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PC Review - 'CSI: Dark Motives'

by Alanix on April 10, 2004 @ 3:17 a.m. PDT

CSI: Dark Motives is a first-person adventure game that will test players' nerves and intellect as they examine crime scenes, question witnesses and analyze evidence utilizing the latest in forensic equipment. The new CSI PC game features a number of gameplay improvements including in-depth evidence examination, scalable difficulty and more interactive lab functionality. CSI: Dark Motives will once again feature the likenesses and voices of the entire CSI cast.

Genre: Adventure
Publisher: UbiSoft
Developer: 369 Interactive
Release Date: March 23, 2004

Buy 'CSI: Dark Motives': PC

When NBC found out that any dusty, musty old cop show script could be retailored as a hit if they just put the name “Law and Order” in front of it, CBS followed suit. “CSI: Crime Scene Investigation” then became “CSI: Miami”, and David Caruso’s career was reborn. That, in and of itself, is reason for throwing your television out of the nearest window. When “South Park” makes fun of you in their premiere episode, your career, my son, is over. Thank the video gods that David Caruso does not appear in CSI: Dark Motives. But I digress…

Regardless of what my family may think of me, I am an easy man to please. I want my dinner warm, my tools clean, my children respectful, my wife faithful, my television shows mindless and my video games challenging.

That being said, it was with much trepidation when I opened the box that contained “CSI: Crime Scene Investigation: Dark Motives”. I had played the original CSI game when it first came out, and frankly, I was nonplussed. It had a “Myst”-type anti-logic to it. The best way to progress in the original was to move your mouse all over the screen, clicking frantically until something happened. Then you could pick any one of your evidence-gathering tools and then move your mouse all over the screen, clicking frantically until something else happened. Seem repetitive? It was.

CSI: DM is more of the same. You are presented with the opening of a case. And your job is to frantically click on everything to get more items into your “evidence” file, take them back to the lab, run tests, interrogate suspects, an collect enough evidence to build a case on.(Oh dear, my participle is dangling.)

Graphically, the game is a 50/50 hodgepodge of styles. The cutscenes from location to location are stock-footage shots of the Vegas strip. The cutscenes that involve forensic evidence are computer-rendered, and decent enough to watch, but nothing to write home about.. The highpoints of the video are those trademark X-Ray/MRI views of bones breaking, organs being shredded and the usual damage that can occur when the human body meets with a violent end. It looks cool on television, and it looks just as cool here. There are definitely a few “Ouch!” moments when you see things like bones snapping inside the chest cavity, or a primer on how vomit happens. Mmmm.

When you are interviewing suspects, victims, or your own colleagues, the graphics become more “marionette-ish”. Although the character animations are a great deal more lifelike than its predecessor, static scenes with animated mouths still abound. Interrogations are conducted with a simple “point and click” interface of possible questions. Most of the time, the game play is linear, meaning that you only have one or two choices of question to ask your suspect. Regardless of the order you ask the questions, the others are always available.

The crime scenes are nicely-rendered 360-degree panoramic stills, but again, you are forced to move your mouse all over the screen, waiting for the pointer to turn green. Then, back to the old “point-and-click” again.

Don’t get me wrong, there are clues in the dialogue to lead you in the right direction, but it really doesn’t matter. A 55-year old Detective Inspector from Scotland Yard would have no more advantage in this game than a hyperactive 3-year old. If you have the temerity to click everything you have on everything you have, and then on everything else, you can beat this game in an evening.

The audio, featuring the original CSI cast, is fine as far as quality is concerned, but the script (Proudly Displayed on the box as “Written By official CSI author Max Allan Collins”) is best suited for a “Lifetime Television Event” starring Linda Grey and Suzanne Somers. Cheese, cheese, cheese.

The scoring system is the same as in the original CSI game. You are scored on the total amount of evidence found and analyzed, and penalized each time you ask for a hint from your CSI partner. But a nice addition is the “Observational Challenge” at the summation of each case. You are asked questions about the minutiae of the case. For example, questions about the color of a pair of pliers, or the street address of a game location. Your memory of these small facts can negate the penalties for asking for hints.

Now let’s go to the storylines themselves. “Daredevil Disaster” is the tutorial mission. During this mission, the voice in your head will keep tabs on you and give you hints as to navigating the interface. This “helping voice” can thankfully be turned off at the options menu.

“Daredevil Disaster” is the story of Ace, a Las Vegas stuntman, who is nearly killed when a fountain-jumping stunt goes awry. Who tampered with Ace’s motorcycle and why? Was it the envious mechanic, the sexy but somehow grimy chick mechanic, or the money-grubbing show promoter? You and your intrepid CSI team dive into the fray, looking for clues. Mouse around. Click. Mouse around. Click. Talk to a scumbag. Click. Be forced through an almost totally linear interview. Click. Grab a urine sample. Click. Are you tired yet?

Okay, to be fair, the stories are as challenging as the cases shown on the television series. If CSI: Dark Motives has a strong selling point, it is the adherence to the tried-and-true CSI formula. A few red herrings, a plot twist or two, and lots of gee-whiz forensic toys and images. Fun to play with, but pretty lightweight for a die-hard mystery buff.

But we do have Marg Helgenberger. Can’t forget Marg Helgenberger.

The second case, “Prints and Pauper”, actually ups the stakes a bit. Finally, a murder! We go to the morgue to find the body of a homeless man found dead in an abandoned asylum. From that apparent dead end, a strange story with satirical undercurrents of the war between the classes unravels. This story is richer than the tutorial mission, although I personally could have lived without that vomit primer I mentioned earlier. (Chuckle)

The remaining three cases, “Diggin’ It”, “Miss Directions”, and “Dragon and Dropping” take the gamer through such diverse settings as an archeological dig, a psychic’s parlor, and an avant-garde circus. The crimes each have their own cast of quirky and sinister characters and they do get more complex as you go along, but all in all, I still didn’t get that thrill of figuring out a specifically wicked puzzler.

I know I have a tendency to wax rhapsodic about the golden age of gaming, but I’m gonna do it again. When Infocom released “Deadline”, “Suspect”, and “Witness”, they created some of the best mysteries in computer history. You had such freedom to move, question, and analyze. When you came up with your final solution, it was the fruits of your labor, not the luck of the click. I know the days of text-adventuring are over, but c’mon…… can we at least get some better scripts for our graphic adventures?

As a game critic, I cannot really recommend this game. The pace and style are a little slower than I’d like, the dialogue is on the corny side, and there were, for me at least, a number of performance issues. I found myself having to re-start the game often because of disappearing text, and on a few occasions the game just froze.

But I have a few friends who are massive fans of the CSI franchise and I know they will love this game. Sadly, I know most of them will spend hours searching for the “Make Marg Helgenberger Take Her Top Off” button. It’s not there. I tried. And tried……..and tried………..

Score : 6.0/10

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