January 21, 2004
Based on the popular TV show, CSI: Crime Scene Investigation sure seemed promising. You play a new recruit at the Las Vegas Crime Lab, assigned to several different cases of arson, murder, and downright evil. It was the perfect idea for the game: let players get a feel for what a real mystery is like. Dust for fingerprints, analyze hair samples for DNA, take molds of incriminating tire treads. But somehow, in the creation of it all, the designers forgot about the whole idea of the game: a challenge.
Let me start with the positive side of things. Remembering the horrible graphics presented in UbiSoft’s Alfred Hitchcock Presents: The Final Cut, I wasn’t all too eager to play the game when I found it in my stocking on Christmas day. I installed the game tentatively, hoping it would be worth my while. Not.
The graphics are better than I expected, but some of the characters look like they belong in Gumby or Nintendo’s Paper Mario game. It’s kind of sad to look at the bonus material and see preliminary sketches of the characters that looked so much better. In addition, the animations are beautiful, but sometimes repetitive. For example, you might see a short movie about a woman getting strangled. Later on, you’ll see what we CSIs call “the big picture*,” where the entire murder is acted out, and you see that same strangling scene again when the time comes. Overall, graphics deserve a B+.
The voice acting is superb, as all of us CSI fans know. Having the famous TV show actors and actresses around makes everybody look good. Even if Rose Green from Nancy Drew’s Message in a Haunted Mansion was there. Again, since we were treated to dialogue straight from a CSI scriptwriter, it was superb. No complaints here. In all honesty, I didn’t even hear any music. I know it was there, but it didn’t have any effect on the atmosphere for me. Survey says . . . A- for sound. (P.S: despite what you may have read elsewhere, there is a way to bypass dialogue - just right-click your mouse. This comes in handy if you want to replay a level for a better score, God have mercy.)
Let me start this paragraph by giving this nice warning: there are no puzzles in this game. None. Zip. Zilch. Nada. This is the same problem we encountered in the Law & Order series, and people still don’t see the problem with this. I mean, it’s fun (more or less) to interrogate suspects and find clues like a real detective, but this is an adventure game, too, you know. No puzzles, and you’re screwed.
All that’s really necessary for you to do in this game is wait for your pointer to turn green and click. In most cases, you’ll just collect the evidence with your tweezers or gloves and go onto the next hotspot. Otherwise, your partner will give you the answer for what to do with that particular piece of evidence. For example, I found a charred piece of paper in a suspect’s apartment. I started to think about how to check for fingerprints when my partner immediately told me, “This looks interesting. Let’s use the Ninhydrin to check for fingerprints.”
Lest you might think I’m kidding at the simplicity of this game, you are treated much like the Scarecrow from The Wizard of Oz.
There’s a tutorial at the beginning of the game, but it feels like it never ends. Someone is always over your shoulder, telling you exactly what each piece of evidence means and giving away big pieces of the case that we haven’t encountered.
I had a 10-year old friend play with me during the first two cases, and was surprised to hear his comments, as well. “Sheesh, these people just make it too easy for ya!” Followed by a laugh that could be only interpreted as his bow to the simplicity of the game, since he had probably never watched CSI before in his life.
Basically, you don’t have to do any thinking in this game, because the computer does it for you. You don’t have to put a key in a lock, or open a bottle to see what’s inside. Even worse, the game offers hints. You’d have to be incredibly stupid to even think of asking for one. Being probably the youngest member of this staff, I don’t think I had to take guesses at anything, let alone be puzzled by a piece of evidence. If I wasn’t sure about something then, I knew it would be revealed in the next scene. Puzzles in this game deserve aD. (Credit goes to using those awesome detective tools! :-))
One feature I enjoyed about Law and Order was the way you could submit things for lab testing or a suspect to surveillance, and you’d get the reports back in due time. In this game, results are immediate, which shortens gameplay significantly. Each mystery takes only about ½ hour to solve, and overall you could probably finish the game in one or two sittings, if you persevere. Worse, the plot holds together about as well as wet firewood. The writers attempted to connect the last two cases to case one, making you reconsider the suspects and the overall connections between the cases. Yet, we see no mention of cases 2 or 3, which both seem unsolved and unexplained. There’s a lot of missing links here, and it’s all rather confusing. Overall plot deserves a B-.
You’re graded on your performance at the end of each level. If you miss just one tiny, irrelevant clue or ask your partner a hint, points are deducted. These points control how much of the special “bonus material” you’re allowed to see. Don’t cry if you only get a 96%. The bonus crap isn’t worth it, unless you want to see a character through stages of weight loss or areas with Martha Stewart remodeling before they were added into the game. And the “super bonus” material contains mostly pictures of the live cast and development teams, or messy storyboard movies and preliminary sketches gone sour. We don’t need to see that. Why bother staring at the faces of the people who created this poor game unless we wanted to throw darts at them?
This game is definitely not begging for a sequel, but UbiSoft apparently thinks otherwise. My suggestion is that all of you disappointed CSI fans tell the company about your poor gaming experience and give them a chance to clean up their act before CSI: Dark Motives is released this March.
Final Grade: C+
(P.S: Here’s a list of promising features that we’ll (hopefully) see in Dark Motives. I highlighted the parts that I criticized in my review. This next game sounds better already!)
* Brand-New Cases: Five new cases to solve that are longer and more in depth than in the original game.
* CSI Authenticity : Includes the likenesses and voice talents of the entire CSI cast, as well as the show's locations, music, writing, scientific validity and visual style.
* Detailed Forensic Equipment: Field evidence can be analyzed using a full set of forensic tools, such as fingerprint dusters, UV Lights, Luminol, DNA sequencer and comparison microscope.
* Personalized Play: Customizable options allow players to easily adjust the gameplay to suit their desired level of difficulty.
* Bonus Commentary: Unlockable bonus content with pre-production sketches, "behind the scenes" footage and unusual trivia.
At least somebody at UbiSoft has a clue! (Excuse the pun.)
(* hey, at least I learned a thing or two from the game)