Written by: Rik
Date posted: January 8, 2017
Procedural shows like CSI are fairly open to parody. Jason Segel apparently based his Crime Scene: Scene of the Crime bits from Forgetting Sarah Marshall on his own brief experiences as a lab technician on the show. In the case of the Las Vegas original, I’m not sure it’s entirely fair to show it taking itself quite so seriously and lightening the mood only with extremely awful one-liners.
However, giving its spin-off games titles like Fatal Conspiracy, a fairly meaningless partnership of words intended to create a vague sense of danger and excitement, reinforces that kind of image. While Gil Grissom did have his own version of the silly pre-credits utterance in the Vegas show, it’s more the sort of thing you can imagine David Caruso saying after staring enigmatically into the distance for a while: “Looks like what we’ve got here…[puts on sunglasses] is a FATAL CONSPIRACY”. Except that wouldn’t even be a very good line.
Having said all of that, though, a vague sense of danger and excitement is sort of what distinguishes CSI: Fatal Conspiracy from its predecessors. Right from the first case, it sets out a more high stakes approach, with the introduction of an FBI agent, Gene Huntby, who takes an interest in your work and its relationship with a federal investigation. To have a new character, outside the TV cast (Season 10: Sidle, Sanders, Stokes, Willows and Langston) come in and shake things up a bit does add a certain end-of-season finale style drama to proceedings. In previous games, there was sometimes a link between the cases, but you’d usually find out towards the end. Here, you have Huntby poking his nose in at the beginning, and the FBI stuff rattles along in the background as you work through the other cases.
In most other respects, though, Fatal Conspiracy is extremely similar to its immediate predecessor, and the rest of the Telltale entries in the series. And hence, the answer to this site’s long-running question of whether there was ever a good CSI game on PC is “not really, no.” I think I did detect a bit of improvement in the visuals (some blur effects, hiding some of the raggedy edges, maybe?) but it’s otherwise pretty much identical to Deadly Intent.
As such, almost all of my previous complaints about the series can be applied to this game. From presentational issues such as the bizarre adherence to the use of blurry video clips in transitions and lack of definition when examining objects, to the general complaints of repetitive processing and a lumpy interface, not a lot has changed significantly since 3 Dimensions of Murder. Your character is – again – a mute rookie: I had to stifle a laugh when early in the first case my partner Sara Sidle said, nodding to the NPC on the scene, “Want to take that interview?” Well, I would if I could Sara, but I’m afraid that you’ll have to come with me and do the talking so you won’t actually be getting on with anything yourself.
And on that note, once again, your partners will be shown working on something at the scene or in the lab but who knows what they’re doing because it’s nothing that helps your case. You don’t have a sense of working on things together, and the little segments from Deadly Intent where you help other CSIs with their evidence have gone this time around. Nothing really flows, so by the end you’ve neither been carried along by the story or felt like you’ve solved anything. You click through most scenes easily enough but there will be odd moments when you get stuck, at which point you’ll get an email (if you have hints on) or endlessly revisit scenes and evidence to hunt for hotspots (if you don’t).
On top of all that, the dreaded product placement last seen in Hard Evidence is back, so get used to seeing a lot of ASUS PCs in the lab and at every crime scene, as well as enduring virus scans from a Top Brand when you log onto lab computers. Honestly, who thought forcing the player to endure virtual virus scans was a good idea? Sidle even mentions the brand by name, which is almost as bad as when Brass praises the work of the fraud detection team at VISA in Hard Evidence.
The cases themselves are fairly strong, although there’s the odd stupid moment, such as when you go to a suspect’s house to find him in an uncooperative mood but, having cut himself shaving, he inexplicably chooses to dispose of the bloody tissue in the street where you can collect it, along with (of course) his DNA. But the links to the overarching FBI case are maintained throughout and there are a few good twists and turns. As previously mentioned, it is nice to have a few moments of additional drama and tension mixed in with the sometimes humdrum investigation.
The acting is fairly solid, although, as in previous Telltale efforts, there are some stand-ins – for Sidle and Willows on this occasion. They do at least have a bit more enthusiasm than a bored real-life cast member, and for the most part you don’t really notice, except occasionally they seem to be aping the verbal tics of their more high-profile counterpart a little too obviously. At least Laurence Fishburne is back as Dr Ray Langston, and this time he’s your partner on the final case – a departure from previous games when you build up to working with the supervisor. This perhaps mirrors the period in the show where Catherine Willows and Nick Stokes were the most senior CSIs but Fishburne was the big star actor and so tended to dominate and get higher profile storylines.
There’s a moment in Fatal Conspiracy where the narrative requires you to mess up processing a piece of evidence, which causes a certain amount of tension. You don’t exactly get a bollocking, but Catherine isn’t impressed, despite some words of support from your partner Nick that you didn’t do anything wrong. I mean, it’s obvious that you haven’t done anything wrong because there’s not enough to the processing for you to make a mistake (choose the right tool and the right place, then click), but nevertheless, it’s still quite a good bit – one of the few times the characters come alive and you actually feel like part of the show. It also gives you a taste of what might have been if you were actually able to mess things up on a case, had the games gone down that road.
As we’ve said before, there’s no problem with going for a lighter approach, and I’m not sure I’d enjoy a game that, for example, punished you for not going down the exact intended route or had you working against the clock. But it could all just do with flowing a lot better. These games aren’t particularly challenging but instead of just letting you work through each case, you have weird roadblocks where there’s a particularly difficult hotspot to find or you keep calling the same suspects back to the police station for interrogation because you’ve missed something somewhere.
Ah well. We’ve definitely said all of this before, at some point, and it sort of feels like I’m repeating myself. As Telltale CSI games go, Fatal Conspiracy is one of the better ones, but in truth there hasn’t really been much progress made since they first took on the franchise. (And, to be honest, their efforts aren’t *that* much of a departure from the original efforts from 369 Interactive).
I have to say that I did expect more, although this is based mainly on good things I’d heard about Telltale’s other work, rather than what I’ve experienced for myself. On Back to the Future: The Game – which I have played – there are a few iffy moments, but it always manages to save itself at just the right time, admittedly sometimes by simply cueing up some Huey Lewis. I don’t think it would quite be enough for the CSI games to just start playing Who Are You? after you’d solved a case. Still, I can’t quite escape the feeling that they could have done a bit more with this license.
But they never will: we’ve reached the end of the series, and there’s no chance – however remote it might previously have been – of significant improvement further down the line. The TV show’s been cancelled and we’ve written about all of the games – even that DS one that I kept going on about. So I guess that really is the last you’ll hear about CSI on here.