Developer: 369 Interactive
Release Date: March 23, 2004
Pre-order 'CSI: Dark Motives': PC
UbiSoft’s PC port of the “CSI: Crime Scene Investigation” television series was such a smash hit in Q1 2003 that fans began hankering for a sequel or expansion pack immediately upon completion of the game. The wait has finally come to an end, with the series’ next installment, CSI: Dark Motives, hitting store shelves at the end of the month. All of the winning components from the original game are back, paired with extra goodies to make it more challenging, as the main gripe about the first title was that it was too short. I had a chance to play a beta build of the game, so tell The Who to cue the theme song … it’s time to examine some evidence!
It is apparent that 369 Interactive paid attention to fan feedback in developing this title. You are introduced to a more customizable gaming experience in that you can adjust the difficulty settings to allow all, some or none of the assist features, which range from active hotspots to evidence-specific questions automatically becoming available. This installment of the mouse-drive first person adventure is certainly more difficult, because I spent as much time on the first case as I had on the entire game last year! The gist is the same: you are a rookie who has just joined the Las Vegas crime lab, and you get to solve five cases alongside your favorite detail-oriented science geeks, Catherine Willows, Warrick Brown, Sara Sidle, Nick Stokes, and Gil Grissom. At a cost to your final score, your cohorts provide hints about the case if prompted; the hints were overt in the first CSI game, but this time, they are extremely vague and generally not worth the asking price.
As far as I’m concerned, this series boasts the paragon of all gaming interfaces, and I’m glad that the developers didn’t tamper with a good thing. Three distinct categories are available for your perusal: “Locations,” providing both crime scene-related and office destinations, “Tools,” which offers forensic detection and collection devices, and “Evidence,” which is further organized into categories of trace, documents, and items. You won’t have to take any notes because all information about the victim, suspects, and scene reconstructions is housed in a “Case File,” which can be accessed via the file folder icon in the lower right-hand corner.
Generally speaking, the gameplay hasn’t changed: if your difficulty settings allow it, you mouse over crime scenes until your cursor changes from a blue arrow to a green one, indicating that an area requires further scrutiny. When you are brought closer to inspect the items, the “Tools” tab automatically becomes active, and while that seems like a minor detail, it saves you quite a bit of clicking. However, the gameplay is slightly more sophisticated in that lab work has been simplified, while the investigation of evidence has been intensified. Previously, if you asked a suspect for DNA, you would have to select the swab from your “Tools” tab and click it on the suspect, whereas now, the evidence is automatically collected for you. This leaves you with more time to do some real truth-seeking, and you’ll certainly need it. In the previous title, the evidence collection process was quite shallow; once it was collected, further examination and clues would be provided via laboratory analysis. In CSI2, you can – and are expected to – analyze evidence with forensic tools after collection, and the laboratory staff has apparently been told to be less illuminating than before. If you find yourself reaching a dead end in your case, go through your evidence with a fine-toothed comb because chances are that something was overlooked.
Additionally, you could submit a fingerprint into AFIS in the first game and receive either a positive match or none at all, but in this title, you receive five possible matches for each piece of evidence submitted for comparison. These queries usually yield no results, leaving you to rely on other evidence that you’ve managed to uncover. This might be a little frustrating, but it challenges the noggin a bit more, and besides, not all cases can be solved within a television hour.
A minor issue with the first game was that it didn’t provide a progress meter, so if you solved the case and found out that your score was a pitiful 79%, there was nothing you could do to change it, unless you wanted to redo the case. The fans spoke, and apparently, the developers were listening, because you can now check your progress along the way to find out how many questions have been asked and how much evidence has been collected. Trivia junkies will be sure to enjoy the five questions at the end of each case about minutiae that were encountered in your search for the truth. Depending on how well you do in each case, you can unlock up to a total of 45 extras, which had not been implemented in the build that I received, but I really hope that they’re not cast photos again.
The graphics in CSI2 are sufficient for the game’s purposes, and while they aren’t exactly revolutionary, they are better than those in Law & Order 2 (although if the developers could take a page from Legacy Interactive’s book on facial expressions, I’d be in adventure gamers’ heaven). The character models are markedly improved and more closely resemble their real-life counterparts. When a crime scene is panoramic, your fellow CSI still gets a bit stretched and distorted, although to a lesser degree than in the first title. The backgrounds lack a certain flair, which isn’t a problem, at least until you see some distinct and in-focus interactive objects glaring at you from the fuzzy background on which they’re resting, but now I’m nitpicking. If you compare these screenshots to the ones from last year’s title, the difference is astonishing. Good job on the upgrade!
This game has a lot of things going for it, but its crowning achievement is the voice acting, which is top-notch and done by the CSI cast members. The script is well-written, generally true to character, and provides a few moments of comic relief, although it’s a bit more outlandish than network television would ever allow. It’s difficult to form an opinion about the ambient noise, as most of the crime scene locations are in deserted areas. All you hear is some suspenseful background music and the tiniest bit of ambient noise to denote silence, which makes sense, as there’s nothing around to make any sounds. Office locations do feature ringing phones and shuffling papers, so perhaps this feature wasn’t fully implemented in our preview version.
CSI: Dark Motives is better than its precursor, and if the developers continue along this vein, I only see good things for the series. As is the case with most preview builds, the game contained a few minor bugs (i.e., the “Evidence” tab doesn’t automatically pop up when I enter the analysis lab, repeating dialogue, etc.) which I am sure will be ironed out in the final build. Fans of the first game … have already pre-ordered this title. Folks who didn’t enjoy the first installment would do well to give this game a chance because it is vastly improved in the graphical and gameplay departments, as well as game length.