Fans of 24 can breathe a sigh of relief. 24: The Game is no quick cash-in. Rather, it accomplishes what most games based on popular TV shows or movies can't - it's legitimately enjoyable to play. It's not exactly a masterpiece, and fans of the series will enjoy it scads more than folks who don't know Jack Bauer from Jack Black, but it's a solid effort that deserves a look.
The gameplay won't win any originality awards, but the sheer variety of tasks you have to accomplish mesh together nicely with an intricate, worthy plot. The folks at the Los Angeles Counter Terrorist Unit (CTU) are forced to inflict (and sometimes endure) all manner of ass-kickings just to get through yet another brutal day: shooting, driving, decrypting, sneaking, defusing, interrogating, and so on. At various points, you'll play as many of the TV show's different good guys - and, yes, Dr. Evil, you even get to be a bad guy for a little bit too.
The game's story (penned by the show's writers) starts with CTU attempting to foil a terrorist biological attack and a Vice Presidential assassination. Naturally, it's the job of Bauer and company to prevent them, then seek and destroy those behind the true conspiracy. It's not just the story that rings true; the presentation is dead-on to the show. All the program's visual cues are here, like introductions to the chapters, the ticking clock appearing at critical moments, and split-screens during both cutscenes and in-game action. Fans will particularly like the storyline holes that it fills in between seasons 2 and 3.
Being a terrorist minion must pay well, because Jack and his compatriots will blast what seems like thousands of 'em along the way. The shooting mechanics are nifty, allowing you to aim for specific parts of the body (ah, head and groin shots ... so satisfying!) even if you're hiding behind cover. The enemies are dumb, don't aim very well, and have a seriously limited vocabulary consisting primarily of "Hey!", "You're not supposed to be here!", and "Huh?" Later levels attempt to make up for this lack of smarts by simply throwing wave after wave of them at you.
Other missions will have you behind the wheel of a vehicle, desperately vehiculating from point A to B. The driving doesn't feel quite right, but it's functional. At different moments in time, you'll be solving puzzles to defuse bombs, unscramble data encryption codes, gain access to off-limits areas, and more. Thankfully, these diversions add to the game instead of detract from it, and they're not terribly complicated. Our office favorite is the interrogation mode, which tests your reflexes as you threaten, sweet talk, and otherwise persuade the poor sap you're questioning to spill his guts.
24: The Game is, ironically, not remotely as long as its title. Rather, it winds down after about 12 hours or so, with no multiplayer options. Nor is it the most original. But the story is above par for a game or a TV show, and the sum of its parts equals a good, old fashioned, popcorn gaming experience. And, after all, as any 24 fan will tell you - being Jack Bauer is one hell of a cool thing.