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CSI: Crime Scene Investigation

Review By:  Jared Black

Developer:  369 Interactive
Publisher:  Ubisoft
# of Players:  1
Genre:  Adventure
ESRB:  Mature
Online Play:  No
Accessories:  N/A
Date Posted: 

2-19-05

As a newbie to the CSI unit of the Las Vegas Police Department, you’re about to be exposed to a seedy world filled with brutality, greed, and lust.  Unfortunately, that’s the good part as you’re also about to enter a world of trial and error gameplay, muddled graphics, sloppy porting, numerous bugs, and voice actors that act like they’d rather be doing anything else.

CSI: Crime Scene Investigation is actually a port of two point ‘n click CSIs already released for the PC – CSI: Crime Scene Investigation and CSI: Dark Motives.  The game is divided up into 10 different cases (5 from each game), which are well written thanks to the use of an actual writer from the show.

Most cases start with a briefing from Grissom, after which the player is babysat by one of the other four major CSIs (Warrick, Nick, Catherine, or Sara) while solving the case.  This involves searching the crime scene and other locations as needed, gathering evidence located at different hotspots (the cursor turns green), and then examining the area further for evidence.  Once collected, the player can warp back to the lab to analyze the evidence, speak to Brass in his office, or head to the morgue to have a look at the body (if there is one).  By “following the evidence”, the player will discover new suspects, locations to visit, and eventually the truth behind what happened.

Although that doesn’t sound like a bad setup for a game, it’s in the execution where it falters.  To begin with, evidence is usually located in areas that aren’t obvious.  Even if all of the evidence in the usual places to look (like on a corpse) is found, the player still has to examine the rest of the scene just to make sure nothing was missed.  And by examine, I mean move the cursor over every square inch and watch for it to change color.  The result is mind numbing hunt and peck gameplay.  This is made worse by the fact that virtually every single piece of evidence (whether it sheds new light on the case or not) is usually required to finish a case.  The player simply won’t be allowed to finish until that evidence is found, even if it’s already obvious who the culprit is or what happened.  Some leniency here would be most welcome.

Once evidence is found, one of 15 tools is used to analyze and/or collect it.  These include things like swabs, adhesive lifter to collect tire tracks, fingerprint powder, etc.  It’s good that these remain true to the show, but bad that using the wrong one carries with it no penalty.  When the wrong one is picked, the player's assigned babysitter admonishes him and then lets him choose another one.  This can be repeated as often as necessary, making the whole process again a big game of trial and error.  Since there’s no penalty of any kind (including the end of mission evaluation), the game might as well just use the proper tool for you.

Grissom must’ve been the lead producer for this game, because it is filled with nasty bugs (sorry, inside joke).  Let’s start with the fact that dialogue can sometimes be accessed before the supporting evidence is even located and analyzed.  Or that the computer interfaces are setup to perform very specific actions, resulting in incorrect search results.  For example, two samples of a victim’s DNA won't match because the developers never thought the player would actually want to match them up.

Worst of all, I encountered a bug in case 9 that wouldn't allow me to collect a piece of evidence off a deceased body.  As a result, I couldn’t complete the case.  I even restarted the mission and tried things in a different order and reached the same point and got the same result.  When I try any other tool on the hotspot I get Nick’s standard “not that one, stupid” message, but two of them (one I used in the same area earlier and the one I’m supposed to use second) simply don’t respond at all.  This essentially ended the game for me, since I couldn’t finish the mission and thus access case 10.  Not that I was disappointed...

The bugs aren’t just in gameplay, as there are some hilariously bad ones in the graphics as well.  Red boxes often appear around characters where they join the background, seams often show in the static backgrounds where the images come together, and hotspots on evidence often appear as blocks and other graphic glitches.  In one instance I even found a part of the background vertically misaligned, with the center of that area showing up at the bottom of the screen and the top of that area showing in the middle.  Cut scenes often end before the audio finishes, leaving the player to wonder if any crucial information was missed.

On a purely artistic level, CSI gives one a good idea of what N64 games would look like on DVD.  The environments are flat and uninteresting static backgrounds, save for a few animated objects such as police car lights or birds.  Character animation is horrible and minimal, with characters that remain stationary except for waving arms, moving lips, and other minor twitches.  Even these animations often jump to and fro, seemingly at random.  The color palette is drab and uninteresting, with even “bright” colors muted and dull.

At least the real actors lent their voices to the game, although the performances are definitely mixed at best.  While some like Jorja Fox (who plays Sara Sidle) really get into it and at least attempt to sound interesting, others like William Peterson (Gil Grissom) sound like they’d rather be somewhere else.  His emotionless dialogue at the end of case #5, during what should be a really emotional scene, is about the funniest unintentional comedy I’ve ever seen.  Sound effects are basically nil, other than a few stock ones here and there.

As bad as all of this is, the real travesty is the way it was ported.  Since both sets of five cases were separate games on PC, they treat the player as new each time out.  So after meeting Gil and the Gang in cases 1-5, the introductions start out in case 6 with Gil welcoming the player again.  The rest of the cases proceed with the other CSIs re-introducing themselves, as no attempt was made to change the dialogue to make sense.  None of the improvements made in Dark Motives (slightly improved graphics, further ability to analyze evidence, new camera angles, etc.) were implemented in the original cases, making it even more of a disjointed experience.  Both games were literally slapped together with as little work as possible, and the result is an extremely sloppy port.

Highs:

  • The cases are interesting, almost like playing mini episodes of the TV series.
  • The real voice actors are here, and some even put forth a minimal amount of effort.

Lows:

  • No care was put into the port; both PC CSI games were simply joined together with zero changes to make them "fit".
  • Bugs abound, one of which forced my game to end a case and a half early.  Inexcusable.
  • Graphic glitches, such as red boxes appearing around characters and sections of the environment misaligned.  Did this game even make it to QA before it was released?
  • The game boils down to trial and error gameplay, both in evidence gathering and in analysis.  Simply keep trying different stuff and you’ll get it right eventually, no thought required.
  • Interrogations are a series of pre-determined questions, which can be carried out in any order without rhyme or reason.

Final Verdict: 

Two mediocre PC games have been ported as one horrible Xbox game.  The interesting cases and half-decent voice acting prevents this from being complete garbage, so if you’re a huge fan of the TV show this one might be worth a rental.  Even then, it’s more likely to depress you than provide any worthwhile entertainment. 

Overall Score: 2.9

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