Date: March 25th 2003
Based on the popular television series that nets 18 million viewers a week, UbiSoft’s port of “CSI: Crime Scene Investigation” seemed to be the next logical step. As a big fan of the series, I’ve longed to rub elbows with Grissom & company while working a crime scene, and here was my chance! Will this game succeed where previous TV/movie-to-game franchises have failed before?
Perhaps anticipating that a legion of non-gaming fans would purchase the game, UbiSoft did well by making CSI simple and straightforward. The game is a mouse-driven first person adventure, and you scrutinize five crime scenes with your favorite Las Vegas CSIs, Gil Grissom, Sara Sidle, Nick Stokes, Warrick Brown, and Catherine Willows. Your colleagues offer narrative dialogue and, if called upon, overt hints about the evidence. For the most part, however, they stand by and let you control the investigation. The game is extremely faithful to the television show, from the background story, which was penned by one of the show’s scribes, to the cut scenes, which are provided in a slightly foggy haze.
All of the necessary tools are provided in an interface that is clean as a whistle. It is divided into three distinct categories: “Locations,” providing both crime scene-related and office destinations, “Tools,” which offers collection and detection devices, and “Evidence,” which is further organized into categories of trace/prints, documents, and items. As if this didn’t already fulfill a neat freak’s wildest dreams, there is also an icon in the lower right-hand corner for the “Case File,” which summarizes your entire case with information about the victim, suspects, and scene reconstructions.
The actual gameplay is just as uncomplicated as the gaming interface. You mouse over the crime scenes with a blue arrow, which turns green when you encounter areas that require further examination. When you are brought closer to inspect the items, the “Tools” tab automatically becomes active. Similarly, the “Evidence” tab is automatically brought to the forefront when you enter the CSI analysis lab. When interrogating suspects, a list of available questions appears in the lower right-hand portion of the screen. Staying with the KISS (Keep It Simple, Stupid) principle, the game is automatically saved as you play, thereby eliminating the need for an additional interface.
Your score is a percentage, based on the amount of evidence and information that you’ve managed to collect about the case. A perfect score is not required to solve a case, so long as the collected facts implicate the correct suspect. If you achieve scores of 100% for all five cases – not a simple feat – you become privy to bonus materials such as cast photos and concept art. Since I was expecting the hard-earned perfect scores to unlock a sixth case, I was disappointed. The agitation that I experienced while struggling to attain perfect scores could have easily been remedied had the game developers provided a counter, registering the percentage of data that I had collected thus far.
Perhaps I am too much of a rabid fan, but I found the game to be way too simple. I managed to complete the game in six hours, which is slightly surprising, considering the game spanned three CDs. The last three-CD game that I installed was “Morrowind,” and after playing that for six hours, I had managed to accumulate some money. I believe I speak for all CSI fans when I humbly beseech the kind game developers to provide us with more cases. Do I smell an expansion pack? ;)
I only encountered a small glitch during gameplay, and that had to do with crime scene areas often remaining highlighted – turning your cursor green and making your heart palpitate with glee – after the scenes have already been picked clean of information.
As a sidebar, the presence of my favorite forensics tool, gunshot residue powder, was sorely missed. The questions and captions contain a noticeable amount of typos, which is somewhat ironic for a game about paying attention to detail. I do not know if it was intentional, but the plot twist at the end of the game makes a troubling commentary about our justice system.
While the visuals aren’t exactly groundbreaking, they are definitely more than adequate for the game’s purposes. The graphics are very detailed, providing accurate portrayals of the actors and locales. Just thinking about the amount of detail that went into creating the items in Jim Brass’ office leaves me slightly bewildered. When you question suspects in the interrogation room, you can see the reflection of their movements on the metallic table’s surface. Once I got over the initial shock of seeing the characters engage in such fluid movements, I realized that each individual’s actions were pre-rendered, from blinking to typing. UbiSoft could have gone over the top and utilized a more sophisticated graphics engine, but it would have certainly been unnecessary. Along the same lines, it is perpetually 2:30 in the investigation room, but had the developers updated the clock in order to accommodate the case, much development time would have been spent in order to yield little benefit. While slightly utilitarian, the pre-rendered movements and static backgrounds suit the game quite well.
Crime scenes are generally presented in a panoramic view, and you are able to pan left and right in order to locate evidence. Your fellow CSIs are graphically appealing, but if you pan across a site until they appear in the periphery, they start to look two-dimensional and appear to be disproportionately stretched. While you would like to inspect every square inch of the locations, you are only allowed to access areas that are relevant to the crime, and you cannot wander off into other sections.
As with its other aspects, the game’s sound remains faithful to the television show, from suspenseful background tunes to realistic ambient sounds. Office locations are bustling with background sounds of phones ringing, people chatting, and papers shuffling. While you investigate a hotel in a shady part of town, you can hear cars speeding, car horns honking, and police sirens blaring. As detailed as the surrounding sounds might be, they are kept at a gentle volume in order to enhance the scenes and not overpower them. In a particularly odd moment that can only be the result of a coding error, ambient office noise is heard in Dr. Wilkinson’s garage.
To further improve the game’s level of realism, all of the voice acting was done by the actual CSI cast members. The lip synchronization does not correspond with the spoken dialogue, but it does not detract from the gaming experience.
If you are a fan of the CSI television series and can operate a computer, you will enjoy playing the game, regardless of whether you are a novice or an avid gamer. The gameplay is uncomplicated, and the graphics and sound combine to make you feel as if you were smack-dab in the middle of an episode. The game is on the short side, so it will end just as you are beginning to enjoy the game and feel ready to tackle more difficult cases. There is little in the way of replay value, unless you want to repeatedly reexamine the cases in order to achieve a perfect score.
Score : 8/10