It's a little known fact, but I actually live on the same street as Jack Bauer. It's true I do. Sometimes I bump into him in the bakery, and he grabs me by the lapels and shouts "TELL ME WHERE THE BREAD IS" and I point over the counter. Then he'll walk out munching a donut and shouting "TELL ME WHICH SIDE THE JAM IS ON". We get on quite well. I mean, there was that occasion I said I didn't know what time it was and he forced me to part-swallow a tea towel and then ripped out my stomach lining, but I understand why he did it. Jack is a man of ACTION.
(And a man of STEALTH and of DRIVING and of MINI-GAMES.)
I doubt he'd like 24: The Game though, because it just won't let you get on with your GOD DAMN investigation. All the time it's grabbing you by the aiming reticule and saying "come on, point it over here" or whispering in your ear that you need to go over here or over there. At times the layout and gameplay styles encourage you to think it's about to open up the whole of Los Angeles for you to explore, but it never gives you any real freedom. It's riding shotgun to the director, basically, and Jack's a man who "plays by his own rules" as one character points out (unskippably over and over and over again every single time, should you reload the mission).
Mind you, SCEE Cambridge has done a wicked job of the production side of it all. The cut-scenes use the real actors, they're all brilliantly modelled and barrel through the dialogue with all the usual high-speed solemnity (despite having recorded all their lines separately, the script's pregnant pauses and Jack's peculiar ambivalence help suspend disbelief), and the camerawork is full of natty zooms and split-screen; it feels more like a "partner product" than a fanboy fantasy.
We wandered into a bit of marketing babble there, but that probably just reflects the mood: this is 24 done in the same vein as EA's recent James Bond games; a big budget mixture of convincing in-game cinematics and unconvincing gameplay stuffed around the edges. And so, for similar reasons, it falls down. Firstly, it's largely incapable of doing memorable moments outside the cut-scenes. This is bad in general (it's a computer game, remember), but you could still advocate buying it if it offered 18 hours' worth of edgy narrative content like the TV show. But since it's more like an hour's worth of good content with crap gameplay shoehorned in where possible, it just comes off as very cynical for the same reasons the Bond games do.
Put it this way: if you are writing a 24 story for a computer game, which you know you want to include a variety of gameplay styles, why not write one that includes a variety of new ideas, instead of just obsessing over how best to capture Kiefer Sutherland's face? At one point, Tony Almeda's chasing a man through some alleyways behind a row of shops, and the guy is hurling boxes into his trail, rolling out wheelie bins, knocking over ladders - anything - to try and stop Almeda getting to him. It's an easy, straightforward level to complete, but it's arguably more satisfying than any of the others in the entire game because it's handled really well and it doesn't fit into the usual generic range of action game activities.
The rest, unfortunately, do, and they all seem hell-bent and forcing you to follow orders. Any sign of mutiny - use of free-aim, taking a different route in the car, anything - usually costs you health, time or just robs the game of any fluidity. So you run through some rooms toward the objective on your mini-map, and when you see enemies you hold L1 to aim and R1 to fire, and then use the right analogue stick to flick the big yellow dumb-head aiming circle to your next victim. To give it some edge you can crouch behind cover and duck out to fire, move around with L1 depressed so that you're following your gun down stairways and through doorways as though you're a real tactically trained policeman. But there's no point: enemies are so thick that you're amazed they can operate their guns (some of them can't), and auto-aim usually means anything tricky is conquered before it's troublesome. Plus, manually aiming actually put you in greater danger. Observe the rules of 24, Jack! Caution is awkward!
It's not just Jack though; sometimes you get Kim, or Michelle, or Chase, or someone like that. Sometimes you even get techies - with bomb defusal and data recovery mini-games. These are simple logic or reaction games. Data recovery gives you a disk fragmentation chart with coloured blocks and you have to press a particular button that corresponds to the colour selected as the cursor flicks around the screen. Defusal or door-hacking means charting a path for a circuit breaker by picking from one of a few routes. But it's too simple. Are we honestly saying that the best things we can find to emulate CTU activities are Wac-A-Mole and those squiggly line mazes drawn on kids' McDonald's place-sets? In fact, don't insult the kids - at least those mazes had more than three lines.
Stealth isn't much better: you have a tazer (which is, for the purposes of the level, instant death for anyone within five feet), a special silent walking mode, MGS-style radar tracking, big yellow arrows telling you where to go, and usually a CTU helper whispering instructions like "go slowly through the vents" in your ear. Stealth is meant to be tense: this is just slow. Speaking of slow, all of the cars in 24: The Game are powered by pedals and feel like they're completely clapped out at that. The most challenging thing about the driving missions is the ones about losing pursuers, who crawl along after you like OJ Simpson's parade of paddywagons. It's just boring. The most exhilarating bit of the game is sniping, because it's the only bit that requires you to actually demonstrate a modicum of skill. Everything else is 24 for idiots: at one point Jack has to trick his way into a building by fooling a receptionist into thinking he's someone else, with a conversation branch that offers you an obvious choice like "I need a visitor's pass please" next to alternatives like "LET ME IN I AM JACK BAUER ZOMG".
It's all competent without being competitive or inventive. And, perhaps predictably, it rarely follows the TV series into the realms of controversy. The baddies might bait Jack a bit by mentioning how purrrdy his daughter is, but when he comes to interrogate a suspect who has live, right-this-second info about people trying to kill the vice president, Jack just paces around the room a bit. Interrogation is handled by trying to coax the detainee into a particular band on the heart-rate monitor by questioning him vigorously, choosing from three levels of aggression for each volley. But its execution is that of a crude videogame idea that doesn't really work in practice, with awkwardly assertive repetition and total 180s in tone and attitude, and very little actual intimidation to justify a breakthrough. Shonkiest of all, the first interrogation bloke continually complains you shot him; I subdued him by running up to him and decking him with a rifle butt. Oops.
24: The Game isn't a bad game, but it isn't a new, interesting or exciting one either. It's one of those depressing tie-in games where the proposal came before the creativity - as, I suspect from the banality of all the interactive sequences, did the script. As a result, fun is had when you are not pressing buttons. Attempts to graft show trademarks onto the generic game ideas come off poorly (split-screen views are disorientating, technical mini-games tediously simplistic), and although 24 fans will enjoy seeing what Jack got up to between seasons two and three, how Chase came into things and what happened on Kim's first day as an intern, here the gameplay needed to provide the tension, drama and excitement to go with the cut-scene foil; instead it just provides the procedural backdrop to the plot events.
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