You'd have thought a show like 24 would have been ripe fodder for a videogame, what with all that technology and action and spy stuff going on. Indeed, for the first ten to fifteen minutes of the game, we can't deny it: our hopes were somewhat raised. Once the initial snazzy cut-scenes were done with however, they quickly deflated.
But let's try and stay positive for a bit longer: the cut-scenes are fairly flash. The real actors from the show are involved, and it shows in the quality of the voice-acting on display here. The characters look the part as well, with Kiefer captured in all his squinty-eyed glory. Throw in some decent lip-synching, laudable animation and some cute nods to the style of the show itself (the split-screen views, the rapid camera zooms and pans), and it's almost certainly the most appealing part of the package, and probably the bit most likely to offer any real satisfaction to fans. And if that's not setting alarm bells off already, it certainly should be.
Why? Because beyond those cut-scenes - and gawd, how many thousands of games can we say this about? - it's a bit of a different story. The problem with 24: The Game isn't that it's bad per se - in truth, it's competent at what it attempts. Instead, one of the biggest grumbles we have is that everything here is only competent, not to mention condescending to anyone who's played about three games in their lifetime. The opening two missions are a perfect illustration of this. Both are run-and-gun affairs that see the player negotiating various tunnels packed with enemies, firstly as Jack Bauer and then as Chase Edmunds. Fine so far, you'd think, but there's only ever one direction to head in, starving the levels of variety. Rather than have us exploring a devious labyrinth of networked passages, the game lets us get away with simply following one route, mowing down enemies and finding the one exit in each room.
Even squinty-eyed anti-terrorist action heroes like pretending to be squinty-eyed anti-terrorist action heroes in their wardrobe mirror.
Things are hardly made more thrilling by a targeting system that virtually guarantees you'll never miss, with L1 locking onto enemies and R1 firing off shots. Flicking an analogue stick to the left or right will shift your target onto other enemies (because hey, who wants the actual inconvenience of aiming in a game?), meaning that shootouts are reduced to a simple routine of L1, R1, flick stick left, L1, R1, flick stick right, repeat ad-damn-infinitum. Mercifully, this backward, feeble-minded system can be turned off in the menu, though even then the game is not a great deal better, thanks to the dopiest AI this side of Perfect Dark Zero, some twitchy aiming and some even twitchier camerawork.
Like any Counter Terrorist agent worth their salt, Jacky boy can lean against walls and peer around corners, do forward rolls, shout "Stop! CTU!" and enter "stealth mode" (basically crouching, and it doesn't appear to make much of a difference). However, unlike most Counter Terrorist agents, he can also absorb dozens of bullets like a sponge, which means all those tricky manouevres we mentioned in the last sentence become redundant. It's just too easy to stand there, unflinchingly take the pain and press L1, R1 and flick the stick on your way to victory. Sure, you may need to take the odd breather behind a wall (your enemies rarely show the sense to pursue you there anyway), but neither of the first two missions should really stretch players of even limited ability.
The patronising tone is maintained beyond these opening salvos, with a succession of embarassingly simple minigames. We're presented with the task of defusing a bomb by finding our way through a maze of wires that's so simplistic you'd expect to find it in a children's activity book. We're told to solve a six-digit security code, but are given the six numbers in advance and told to swap them about a bit, all against a far-too-generous time limit. We're asked to trick our way past a reception desk by giving the right answers to certain questions; a nice idea on paper probably, but the necessary answers stick out like a sore thumb.
All the way through meanwhile, the game continues to hold your hand, with big, fat yellow markers on your radar to show you where to head to next. What's more fun - having to explore and root around for a well-hidden security card, or being told where it is by the game and being instructed to fetch it? We know which we prefer. In fact, whilst we're ranting, what is the obsession with chucking in so many different gameplay styles into these licensed titles? 24 is a constant offender in this respect, offering driving bits, minigames, on-foot bits, interrogation bits, and so forth. Almost all are less enjoyable than they should be.
It's a bit of a shame, because while it's possible to accuse the game of lacking imagination, focus and a decent challenge, it's more difficult to suggest that SCE Cambridge has simply been lazy. Visually, things are fairly acceptable (even if the explosions are a bit natty). Likewise, the sound effects and soundtrack are respectable enough, if rather unadventurous. Clearly, a good wedge of time has been devoted to the production side of things too; as we mentioned in the first paragraph, the cut-scenes are really pretty darn good, and there's a decent script running through the game. Heck, it's not as though every section of the game treats you like a babbling, fumbling idiot either - the sniping sections are tense affairs, with players having to take out a number of rooftop snipers in a tight time limit, and we quite enjoyed the odd driving section, even if the in-game Los Angeles isn't quite as expansive as the real thing, or even a tenth the size of San Andreas.
But it's not enough. While the very odd part works well, the whole package is far from convincing, and we'll never understand why developers try mangling game styles together in this manner. It's a method that barely ever produces a cohesive, worthwhile game, with the individual styles of gameplay rarely receiving the attention they need. We confess that there may be some enjoyment to be had here if you're a dyed-in-the-wool 24 fan - my housemate is one, and found this largely enjoyable. For the rest of us, it's yet more TV tie-in shovelware.