IGN Review of 24: The Game
Let me begin by saying that I'm an enormous fan of 24. I've been watching the show since it first premiered, and on the one occasion that I thought I'd missed an episode, I was ready to swear off TV entirely for 8 months until the DVDs hit so that I wouldn't accidentally catch spoilers in a commercial. Luckily I caught a replay within a few days and all has been well since then, but that's neither here nor there.
So, it should go without saying that I would expect a lot from a game based on 24. This doesn't mean that I'd expect perfection in any way, as I know all too well the history of TV and movie-licensed games. But I'd expect a great story, excellent presentation to match the show, and decent, if not even good, gameplay elements that span multiple genres to encompass everything you see on TV.
24: The Game hits two of these three marks. It does indeed have fantastic presentation and a good storyline, even if it's not perfect or fully fleshed-out, but the interactive aspects of it, the parts that make up the all-important "The Game" in its title, simply fall apart.
Being as the game's storyline and presentation aspects are really the main draw, I'll begin there...
While it isn't perfect, 24: The Game has a fairly strong storyline which mimics that of a season of the series. It has plot twists, murders, terrorists, bombs, and everything else you'd expect from the show. I'm going to avoid talking about it in any detail as this is really the main selling point and I wouldn't want to ruin one of its only redeeming factors, but know that it is well-written and does a good job of staying original.
There are a couple small things that massive fans of the show may nit-pick, however. For one, the storyline is rather one-sided in that you don't see a whole lot of it from the perspective of the villains. The show switches back and forth reasonably often, but the game really only follows CTU folk so the only time you hear about the villains' intentions, reasons or otherwise is when they're interacting with a good guy in some fashion.
Because of this, you don't really ever get a great sense of the reasoning for their evil plot. Sure, every evil scheme revolves around the triad of money, revenge and/or power, and this does hold true for the events in the game, but it's glossed over very quickly right at the end. The show at least builds deep character backgrounds for everyone, including the bad guys, so you really get a sense of why they're doing whatever they're doing. In 24: The Game, you just get a quick sentence or two as the explanation. Regardless, the story is rather involving and gives 24 something of a "missing episode" between seasons two and three.
A compelling and twisting story is only one piece of 24's puzzle with its presentation being another, and 24: The Game delivers in spades. In fact, this is easily the most impressive part of the game, bar none, and it likely does the best job of any licensed game around of mimicking the original subject.
The cutscenes were directed phenomenally, perfectly capturing the camera work of the show. Everything from quick zooms to really tight focus shots to 100% handheld work has been brought to the game's cinematics. Even the multi-angle shots are in there, showing up not only in the cutscenes but a few gameplay sections as well. It's obvious that the team members who put the cinematics together are massive fans of the show as they absolutely nailed every aspect of it. I have to give plenty of kudos to SCE Studios Cambridge for essentially getting this aspect perfect.
The game makes use of the original cast from the show, of course, lending it a very hefty bit of authenticity. Because of this, the voice acting sounds great on the whole, but it isn't perfect. It sounds as though some of the direction was a little off, or maybe the actors didn't quite understand exactly how the final scene would play out in 3D, but some of the lines are slightly mis-delivered.
An early example of this is during the first mission when Jack is out in the field briefing his squad. He sounds more like he's at a business meeting than an important field operation, talking very calmly about how they're going to be screwed if anything goes wrong. Then, seconds later when something does, he calmly says that they need to invade the location. There are other moments in the dialog that are along these lines, so I'm not singling-out Kiefer's performance here. Still though, the voice acting is pretty good overall and lends a whole lot to the experience.
One last thing that I should mention with regards to presentation is the game's adherence to the show's real-time format. While the game essentially follows the 24-hour clock, it's by no means minute-for-minute accurate. The show does take a fair amount of liberties with regards to realistic time management, but the game is much less careful about it. There are times when a character will say they're about to head somewhere, then you see the famous countdown clock for a couple seconds, and then they're exiting their vehicle at the destination. It's a little off-putting at first since you might expect it to follow the show's close eye on the clock, but it does make sense as there are less tertiary characters and plots to follow, so there isn't a whole lot that can be used to cover these lulls in action. It's not bad per-se, but when you're dealing with 24 you expect things to be a little more accurate.
