Saturday, May 3, 2014

24: The Game (PlayStation 2) Review

Spoilers for basically everything 24 follow...

24 is a show that has sort of been forgotten in a time where serialized dramas are all the rage. 24 laid the groundwork for modern shows, with a tight storyline that played out in (somewhat) real time over 24 episodes. Maybe it's because the show became a talking point for Bush Jr. era republicans, with Anton Scalia referencing the show more than once. In truth, 24 was surprisingly apolitical; for every republican cliche (Muslim terrorists), there was a liberal cliche waiting to counter it (a rich white guy pulling the strings). In the end, it was the story of a man who would go through incredible circumstances for a love of his country, even when his country didn't do much for him.

When I got a PlayStation 2, 24 was pretty high on my list of games to try out. I'd read reviews and seen it trashed, but I'm enough of a fan that I can overlook it. With 24: Live Another Day starting soon (!), it was time to fill some missing story in.

24: The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo

24: The Game is actually canon to the events of the series. I'm not positive, but I think all 24 media is canonical; everything released slots in between seasons or before the events of the show. There's not a lot of other media; a few limited-run comic series, a couple of books, and this game. This game actually fills a gap that a lot of fans were left wondering about. The game takes place between seasons two and three, the longest gap between any seasons in the show (3 years). At the end of season two, Mandy had tried to assassinate President Palmer and the last minute villain, Max, comfortably rode off into the sunset. I started season three expecting it to begin within days of two, and I was a little confused when the title card stated it was three years later and there was little to no explanation of what happened. That's where 24: The Game comes in.

Unfortunately, the game doesn't really elaborate on the end of day two either. I'm going to try not to spoil the storyline of the game, because there are some nice twists and a lot of familiar faces show up. Some of them don't necessarily have any bearing on the plot but, as with any season of 24, it's better if you go in blind. The major arc of the game is about a man named Peter Madsen from Jack's past. Their relationship isn't really elaborated upon, but he makes a worthy opponent for Jack and his plan of attack is actually really interesting. The best part about the game is that there are several set pieces that would either be impractical or too expensive for the show to have done, in particular the aftermath of Madsen's plan. Max does get involved in the plot, but the reasons for the Palmer assassination attempt aren't really elaborated upon unfortunately. It's just sort of mentioned that he has a bone to pick with the US for something that happened to him, and I guess that's the justification.

Aside from some shortcomings in the story, which likely only stem from being a huge fan of the show, it's actually really well done. The story plays out like a stripped down version of the show, where just the main storyline is the focus. There's no Kim vs. cougar, Terri amnesia or whatever the hell season 6 was. Every main character from that era of the show makes an appearance. One of the most pleasing aspects of the game is to get some more Tony Almeida. Almeida was an insufferable prick in the first season, but he quickly turned into one of my favorite characters, only to get Robocop'd in season 5, then have fans complaints about his death recognized as legitimate since it was nonsensical, and then come back with a relatively poor arc in season 7. There are several segments of the game where you get to play as Tony as well.

They gave him a goatee because evil Spock had a goatee. Good Tony has a soul patch.

Another excellent aspect of the story is that we get to see a lot more of Chase Edmunds. Season three is my favorite season of the series for multiple reasons. One is that the effect of the attack is on full display with the hotel storyline. It's the only season of 24 that takes the time to focus on the victims of the attack and what they're going through, and it makes it more real. The other aspect that made the season more interesting was the inclusion of Chase as Jack's partner. The dynamic showed that Jack was really the only character who had what it took to go through the things that he goes through. Chase holds his own, and is willing to take the same risks that Jack takes and he loses a hand for it. It makes Chase a tragic character, and Jack's breakdown at the end all the more understandable. Season three gets shit on a lot, and I'm not really sure why. The story is slow to take off and it is very dark compared to other seasons, but it has a lot of intense scenes as well (Jack and Salazar playing Russian roulette in particular).

Anyways, I've talked a lot about the show and the story of the game...but how does it play?

Better than this.

Okay, we gotta talk about that DVD board game for a second now. I bought this with some friends, and as far as we could tell, it was broken. We could not get past one part, no matter how hard we tried. It was such a waste of money. I actually saw a sealed one at Goodwill. Part of me wanted to buy it and throw it away so no one else could experience it. I didn't though. Then one day it was gone, and I felt like I had the chance to kill Hitler, but I didn't. Then next week... there was an opened one at Goodwill. Then that one was gone in a few days. Then there's another one now. It keeps on happening. I honestly think it's the same copy. I'm debating putting an X on it with permanent marker just to see.

