., 24 feels like a full day’s work.
That’s a shame, because the developers did a great job of creating a whole new drama featuring the likable characters that, by now in the series, have been killed off. The voice acting and art direction match the show’s nervous aesthetic, and the story itself fits perfectly between the second and third seasons of the series. The plot begins as Jack Bauer and company descend on a boat allegedly loaded with chemical weapons, and then it goes crazy from there.
But aside from providing players with more national security hijinks, the game also explains some of the strange changes that materialized in the third season. For example, you find out how Jack’s brain-dead daughter got a job at the Counter Terrorist Unit. The answer isn’t as hot as we’d like, but neither is the game.
You don’t just play as Jack Bauer, but also as many of the major characters of the show. For fans, this is a delight, for others, it probably won’t make much of a difference as every character behaves exactly the same. Kim Bauer, the character most likely to stab herself in the eye with a pistol, can snipe a terrorist’s head from a hundred yards as easily as Jack himself.
And that’s a big facet of the game. As you proceed on foot from place to place, you have to dispatch hundreds of terrorists using an unusual lock-on aiming system. When you lock-on to an enemy, a heads-up circle is displayed over its body. You move your reticule
within the circle, and aim for various body parts. The neat thing is that if you accidentally move the reticule out of the locked-on circle, you lose the target lock. This makes shooting just a notch more difficult than shooters where locking-on guarantees a hit. You can auto-target, but you still have to aim.
This smart feature is wasted on the absurdly dumb terrorists. These bullet-stoppers stand in one place firing anywhere but at you, rarely take cover, and when they do, they’re always quick to stick their heads back into the line of fire. It feels like terrorist whack-a-mole.
There’s a lot more to the game than shooting, however. The driving component, for example, is a giant, interstate-closing wreck. The cars are persistently slow – no matter what you’re driving, you seem stuck in third gear while your enemies’ cargo vans race around you. They also feel weightless, and the physics of taking e-brake turns seems a little over-kinetic. I don’t think I should be able to do a 180 power slide at 25 mph.
Then again, enemy cars can do all that and more...on fire. In one of the funniest glitches ever, enemy cars catch fire but only explode if they strike something else. And when I say fire, I mean rolling vehicular bonfires. Yet despite the fact that the car, and the driver, are perceptibly burning in oily consuming flame, they persist in chasing you. At one point, I was run over by a cop car that was looked like hell-on-wheels, cracking like a yule log. Then the demonic fire-cop backed up and ran me over again. That’s something you won’t see in an episode.
There are some other noticeable glitches as well. At one point, Jack would wear a leather jacket when facing north and south, but a ridiculously uncool striped sweater when facing east or west. I am Jack’s confused wardrobe.
There aren’t many other glitches though, which is surprising for a title with so many mini-games and special missions. You rarely find yourself doing any one thing for more than a few minutes. Many of the mini-games are logic puzzles, and you have to complete them to do things like hack into computers, steal data, and open doors. Most of the time, these puzzles are on a clock, or you have to complete them while guards are on patrol, so they manage to feel tense even though they aren’t difficult.
Another major mini-game is the interrogation mechanic. When you have to extract information from an unwilling source, the game switches into a cinematic view. You can choose between calm, demanding, and aggressive prompts, while keeping an eye on an ekg-meter that measures the target’s “nerves.” It’s actually a pretty decent mechanic, more because the voices and writing are smart than because of the actual button-pressing. Unlike recent seasons of the show, there is no “torture” feature, and for that we can root for Jack again.
The music is made up of the series' signature “ticking bomb” fare, and most of the voice work was provided specifically for the game by the actors themselves. As in The Godfather, this makes a huge difference. Because of the solid and authentic voice work, the cut scenes really feel like part of an episode. You’ll want to keep watching, even if you don’t want to keep playing.
Then again, 24 can be a tough game to look at when you get too close to your enemies. The lock-on reticule swings the camera around dizzyingly, and the melee fighting feels, and looks, like swimming in porridge. It doesn’t help that your melee button is the same button for searching dead enemies. If you happen to be standing near a corpse when you get into a fist fight, you will appear to be suspiciously fascinated with the dead body.
Sometimes, though, 24 looks sharp. It occasionally uses the split real-time perspectives, just like in the show, and puts them to clever use. Many times you have to use information from one screen to plan your stealth moves in the other. Aside from the weird fighting and the cool split screens, the player characters look decent, and the non-player characters look chunky and move clunky.
24 is a game for fans, and it won’t disappoint them. They, being fans, will forgive the horrendous driving mechanic and the martyr-like stupidity of the terrorists. They will rejoice when they find their favorite dead characters alive again. And they will feel superior when they finally discover what the show means by “opening a new kernel.” It means completing a fifth-grade logic puzzle which, in turn, won’t impress you, because you’re a discerning reader of cranky video game journalism. So take our irritable advice, and leave this half-cooked “kernel” unpopped.