Now, while the story and presentation aspects of 24: The Game are really damn good, the actual game elements of it are basically the polar opposite. There are problems with almost every aspect here and it carries a general feeling of being unpolished every time you're in control. It's pretty disappointing, actually, since the theory and setup behind the gameplay of 24 is actually really cool. The game encompasses everything from shooting to driving to puzzle solving and more, and it's all mixed up very well. It's just that none of it really works well at all.
For starters, the camera control (and thereby your main aiming mechanism) is downright bad. The default settings make it so that when you press L1 to aim, the camera aims in the direction your character is facing. So, if your character is facing the camera itself, pulling L1 causes a 180-degree snap of your view, completely disorienting you. It's actually worse if you're looking sideways, believe it or not.
The free-look aiming controls are sluggish and almost entirely inaccurate. I play a whole lot of first and third-person shooters so you figure I'd have my fine analog stick movements down pretty pat, but I had a bitch of a time hitting anything more than 20 feet away from me. The cursor doesn't move as linearly or smoothly as you'd expect which results in movements that are either too fast or too slow, making it pretty hard to dial in a target.
If you have the game set on the Assist aiming style and change the aiming method to "Camera" instead of "Character", you'll wind up with a somewhat tolerable control scheme, but even then it's quite far from perfect. Movement is still tweaky, and you can't turn off the camera's vertical snap, meaning that if you look up or down it'll pop back to center the second you let off the stick.
This makes it hard as hell, or nearly impossible actually, to navigate stairs properly while watching out for enemies. You basically have to rely on the aiming assist in order to fight guys on angled staircases, but even during the best of times you'll wind up taking a few bullets first. It's frustrating, to say the least.
While the aiming assist is kind of cool in that you can snap between enemies with a flick of the right stick and then fine-tune shot placement for headshots and the like, using it dumbs down battles quite a bit. The end result is that you'll just flick the stick, pull R1 for a second, flick the stick again, pull R1 again, and repeat until an area is clear. Now, this isn't as true for the end of the game as it is the beginning as there are many more foes about and you'll have to properly use cover and compensate for soldiers with cover of their own, but the first half of the game is an absolute cakewalk in firefights and I found essentially zero satisfaction in any of it.
It doesn't help that the AI is both predictable and incredibly stupid. When you actually get to sections of the game where the AI uses plenty of cover and such, it tends to pop into the same firing stances again and again, meaning that if you wait for an enemy to hide and then aim at where his head was just at, as soon as he pops back out you can nail a headshot. There are some cases where they'll move a bit and change things up, but a large percentage of the time they'll simply repeat the same firing and hiding stances until one of the two of you are dead.
But that doesn't hurt as much as its idiotic decision making and awareness does. Enemies will sometimes run at or past you if they panic in close proximity, forcing you to (attempt to) quickly turn around and get them in your sights. This is especially a problem when you come up on a corner or a door that an enemy is situated at. Even if you see this sort of thing coming, it can be hard to avoid.
The worst bits for the AI by far, though, are during the stealth sequences. There are a couple of these missions in the game and the AI simply shows off exactly how stupid it is here. You'll have semi-alert and curious soldiers walk over a dead body and not freak out or run for help. You can strangle, knock out or even tazer someone not five feet from a guard without notice. And path-finding doesn't seem to be a function in the AI code.
While the general behavior of the AI certainly detracts a ton from the stealth missions, enemy placement essentially kills any hope for these sequences. In the first true stealth mission, you're told that the character you're using at the time doesn't have a lot of weapons training so you should try and avoid all contact with the guards. Fast forward to a couple doors later when a guard is standing not five feet from it, staring straight ahead and waiting for you to emerge. This isn't exactly what I'd call encouraging for stealthy gameplay. The somewhat funny part, or sad as the case may be, is that you can push the door open and so long as the guard can't actually see you, it won't react. You can even throw chairs around in the room and cause whatever ruckus you want, but until he actually sees you he won't do squat.