Back to the real game, then. This is the most wildly inconsistent game I have ever played. It goes from being a lot of fun, to being a fucking mess really, really quickly from one mission to the next. I think the issue is mainly due to the AI. This is one of those games where you can walk up behind someone, bump into them and then clumsily shoot them in the arm and it'll still take a second for them to turn around. Missions where you're sort of sneaking around and there are only a few enemies around make this the most obvious. The missions where everyone is aware of your presence and are actively trying to kill you play out a lot better, and it seems like it's actually a good game at that point in time.

This is a bullshot.

One of my favorite parts about the game is that you can "announce" yourself. Pressing R2 makes the character you're using awkwardly yell out FEDERAL AGENT or CTU, FREEZE!, at which point most enemies simply stop and put their hands up. Then you can handcuff them. And you seem to have unlimited handcuffs. Then you can kick them. There's one mission where there's a bunch of civillians running around, and it put me to a stop for about an hour because I was handcuffing everyone and kicking them. It took me about a week to get over my laughing fit and go back to playing the game.

The game controls relatively well, with the main issue being the camera. Once you get used to it, it becomes a non-issue, but the first few missions will be hellish. The game has a decent aiming system, where you can quickly flick the right stick to change targets. I know this has been used in other games, but I can't think of any at the moment (I think GTA: San Andreas had something like this, maybe IV as well). It seems like this is the best execution I've seen of it though, as the targeting reticule indicates where there are other targets to move to.

There's a few different kinds of missions; shooting, driving, a couple of turret shooting galleries and way too many hacking mini-games. One of the mini-games that I remember being advertised when the game was coming out was the interrogation scenes. I figured I'd be going full Bauer and stabbing people in the leg and screaming at them and shit. Nope, just pushing buttons to either talk nicely or yell at them. It's really weird in execution too, because you basically have a target area to hit during your interrogation. One minute you'll be telling them you're going to stuff a towel down their throat, and the next you'll be asking how their family is doing and where their last vacation was.

This is the only time an interrogation gets that intense.

The driving levels are annoying to say the least. The AI of the drivers is that annoying shit where they just go out of their way to ram you off the road. They come at you so fast they'll pass you and drive in front of you. In later driving missions you'll have to escape and be inconspicuous, which is impossible. Your only hope is to destroy them by making them run into buildings, and these cars take a lot of damage. Aggravating that point, most missions end with a time limit to tie in to the real time aspect. I was stuck on one driving mission for a long time. I'm still convinced that the only reason I beat it is that the game bugged out and the pursuing cars seriously just disappeared off the road. One of the strangest parts of the game comes up in the driving levels, too. There's GTA style hookers walking around and I have no idea why. I guess after GTA came out hookers became mandatory pedestrians for video games or something.

The worst part though, is the mini-games. The interrogations are basically mini-games, but they're passable since they advance the plot. The others are basically all related to the colors of the face buttons on the PS2 controller and how they somehow relate to hacking a computer. The mini-games aren't hard, they're just annoying and some hours have several of them. Jack Bauer made a plain ass SD card explode in season four, why the fuck couldn't we just leave the computer nerds in the background to do this shit like they usually do?

So, just about every aspect of the game is hit or miss. The presentation is actually excellent, though. It looks and sounds like a season of 24 should. The game is divided into hours, complete with the "The following takes place between..." narration. There's also anamorphic widescreen and progressive scan, which helps it maintain the look of the show. The main issue with the presentation is the voice acting for Tony and Jack. I think a large part of that issue was with the direction they were given. Usually the emotion is right for what they're saying, but there's a few parts that are just not acted correctly given the circumstances. It's most obvious in the first mission where Jack is calmly giving instructions to a strike team in an urgent situation, instead of Jack's trademark whisper-yell. They're on point for the most part, though.

Playing a game like this today mostly just makes me wonder why they didn't hold off for a year or two before the PlayStation 3 had caught on (since it was a Sony developed game). The PlayStation 2 was not a system of considerable power, and I think the ambitions for this game were too great for the hardware. The character models look pretty decent for the system, but everything about the game could've been improved with more competent hardware. At the time the game came out, 24 had long since moved on from this timeframe of the show, so it really wouldn't have made much of a difference. 

Man, my wife was a bitch...

One thing I kept thinking during the game was... why not have the time impact effect the game more? I'm thinking The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask here. If you weren't fast enough to do something, you didn't see it. Why not up the stakes a bit? If you don't complete this mission, X person dies and it effects the story. None of the main series characters were ever in any real danger here, so it wouldn't have fucked up the canon status of the game. I guess they couldn't even make the AI react to you quickly though, so I'm really reaching with that one.

In the end, 24: The Game is serviceable. If you're not a fan, it's not worth your time. If you are, it gives you more time with characters you love in what was arguably the golden age of the show. On the other hand, there is a satisfying 24 game out there. It's called Splinter Cell: Conviction (and it well done interrogations).


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