When it comes to game conversions of famous TV/movie franchises, it probably would not be an exaggeration to say that most people have become somewhat weary of them. Companies seem to rely on the sales guaranteed by the name of the franchise and completely ignore the quality of the game. I don't think I have to mention any specific games, since I'm sure that most of you have been unlucky enough to play at least one terrible game based on a popular film or TV show over the years.
Lately however, a welcome new trend has appeared, in which the gaming companies actually devote their resources into creating a solid gaming experience, worthy of the franchise's name. 24: The Game promised to be one of these games, featuring voice-overs from the actual cast of the successful TV show 24 and a story created by some of the show's writers. Sadly however, despite the obvious effort, while the game does have the show's style, it is sadly lacking the show’s substance.
For starters, while the presentation of the game mimics the structure of a TV episode, with every "level" of the game by starting with a voice-over by Kieffer Sutherland and covering roughly one hour, the way time passes in the game is completely arbitrary and does not fit in with the "real time" premise of the actual show (the show isn't 100% in real-time either, but that's a different matter altogether). What makes matters worse is the fact that at the end of each time zone, there is none of those devious plot twists found in the series, which are what make the show as addictive as it is. While the story still has decent pacing, it is definitely lacking the frantic pace of most TV episodes. And that's a shame, because the story is really good, and offers some deeper insight to long-term fans of the series on the events that took place in the huge gap between seasons 2 and 3. Indeed, the fact that 24: The Game covers such an important period of the 24 mythos can be seen as an excellent offering to loyal fans of the series. Either that, or as a perfect cash-in attempt, depending on how cynical you are. Moreover, this also means that people who are not acquainted with the show will have a hard time associating with all the different characters that are presented in the game.
The rest of the aesthetic parts of the game are also a mixed bag. The graphics are far from ugly. The character models in particular are detailed and true to their real-life counterparts. However, while their animation is really good during cut-scenes, the in-game animation is considerably worse. The first time you'll see your character sprint, you'll probably wonder if there's something really wrong with them. The backgrounds don't make things any better, since they are for the most part are bland, or even dull. At least, while playing you will not be paying much attention to them anyway so their quality is passable.
And then there are the cinematic cameras and the use of the split-screen technique, taken straight from the TV series. These are masterfully done in cut-scenes, staying true to their TV roots, and they really help with portraying the multi-threaded storyline. However, when they are used in-game, the result is not always that good. Sometimes the screen is split in the middle of a fight, so you don't have enough time to look at the other screen if you don't want to risk missing the fight. Worse yet, the fact that the screen in which you're playing becomes smaller will sometimes mean that you won't be able to see who's shooting at you. It goes without saying that this can become really annoying in some fights.
The audio part of the game is slightly better than the visual one, but it still suffers from some annoying flaws. Music is only heard at key points of every level, and while that helps make those points more exciting, the rest of the game feels a little boring in comparison. The sound effects are realistic, with some trademark ones such as the CTU ringtone taken straight from the original source, but ultimately they couldn't make or break the game. On the other hand, the voice-overs do help make the game better, as they really help flesh out both the characters and the story. It certainly helps that the actors behind the series are responsible for these voice-overs, as they have had a lot of experience with their characters and thus for the most part they are capable of giving some really good performances. Sadly, it seems however that some of them weren't used to doing voice-overs as opposed to performing in front of other actors, so they come off as a bit timid, with Chloe sounding the least convincing of all. But then again, she is Chloe...
This leaves us with the last aspect of the game, which is also sadly its weakest one, the game play. There are so many different game play styles in 24, from shooting to driving and from sniper missions to puzzle-solving. They are all so simplistic that I can't help but wonder if the game would be better if the developers had focused on one style instead. The driving levels especially stand out, since the controls are really clumsy. Thankfully, you won't spend too much of your time driving. The puzzle mini-games are definitely more fun, but sadly there are so few types of them that I couldn't help but feel that they become repetitive and boring by the end of the game. The sniper missions on the other hand are excellent, the controls are solid and the action is well-paced. In fact I wish there were more of them.
The last style featured, and the one you will spend most time playing, is the third-person shooter. During these parts of the game you get to control some of the most famous 24 characters, though you will usually control the protagonist of the series, Jack Bauer, which should help fulfill the fantasies of most fans of the show. Unfortunately, the action is not worthy of Jack. The level design is very linear, and while that's hardly a crime for a shooter, the real problem is the opponents' AI, or lack thereof. They rarely even try to fight back and that makes the game all too easy. Once you figure out their hide/shoot pattern, you should have no problems killing them with minimal effort. The only thing that makes things somewhat difficult is the clumsy camera, which, coupled with the split-screen method mentioned before, often keeps you from seeing who is attacking you, and manually moving it with the right stick is usually too slow to be any help. The problematic camera also means that you will be having a hard time targetting your melee attacks, so much in fact that I usually depended on luck to hit an enemy, well luck and his bad AI.
That's not to say that 24:The Game is a nightmare to play, however. The fact that it's so easy should help make the game more accessible to fans of the show that aren't experienced gamers, and hey, you get to shoot terrorists as Jack Bauer! That counts for something. And generally, the game is still enjoyable in its simplicity, despite its flaws.
In the end, 24 falls victim to the same "curse" that has plagued game conversions of famous franchises. While it has a lot of potential, a definite lack of polish means the game is only above average. Fans of the series will definitely find something to love in this game, as it has all the characters they've learned to love, and an intricate storyline worthy of the original show, but those who have had no contact with 24 so far should steer away from this game. For them, the negative aspects of the game will far outweigh the positive ones, so if are one of them and you want to see what the fuss about 24 is, you're better off renting the first season on DVD. Just make sure to have the rest of the day off, this show is notoriously addictive for a reason!
The final grade: 60/100