24: The Game (PlayStation 2) review
"From behind the couch, one last gangster lunged at me with his arms swinging. I pulled the trigger out of pure instinct. The slug tore into his chest, and sent him reeling back through the cheap plaster wall."
Itís a new day, meaning itís time for Jack Bauer and the Counter-Terrorist Unit to save the U.S. from imminent danger. After receiving an anonymous tip, the CTU rushes off at sunrise to seize a cargo ship loaded with toxic chemicals. But wait, it seems there is a plot to assassinate the Vice President. Scratch that. It was all a ruse to distract the CTU while bombs filled with deadly sarin gas are being planted in the Los Angeles subway systems. After a brutal shootout, it turns out that even the bombing was just a hoax to open CTU headquarters to an armed invasion, butÖ.well, you get the idea. I must confess to having only watched one episode of the TV series, from which the game is derived, though I canít help but wonder if the writersí health plans cover ADD medication. 24: The Game has more twists and turns than a Six Flags rollercoaster, and the ones I mentioned are only from the first four hours.
24 is a third-person action/adventure game that follows Jack Bauer and the CTU over the course of one full day. Told in hour by hour increments, the plot unravels, loops, folds back over itself, and generally provides a good excuse to run around blowing things up. Itís in the ďactionĒ sector that 24 really shines through, reminding me a little of my days with Max Payne and the original Syphon Filter. One level, in which Bauer infiltrates a major drug dealerís hideout, is particularly impressive.
Gangsters ran down the hallways, bullets whipping past my face as I pegged them off from behind a hallway table with my favorite pistol. I pushed the door to the next room open a crack. I could see about six of them, all on edge from the gunfire. My subtle marksmanship just wasnít going to cut it, so I grabbed a miniaturized Uzi off the nearest dead body. After bracing myself, I kicked the door wide and sprayed the room as the gangsters dove for cover. I kept my finger held to the trigger, only letting go to reload. One by one, the dead bodies slumped to the ground. Out of bullets, I grabbed my shotgun and walked cautiously amidst the broken glass, empty beer cans, and pools of blood. From behind the couch, one last gangster lunged at me with his arms swinging. I pulled the trigger out of pure instinct. The slug tore into his chest, and sent him reeling back through the cheap plaster wall.
After an experience like that, what guy wouldnít want to be Jack Bauer? He has one of the most action-packed jobs around, and his name alone is more masculine than a gallon of Old Spice. Letís not forget the actor behind the character, Kiefer Sutherland, who oozes coolness with every step he takes. Sutherland is obviously the star of the show. His face is on every DVD cover and the cover art for the game. The plot for 24 ends up revolving directly around the Bauer family, so I am left with one question. Why did I spend most of my time playing as characters other than Jack Bauer? I realize that the CTU is a group of agents working together, but Bauer is definitely the main character, and given his reckless nature heís a magnet for action. In the end, this lack of focus is what drags 24 away from its full potential.
Since the release of Grand Theft Auto 3, I feel that many developers have tried too hard to go beyond their capabilities in an effort to provide a more immersive experience, and 24 is another result of that trend. Instead of providing a quick and intense adventure, most of 24 feels like formulaic filler. The hourly scenes rotate between action, stealth, and driving missions. The action scenes are excellent, but 24 was definitely not built for stealth. With no shadows to hide in or distracting noises to make, stealth relies upon watching the mini-map for enemies to pass by. This mundane waiting game is made worse by the horrible AI that tends to get stuck in place, usually facing your hiding spot. On the other end, driving is completely antagonizing. The cars feel like they have 50hp turning wheels made of butter, so just getting from point A to point B is more a test of patience and luck than skill.
Perhaps these different modes could have worked well into the game if they simply controlled decently, but even the basics are in desperate need of polishing. The camera system is by far the most disgusting atrocity. Manual and Auto camera modes are available, but neither works well in every situation. I found myself switching camera modes multiple times throughout levels, depending if I was on a staircase, in a tight hallway, chasing down an enemy, or in an open area. The only real way to take control of the view is to enter the pseudo-first person aiming mode, but the tortoise-like movement of your character in aiming mode limits its use to shootouts from behind cover.
The only non-action elements that really fit are the mini-games. These serve a variety of purposes, such as bomb defusal, lock picking, code breaking, or interrogating, and they all fit quite seamlessly into the narrative. The very first mini-game, for bomb defusal, requires you to quickly link a series of nodes via circuits. Choose a circuit that hits a dead end, or donít find the correct path in time, and the bomb explodes. Interrogations are easily the best of the mini-games, and surprisingly involved. Bauer can use an aggressive, coaxing, or calming demeanor to match the targetís stress levels with a marked breaking point. Itís quite nerve racking. Miscalculate your timing or the level of aggression, and you lose precious seconds getting the target back to the breaking point.
Fans of the television series will be happy to know that the actors have lent their voices and likenesses to the game. Even the cinematography has been matched; cut-scenes are filled with quick zooms, they look handheld, and the multi-framed scenes are intact. This last feature, which shows simultaneous events on-screen at the same time, is a staple of the series, but I really could have done without it for the game. Itís fine for the cut-scenes, but extremely distracting when I am in the middle of a mission. I should also mention that the game is supposed to fill in the gaps between seasons 2 and 3. While playing, you can check your PDA for objectives that will unlock special features. Many of these are typical gallery pictures, but the real bonus is unlocking the cut-scenes to fill out your 24 collection.
I could ramble on and on about further problems with the control, the AI, the physics, and more, but in the end there are two reasons to play through 24; the dispersed moments of intense action and the story. Penned by one of the seriesí writers, 24 does an excellent job of keeping you involved in the story. Most action/adventure games follow a standard format; introduce a conflict, send the player on a quest, resolve the conflict, and repeat until the game is over. With constant dialogue among characters, missions that can change with a momentís notice, and a rather intriguing plot, 24 shuns the standard and offers a world that feels dynamically alive with complex characters. While even the casual gamer will be quick to notice some of 24ís major failures, the story and action elements still manage to make 24 a worthwhile adventure. It just goes to show the power of a professional and well-written story.
Staff review by Brian Rowe (April 04, 2006)
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