Written by: Rik

Date posted: February 27, 2014

Easy on the scientific jargon there, Sara.

Easy on the scientific jargon there, Sara.

Yep, it’s another CSI game. Well, this is (at least partially) my website, so I guess I can write about what I want. (Next week: Samantha Fox Strip Poker). I know, I did say there wouldn’t be any more – in fact, looking back at the last time we were in virtual Vegas it seems I was rather defensive in general about my interest in the show. I’ve come to accept that I’m a fan, and have been through the first eight seasons at least a couple of times now. I did start to lose interest when the original cast started to drift away, though, and I can’t bring myself to watch the latest ones, in which the lab is headed by a frankly scary-looking Ted Danson, while those still remaining from season one all look a little bit older and more fed up than you’d expect (I guess the likes of Stokes and Sidle, supposedly ambitious for promotion in the early years, are still stuck in the same job in season 14, so I guess you would lose some of that gusto after a while – no wonder Nick’s let himself go).

Speaking of which, CSI: Hard Evidence is the last game to feature said original cast, with the next, Deadly Intent, arriving around the same time as Laurence Fishburne was introduced as William Petersen’s replacement. It’s also the first CSI game to feature a slightly snigger-worthy title, conjuring up images of a low-budget nudie knockoff of the show…or perhaps that’s just me. Anyway, last time around we saw responsibility for the franchise transferred to Telltale Games, and hopes that the games might be elevated from the standard of ‘dreary clickfest’ served up by previous developers 369 Interactive were only partially met. Without any research basis for such thoughts, I nevertheless came to the conclusion that the new developers hadn’t had much time to get to grips with the series before releasing their first effort, and as such came into this one with heightened expectations [when will you learn that no-one’s ever going to make a decent CSI game – exasperated reader].

Spraying stuff on the thing to make it go pink.

Spraying stuff on the thing to make it go pink.

Playing through Hard Evidence while looking down my CSI wishlist, I can half-tick ‘opening credits’ because, well, there is an opening credits sequence, although it isn’t especially good, and it doesn’t feature the proper music by The Who. Instead, someone, probably a session musician called Zakk, has recorded a generic rock track to play over a mixture of blurry video nicked from the show and a few clips from the game. It’s not what you’d want ideally, but I guess it represents a step in the right direction. And, ah, that’s sort of it in terms of notable improvements since 3 Dimensions of Murder, although I could pretend that the option to tinker with the resolution settings was also on my list (albeit somewhere towards the bottom), in which case it would be another thing in the game’s favour that you can free yourself from the blocky tyranny of 800×600, should you so wish.

Otherwise, though, you’d have to say that Hard Evidence retains largely the same approach and execution as last time around, which is obviously a little disappointing. The first case shows some promise, as you work with both Nick (authentically voiced, but looking as if his hair has been sprayed on) and Sara (appearance more realistic, but with a stand-in actor) to solve the murder of a cab driver. Although the former is your partner, the latter also chips in now and again with bits of evidence and investigation, making you feel like you’re part of a team solving a case – you know, like on the show. Sadly, as the game progresses, this seems like less of a conscious attempt to change the long-established dynamic of ‘you do all the work while your partner does the talking’ and more of a pragmatic ‘we have too many CSIs and not enough cases, let’s put fake-voice Sara in the background to accommodate real-voice Greg’ kind of situation. By the final case, it’s almost completely reverted to type, as you mindlessly click through a complicated, bullet-ridden scene, while Grissom does all of the thinking and explaining.

Computer games: making all your dreams come true.

Computer games: making all your dreams come true.

Elsewhere, a whole host of other issues remain unresolved. The location transitions are still in the form of grainy video sequences rather than something in keeping with the graphical style of the game and, improved resolution options aside, the visuals in general aren’t much of an improvement on last time. Lab work still doesn’t involve much input from your end, barring the odd occasion where you have to piece together some shattered glass. Most annoyingly of all, you can still ask to bring someone in for questioning when you don’t have anything to ask them. How hard would it be just to have Captain Brass say, “You’ve got all you’re going to get out of him/her for now” – or whatever – rather than dragging them into the interrogation room and have them say they’ve already told you everything?

One annoyance that’s new to the series is the issue of product placement, which is handled rather clumsily here. My issue isn’t so much with the way that pretty much every piece of electronic equipment in the game is made by Hewlett Packard (which is the kind of thing you obviously do notice but can get over and ignore) or the fact that there’s a VISA sign virtually everywhere you go. Where it really oversteps the mark is when this worms its way into the dialogue – there’s a whole section involving credit card fraud, and the game goes out of its way to make clear that VISA’s ‘Continuous Monitoring’ program detected the suspicious activity straight away. Captain Brass even goes as far to praise the “good folks over there” at VISA. I’m not opposed to the principle of such things but for brand names to be shoehorned into the content in such a brazen manner as this leaves a slightly sour taste in the mouth.

Yeah, whatever you say, Grissom. I liked you better with your beard.

Yeah, whatever you say, Grissom. I liked you better with your beard.

Despite everything I’ve said, I did actually quite enjoy the game. It provides an undemanding, low-level challenge – the hotspots aren’t that hard to find, and you’re never stuck for very long (unlike in some of the earlier games), which allows each story to maintain some momentum. All of the cases are well-written, and you are genuinely intrigued to find out who the killer is – as with the show, three or four suspects will drift in and out of contention, setting your mind racing as to who it’s going to turn out to be. It’s just a shame that, even if nothing particularly ambitious is going to be done with the license, there hasn’t been more of an effort made to get some of the little things right. I won’t repeat what I’ve said before, but one point that struck me for the first time while playing Hard Evidence is that these games are still so static when compared with the TV show. There’s not a single bit of ‘walk and talk’ dialogue, where two characters discuss something while both in a rush to go and do something else: you just sort of hang around in a room doing your stuff, and occasionally Grissom or Catherine will walk in without much urgency and ask how it’s going.

As with CSI: 3 Dimensions of Murder, Hard Evidence is just about as good as it needs to be, but nothing more. Not a lot has changed since last time, and anyone hoping for any tangible improvement is likely to be disappointed. As we’ve said before, when even those who consider themselves part of an easily-pleased, captive audience for the game (and I would include myself among that audience) are disappointed with the end result, you know there’s something wrong. The game’s not without merit, but the feeling persists that with even small amounts of polish and effort applied in the right places, it could have been significantly more enjoyable.