Written by: Rik

Date posted: July 31, 2010

Most of the evidence you find has to go to Sanders in the lab for analysis. In exchange you’ll get a wisecrack or two.

Even if you don’t own the box-sets, all but the least-avid of television watchers will be aware of CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, the TV show in which a crack team of investigators pick their way through the messy remnants of an ex-human and the immediate surrounding area before using science to track down a murderer. These days, it’s available in three flavours – ‘vanilla’ CSI, the original set in Las Vegas; CSI: Miami, the one with that bloke out of Jade (possibly the most unintentionally-hilarious film of all time) – we’ll call that ‘strawberry’ CSI; and finally, CSI: New York, with Gary Sinise, who’s been in all sorts of stuff (but mainly Ron Howard movies) – obviously [why? – a reader] ‘chocolate’ CSI. Tasty comparisons to neapolitan ice cream aside, if you have a television and even the vaguest predilection for channel-hopping, chances are you’ll have seen one or the other of them (or at least an advert) at some stage. If not, well, that’s what Wikipedia’s for.

A spin-off game isn’t necessarily a must for a hit TV show, but in CSI’s case it’s actually a pretty good idea, with the format of the show lending itself pretty well to the adventure game genre. A frequent problem with such things is an over-emphasis on, or poor implementation of, action sequences, but in CSI’s case most of the ‘action’ has happened already, leaving you to quietly scour the scene for clues and conduct your investigation without recourse to terrible third-person combat at any stage.

From what I’ve seen (and feel free to correct me if I’m wrong – you could win a prize) the show isn’t your usual clichéd cop fare, reliant on a central renegade maverick who doesn’t play by the rules. Instead, it’s about a team of investigators taking a slightly more procedural approach – gathering evidence, speaking to witnesses and suspects, and building a case. Unsurprisingly, that’s exactly what you’ll be doing in the game, as your rookie CSI teams up with various members of the main cast to solve a total of five cases.

With its depiction of a comparatively low-octane version of police work, you might say that the Police Quest games are a decent reference point here, particularly the second game which placed a reasonable amount of emphasis on the crime scene and evidence collection. For some reason, though, I’d imagined that the influence of the ancient Sierra series on this game would extend to the inclusion of harsh ‘game over’ punishments for procedural mistakes such as missing crucial evidence or contaminating the crime scene by accidentally stepping on the face of a corpse, complete with ‘angry bollocking’ cut-scenes that’d make you think twice about doing anything so stupid again.

Aha! A creepy loner who spends most of his time on the internet. But then if he’s a suspect, so am I…

Upon reflection, though, this was rather unrealistic, given that this game is most likely aimed at the more sizable market of casual gamers who watch a hit TV show rather than a hardcore of pasty nerds pining for the good old days of text parsers and teeth-gnashingly frustrating puzzles. Suffice to say, CSI caters for the former group, with your chances of fucking anything up being somewhere close to zero. Searching a crime scene is basically a case of ‘hunt the hotspot’, clicking on anything that looks interesting and then collecting evidence using the appropriate equipment. Don’t worry if you don’t guess right first time, though – even if you attempt to plaster over a whole load of fingerprints and trace evidence, your partner will patiently remind you that it probably isn’t the right way to go about things and suggest you try again.

You might infer from such comments of vague arrogance that it’s perfectly obvious each time which tool you should be using, but it isn’t. To be honest, if the game punished you for using the wrong one, then it’d be pretty unfair because there’s little in the way of adequate explanation, either in the manual or the game itself, which tool would be most appropriate for which situation. Some tools do vaguely similar jobs and you can trip up in deciding which one to use – for example you’re supposed to use tweezers to pick up small objects, and the gloves for larger ones, but does this mean you should try to collect sand with tweezers? (Spoiler alert: yes, you should)

Anyway, the point remains that it’s all fairly undemanding stuff – essentially, click on everything until something happens and you get to the next bit. You can’t help but feel like a passenger in the whole experience – although the tutorial explains how you’ll be keeping a file of suspects and the evidence against each one, in practice you never meet more than two or three people on each case, and you have so little to do with each one that you never develop much of a strong suspicion for any of them up until the point at which one of them snaps under questioning and starts admitting to their dastardly deeds. While it’s certainly true that you’ll want to keep playing until you’ve solved a case, what’s less certain is whether you feel like you’ve actually done very much in bringing anyone to justice.

Prints…on a payphone? That narrows it down to everyone who’s ever used this phone. Nice work.

There’s no particular problem with a game like CSI being accessible and relatively easy to complete (in fact, I’d be more upset if it followed the nightmarish Police Quest scenario described above and forced me to quit in frustration before even getting to the end) – especially bearing in mind the target audience. What is disappointing, though, is the fact that much of the slick atmosphere of the TV show has been lost in the transition to game form, thanks largely to sloppy presentation and underwhelming graphics and sound.

In this respect CSI is in many ways reminiscent of a mid-90s CD-ROM adventure. Its dated and poorly-animated rendering of the CSI team, and indeed the supporting characters, almost makes you wish that they’d used video clips instead (almost), while a clunky interface does little to hide the joins between different sections of the game. Once notable repeat-offence is that of a character appearing in two places at once: you’re in a room with someone, then you go somewhere else and they’re already there waiting for you. Not exactly a deal-breaker, but it’s not the kind of thing you’d expect from a more modern title such as this.

On the sound front, CSI does boast the voice-acting talents of the main cast, but when they’re forced to read out a script as unexciting as this one it’s no wonder they sound bored. Background music and sound effects are also sadly lacking – you do get the occasional spooky musical interlude when you uncover something significant, but there’s little else to add a much-needed sense of atmosphere or urgency to proceedings. (CSI: Deadly Motives – The Hidden Cases on the humble DS puts this one to shame in this regard, by the way, which just shouldn’t happen – even if you allow for the fact that it’s a comparatively recent game.)

From the goatee, gelled hair and excessive amount of male jewellery, I’d say he’s definitely our murderer.

While there’s a long list of things this game could have done better, there’s still enough here to keep you involved until the end. The low difficulty level means that you’re unlikely to give up in frustration, and even if you get stuck there’s an in-game hint system which will point you in the right direction. The trade-off is that you’ll get a lower score for the case, which isn’t likely to bother too many people as long as they ultimately find out who the killer is. Once it’s all over, replay value is fairly low, although having said that, I was sufficiently cheesed off with my ‘Rookie’ rating in one case to play through it all again in an attempt to improve (and to find out what I might have missed). It turned out that my main error was not bothering to question someone who I didn’t think had done anything wrong before apprehending the murderer. So you may find yourself not doing so well if you don’t do things in the order the game wants you to.

All-in-all, CSI is an undemanding, passable sort of yarn, but nothing particularly worth seeking out. If it sounds like your cup of tea, a moderate level of internet research will tell you that several newer CSI titles have since been released, and without having played any of them, I’d wager that they’re likely to be at least more technically accomplished than this effort, even if the overall experience remains a similarly shallow one.