It's universally accepted that Jack Bauer's a very, very hard man that you don't want to cross. Ever. Well, unless you enjoy the idea that your last few seconds on this earth will be spent staring down the barrel of his gun -- and that the proceeding twenty minutes of your existence will have been spent being pistol whipped by this very same firearm. What then, would Jack Bauer make of Sony's game of his televisual exploits?
Well, on the one hand, he'd probably be quite captivated by its attention to detail, especially when it comes to recreating the "feel" of a season of 24. Naturally, the ever-present ticking clock is on hand, although sadly there aren't that many instances where time is truly pressing on Jack's time. All the voicework is correct -- including the stilted but accurate performance of Keifer Sutherland -- and the plot's even been written by a genuine 24 hack. For those that care, the action takes place in-between seasons 2 and 3, so as long as you can deal with the rather odd premise that the events within aren't really mentioned at later times in the series chronology, you'll find it as engaging plotwise as the "real thing". The plot is quite core to the game, so this will be one of those reviews that skips over it -- just be assured that you can play as most of the main cast of 24 at one time or another in a fairly realistic fashion.
Jack would also be able to instantly recognise the in game people and settings, as there has been a lot of care taken to recreate the world of 24. This runs from decently pre-rendered scripted scenes featuring the entire CTU cast, to action sequences with that jerky handheld look that the series does so well. The classic sets of the series -- including the CTU offices -- all pop up, and there's plenty of action involving cracking codes, smashing down doors and firing wildly at the bad guys through explosions, doom and gloom. There are even a few classic villains popping up from place to place, although it'd be churlish to spoil any of the surprises on hand.
It's worth noting that, just like the TV series, you won't be sitting through 24 hours of real game time to play 24: The Game. Where the TV series substitutes advertisments (and the occasional time jump for the hell of it), each game sequence in a given hour takes up a set amount of time, with anywhere between two to four mini-missions to be completed in each hour. Action begins at 6am; we'll let the mathematically inclined amongst you work out when it's going to finish.
That's the "24" bit of the title handled, then, and at this stage, Jack's staring at me with a small wry grin on his face and his pistol still in his pocket. Well, I hope that's his pistol, anyway. What about the "Game" bit, though?
Oh dear. Jack's not looking quite so happy. The game sections of 24, which are largely played out in third-person action adventure style, are reasonable without being exceptional. There's some nice business that lets you duck behind cover and ping bullets out at the bad people (or if you're Jack's rather ineffectual daughter Kim, zap them with your taser), but it's largely not necessary to do so, as the enemy AI is generally very poor. This does have the positive effect when you're playing as Jack that you can wade in like Superman, but in game terms it's pretty daft.
Sadly, the daftness doesn't end there. The in game puzzle mini-games are pretty tepid, but they're nothing compared to the truly awful driving sequences, which look and play as though they've been tacked on at the very last minute, possibly from some spare code that the developers just happened to have lying around. They're evenly matched between dull driving sections where you have to "race" to the next scene -- generally with a time limit so generous that Jack may as well stop for a full Brazilian wax on the way -- or scenes where you're evading the bad guys, usually in a vehicle that's only capable of running at a snail's pace. This quickly gets both frustrating and boring. In Jack's case, we suspect that there'd be more than a few dual shock controllers with large bullet holes in them before the game was done.
There's also a serious issue with replay ability of 24: The Game. Just like the TV series, the game relies on the plot to deliver short and shocking thrills at the end of each hour, but they're never the same the second time around, as you're aware of what's going to happen, and indeed quite ready for it. There are un-lockable elements for getting above a certain rating in each mission (although the scoring process for some missions is a touch mystifying), but these are largely just rendered character models that you can examine to your heart's content. It'd be inadvisable to perve over Kim Bauer, though -- Jack wouldn't like it.
24: The Game thus presents a quandary. In terms of TV series adaptations, it's incredibly faithful, nailing the look and feel of the series, and big fans of the series will want to add the game to their collections pretty sharpish. Gamers, on the other hand, would be better suited to renting the title, as (aside from the annoyingly stupid driving sections) it's not that hard, and the replay value is suspect. Sorry, Jack, but while it's a 4.5/5 from a faithfulness point of view, the official game of the series can only muster up a rather more mundane 3/5. Hopefully Jack will let me live. Oh dear. He's just spotted me checking out Kim....