Fans of the CSI series have a 4th chance to become part of the popular crime-busting team…but will the evidence reveal a satisfying game? The series that made tedious lab work look cool actually translates well to the adventure world. Of course, I speak as a fan of the original series, but I think the average gamer might find something to enjoy in CSI: Hard Evidence. It’s not the challenge of the season, but it IS absorbing.
According to the official web site, CSI: Hard Evidence offers an even more authentic experience than ever before, with improved visuals, more lab equipment to use, and more investigative features. I didn’t playCSI: Dimensions of Murder, but compared to CSI: Dark Motives, I tend to agree. The 5 episodes lasted longer, were more in-depth, and had more unforeseeable plot twists.
I was also more impressed by the well-written dialogue in this game. Snappy puns were sprinkled liberally throughout, and the voice actors delivered their lines in a realistic manner. Now, they obviously aren’t as comfortable reading lines as they are with acting, but no one’s performance was flat enough to stand out.
As always, you’ll play the new recruit, investigating everything from a cabbie burned to a crisp to a Wild West shootout done Vegas style. Along the way, you’ll have the chance to get in good with Gil (and open bonus material) by collecting those creepy-crawly bugs he loves so much. As I said, each of the stories is engrossing; they’re just not that difficult.
Now, if you’re in the right mood to play what basically amounts to an interactive, high-tech detective story, Hard Evidence is a beautiful thing. My fear is that unless they are fans, seasoned adventure gamers my feel a distinct lack of challenge. This isn’t because the stories are facile, but because the game is designed to lead you to each next step.
For example, you have a wide array of collection and detection tools to choose from. However, the game will only allow you to choose between two or three at a time, meaning that you don’t have to learn the proper use for each tool. Team members are sometimes too quick to tell you the next step, even when you don’t ask for a hint. You’re even told when an area doesn’t have anything useful by being given a bonus point for thoroughness. Another easy-making aspect: each area you’ve searched or item you’ve collected will be tagged gray or green. If it’s green, you’ve done all you can do with it, so you know that whatever you’re missing isn’t there. With all this help plus the 29 (I believe) hints you’re allowed per episode, there are few opportunities to be truly stuck.
The actual game play will be familiar to any adventure gamer. Green arrows indicate hot spots, and you click to go there. Before collecting evidence for inventory, you’ll have to use the proper collection (and sometimes detection) tools. Once you choose the proper tool, the icon will change to a grabby hand. You can further investigate inventory items, which—like everything else in the game—are accessible through your PDA.
But just as in the television show, collecting evidence is only part of the process. The real work takes place in the lab, where you’ll have access to a comparison microscope, a trace analysis computer, DNA and chemical analyzers and the assembly table. If you try to confirm a DNA, fingerprint, or chemical match that isn’t correct, you’ll be scolded. It won’t, however, count against your evaluation as I originally assumed it would.
Now, I’ve mentioned the evaluation a couple of times, so I should explain it. Essentially, you’re judged by whether you found and processed all the evidence in each episode, and how many (if any) hints you needed to finish. Bonus points (which offer access to bonus materials) are gained by collecting bugs and by earning “thoroughness points,” i.e., clicking on every possible hot spot. Unless you’re really a perfectionist who has to finish with a Master Investigator grade, this won’t mean much. After all, the fact that you’ve reached the review stage indicates that you’ve completed the episode. As for the bonus materials, they consist of sketches, story boards, etc.—things that some people may enjoy.
The graphics in CSI: Hard Evidence had both good and mediocre elements to them. Certain team members (Nick in particular), had a very odd look about them. I had difficulty pinpointing what the matter was, but I think it had something to do with the way their mouths moved. They seemed to “implode inward” on the face, if you can figure out what the heck I mean by that. Gil Grissom looked disturbingly like Hank Hill from King of the Hill, and Catherine Willows resembled any other top-heavy CGI babe. I thought Warrick, Greg and Captain Brass--although not perfect--were much better done.
The backgrounds were crisp and clean, most items looked realistic, and movement was fluid. Once you’re in a particular screen, you can move your cursor to the edges to rotate within the scene. This gives a sort of “floating camera” effect that’s easy to navigate once you get used to it. Right clicking your mouse allows you to back out of any scene until you reach the original starting point.
Because of the 3D graphics, this game may be more demanding for some computers than for the players, so be sure to check the requirements before you buy. I didn’t have any particular problems, but I did notice some very slow loading times. I suspect that someone using an older computer might have more issues, although I have no evidence to support my theory.
I do have evidence of something that really irritated me: the blatant, unabashed product promotions, particularly of Visa. If it were simply a matter of the logo prominently displayed in appropriate places (the bar at the high rollers lounge; the display glass that has to be reconstructed; the cabbie’s sign board), it wouldn’t have been a big deal. But they went so far as to weave the fraud protection program into a story line, having Brass say at one point, “I called Visa… good folks there.” There were other products being pimped as well, but they were smooth enough not to raise my ire. I could understand it if this game were being given away or sold at greatly reduced cost as a promotional piece. But this is a full-priced game, and to have advertisements foisted upon a paying public seems shady.
In the end, we all play games because of the entertainment factor. Whether or not you’ll like this game depends on how important difficulty and challenge are to your enjoyment. I generally want more challenge out of my games, but I made an exception for this one because it did the job—it entertained me for several consecutive evenings. As Gil says during each evaluation, “At the end of the day, that’s all that really matters.” I give this game a B.
Final Grade: B
• Windows 2000 / XP / Vista
• 2.0 GHz processor or better
• 512MB RAM
• 64MB 3D-accelerated video card
• 1.5GB hard drive space
• DVD-ROM drive