Developer: 369 Interactive
Release Date: November 16, 2004
Buy 'CSI: MIAMI': PC
Crime is an ugly, ugly thing. It often leaves people brutalized, traumatized, or at the very worst very dead. Law enforcement tries to keep criminals in check while the legal system does its best to uphold justice and defend the innocent. Before the capture and before the courtroom drama, there is the investigator, the person tasked with putting together all the innumerable bits of evidence into a picture that points cleanly and undisputedly at the criminal in question. In CSI: Miami, one of those people is you.
Anyone familiar with CSI the show in any of its various incarnations will know exactly what to expect here. CSI: Miami the game is a series of five set pieces, each a self-contained grouping of suspects, witnesses, and scenes. Solving one crime allows access to the next, eventually letting you solve the mother of them all. In standard CSI form, the cases are a little off-the-wall, featuring bizarre murders and characters who have more going for them than just testimony. Expect infidelity, S&M, drug abuse, and other seedy elements to surface during your interviews. These folks, they’re not nice people, and they’re all possible suspects in some pretty grisly deaths.
Everything about the game itself is perfectly serviceable, and at times rather impressive, particularly for a newer genre that often gets bargain bin treatments. Character models are rather good (though admittedly, they look nothing like their on-screen counterparts), with good facial work and lip-synch. Animation for the most part is rather limited except during ‘Reconstructions’, the series term for cutscenes that recreate possible scenes. These often use wild camera movement, bullet-time slow motion effects, and shots of internal organs demonstrating the effects of what’s happening. They’re nice to look at once, and give you a very good view of whatever is being referred to—no unnecessary speculation required for, say, describing the path of a 9mm bullet through human tissue.
As you would probably expect, everything is mouse driven. Menus are simple and easy to maneuver, dividing things in a logical order—Detection and Collection tools, three kinds of Evidence, and a separate menu for Locations. It’s easy to find what you want with a click or two, and double clicking on anything brings up a larger view of it with any details you may have missed. You’ll be doing a lot of that clicking to try and find every last detail of an item, as several have hard-to-see finger prints or easily missed details. An option toggles Evidence Tags which change colors to indicate whether or not you’ve fully handled a piece of evidence, which I found quite welcome more than once.
On your side are four squad members: Valera, your local lab technician, with a small army of equipment available for your perusal; Yelina in the office, ready to research suspects and file for warrants; and Alexx, the coroner, whose job goes without saying. Valera is handled simply by dragging evidence on to her, where she will pass it on to the proper equipment for your personal analysis in one of several tools. The other two are primarily conversational, though Alexx is more than happy to let you examine the bodies yourself if you’re so inclined.
CSI: Miami features a number of handholding features, designed to bring the difficulty down to a manageable level. Some involve highlighting hotspots at scenes or on evidence, while another sets up ‘auto evidence questioning’, automatically giving you conversational topics on evidence instead of forcing you to drag evidence to the person in question. Using these ‘auto features’ makes the game far easier, but more accessible—I can’t imagine trying to find some of these fingerprints or fluid samples without knowing where the game expects me to put the tool. Auto-questioning made far more sense to me, too, getting rid of Law & Order’s ‘drag everything and see what sticks’ theory. Your partner for the day is also available to give hints, though these are often vague and penalize your final score for the case, supposedly—never once did anyone accuse me of being a poor detective even after taking all the hints for a case.
About two-thirds of your time will be spent digging through crime scenes and homes for those tiny pieces of evidence to string everything back together. Don’t expect grimy warehouses or dark alleyways here; these are the bright and beautiful homes of Miami. Instead of rats, you’ll be cycling through wine bottles in expensive condos and ocean-side estates. It’s a bit of a jump from CSI: Crime Scene Investigation or Law & Order, but it works well enough given the writing.
At that, the overall writing is my favorite part of the entire experience. Having roots in a television program can give you some headway towards a good script, and CSI: Miami takes full advantage of it. Characters have full backgrounds, give lots of information, and are genuinely conversational. No silly accents or stereotypical characters are to be found here. Sadly, the voice acting can be a little flat, but the worst offenders are actually the show’s own cast members, none of whom seem to be particularly interested in what they're doing here. Fortunately, they don’t speak all that often, and it’s something you can weed your way past. I’d give my left arm for a ‘skip dialogue’ key, though—while Space or Right Mouse skip dialogue, they skip the entire dialogue up to the next question selection, so you miss too much by doing that.
That probably all sounds really good, I imagine, and I can’t say that it isn’t quite a fun experience to work through. The rub is the same one that’s plagued the adventure genre for quite some time: it’s too short. Law & Order uses one case that lasts for a few hours, trying to stretch it by using the legal segment for some extra gametime. CSI: Miami doesn’t have that opportunity, further being cut short by the episodic nature of the crimes. None takes more than two hours to solve on the lowest difficulty level, with Advanced and Expert simply stretching things out by hiding elements. If you know your way through a crime investigation, it’s absolute child’s play to find the criminal again. And just like in Law & Order, you’re barred completely from doing anything wrong. The game will not let you mishandle evidence, illegally question anyone, or finger the wrong suspect. From victim to arrest, everything is handled on a completely railed system, where questions only appear when the game thinks they should and you’re an absolutely perfect cop, even when it takes two weeks for you to find a suspect. It’s annoying, most of all because you can finish the game just by hammering away at every possible option until it falls into place. On the other hand, even with evidence detection and other support features on, some things are virtually impossible to find without some kind of outside assistance; you can use the Hint system, but your partners have a propensity towards being extremely vague.
CSI as a show has score huge ratings, becoming a phenomenon and a cult hit in US living rooms. CSI: Miami may not fare so well overall in the ratings, but 369 Interactive has done a good job at creating an interactive show of sorts, bringing in the best elements of all sides—the gilded upper crust, the struggling not-quite-so-rich folks, and the criminal element that bands them all together. As an episode, this would be quite entertaining to watch once or twice. As a game, however, it doesn’t manage to get the job done, falling way too short on actual substance and gameplay. The crime adventure genre needs a boost, and it needs it fast, or it’s going to fade away into budget obscurity at high speed.
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