While the shooting and stealth elements of 24: The Game are quite poor, the driving unfortunately doesn't fare any better. There are multiple driving sequences that range from getting from point A to point B on time to evading some sort of pursuit. All of these set-ups are fine in theory, but they simply aren't a single iota of fun because the cars drive so poorly. If you can imagine (or know) what a beat-up minivan drives like, simply apply that driving model to every single car in the game and you know what's going on here.
Input feels delayed, so attempting to apply the skills learned in Burnout to weave through traffic is an act of futility. Every car also steers like a boat, so when you're attempting to pass a car you'll often wind up either nailing it because of the delayed response or crashing into something else because you've over-steered while trying to compensate for its sluggishness.
It also doesn't help that the AI drivers, those that try and take you out in some missions, are just flat out imbecilic. Their only known acts are moving forward and running into their target, regardless of what's in the way, be it another vehicle, a piece of landscape or whatever else. This makes taking them out both simple, by driving next to trees or the median, or just damn annoying since they're 100% aggression and no tactics.
While the shooting and driving missions make up the bulk of the game's focus, there are plenty of mini-games thrown in between action missions. These are used when someone needs to hack a computer, decrypt a file, and break into a room or some such. While these aren't incredible by any means, they're at least tolerable.
The games range from having to arrange various letters in the correct order to finding a path between a string of points to simply matching a button press to a colored block on-screen. Some of these actually seem like real-world applications in at least a small way, like one where you need to sift through the floors of multiple buildings and try and discern possible snipers from satellite photos. Again, while none of these are incredibly engaging, they do make sense in the scope of both 24 and the events of the game in some way, and they do provide nice changes of pace here and there.
Something that essentially qualifies as one of these mini-games is the interrogation sequence. These follow the rather standard setup where you can either choose to push or calm the questioned until you get their "vitals" in just the right spot. These work okay technically, but they don't work out well with regards to their manner of flow. One second you'll talk very calmly to someone and they'll give you the next piece of information, and then the very next thing you say will be life-threatening as if they weren't cooperating at all. I'm all for the life-threatening phrases, but it simply sounds disjointed when your character goes back and forth like they're having really bad mood swings mid-conversation. Being that most of the rest of the conversations in the game are well-written and fairly smooth, the interrogations stand out and feel "off".
When it comes down to it, the least broken element of gameplay outside of the small mini-games are the sniping missions. These work perfectly fine and exactly as expected so there's no need to go into detail, but when you can say that your sniping missions are the most solid and even fun part of your gameplay experience, you have a bit of a problem.
Now, though 24's firefights aren't the definition of fun, they do sound very good. The game's audio samples are great, especially those for the assault rifles. Heading into a gunfight with tons of automatic machineguns is a pretty nice treat for your ears, if not your fingers. On the other hand, the vehicles all sound very bland, so if you're going to test the game's surround sound, head to a firefight. There is a tiny problem with directional and positional sound where an ambient effect will kick on and off at weird camera positions and such, but it's rather minor.
Visually, 24 is a bit of a mixed bag. There are some neat effects here and there, like blooming or some subtle shadows cast onto characters from the environment, but overall it looks like an outdated PS2 game. Some of the interior environments have a nice bit of detail and clutter, while others are rather barren and uninspired. There's hardly any sort of amazing work going on here, though from a technical standpoint it isn't bad.
A few of the animations are downright terrible, however. Seeing Tony run for the first time early on in the game is something of a shocker, especially compared to seeing Kim run but a short while later and noting that her stride is much manlier than Tony's. While some of the other animations are fine in and of themselves, there are many times when animation sequences will transition oddly or when characters will pop from one position awkwardly into another. The whole thing just makes the game look unpolished, especially compared to how well other elements of the presentation are put together.
One quick thing to note is that the cutscenes aren't real-time even though they look it. I'd been fooled by this myself for a bit until Craig rolled up and noticed some compression artifacts. The team did a great job of making the whole thing seem cohesive, to the point where you can even pause the cutscenes (a nice touch), and playing back these scenes really helps with load times (which are very short in general), so this is a good thing.
Another thing that was done fairly well are the extras that you can unlock. Ranging from interviews to custom images to 3D models of the characters in the game, there's a fair bit of bonus content to nab here. Not all of it's great, mind you, such as how the 3D models look nice but are kind of boring to check out, but it's cool that it's there and it gives you something to go back for.
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