Forensics crime research is very vogue right now, with millions of viewers fawning over the dramatic art of pulling fingerprints, collecting hairs, and evaluating fluids that no person should be stuck dealing with under any circumstances. While everyone's favorite programs are often wrapped in a thick veneer of baloney and flavored with a heavy melodramatic sauce, it's still more interesting television than most of what's available. If one's willing to deal with the slower pace and sometimes dense level of scientific mumblings, investigating can make for a great adventure, if done right. It rarely is, though, and CSI: Hard Evidence for the Wii is not going to break the mold in any substantial way.
Hard Evidence is another entry in what is growing to be a fairly long series of point-and-click adventures based on the hit TV series and its spinoffs. The show itself, for those who've not seen it, is a combination of light drama featuring a cast of characters and heavy science-based police fare. While the program often catches flack for being scientifically unsound to the point of hilarity (whole sites are dedicated to pointing out the issues in the forensic methods demonstrated) and for giving what should be the nerds of the Las Vegas Police Department more authority and firepower than they should be allowed, it makes for better television — frankly, unless you're on "Mythbusters," science is boring. Lots of neat-o technology is shown off, and the coppers nearly always catch the bad guy or girl by a great leap of science, brains and sometimes, sheer dumb luck.
Hard Evidence dispatches with a majority of that formula, leaving much in the trash. While the characters and setting hang around, they generally become talking heads — with the original actors, but talking heads nonetheless — for the nascent "rookie" to stare at, get advice from, and to give the other cast members someone to talk to. The player is cast in the role of Rookie P. Newguy, an up-and-coming forensics specialist of an otherwise completely undefined nature who's just been thrown to the proverbial wolves of Gil Grissom's Crime Scene Investigation unit. The game starts off quickly with a burned cab driver and carries on at pace, much like the TV show.
That's probably the most crippling aspect of the entire game: the pace. The show stays active and energetic with lots of dialogue, scene changes, and side-plots when the action breaks up. Here, there's rarely another cast member in the room with you, other than whomever was chosen to partner with you on this particular case, be it Sarah, Warrick, Gil, or ... the ... other guy. I forget his name, and so will you. Without more than a few lines of heavy dialogue at scripted points and canned responses to certain events, no one says much of anything, and the existing lines suffer from cadaver-like stiffness and bland delivery. There are no side-plots of any sort in Hard Evidence; absolutely nothing happens that isn't directly related to the case, leading to huge lulls and blasts of dead air.
Investigating crime scenes is marginally fun, but the periodic moments of euphoria from finding a minute bit of evidence or figuring out whodunit are bludgeoned to death by long segments of staring at walls, waving the pointer all over creation, or slowly climbing through a dialogue tree to gather more evidence from the inevitable mistakes and Freudian slips of a witness or suspect. As with all games of this genre, the sequences are tightly scripted and purely linear; though Hard Evidence seems to be trying to open up the game a bit by unlocking multiple areas at once and letting the player determine exactly what he'd like to do and the order in which to do it, the whole process still boils down to the old, stale formula of essentially knocking entries off a checklist. Allowing a few actions to be skipped or done in a different order is helpful but can't get rid of the sensation of a tightly held hand throughout the entire session.
It doesn't help that the environments and characters in Hard Evidence are potentially the most boring things I've seen yet, either. There is no ambience or life in any of the crime scenes, offices, facilities or anywhere else, for that matter. Most scenes are little more than an area you pan around while your partner for the moment stands completely stock-still, if it weren't for a rare shifting of weight or hand gesture. The environment is unanimated and devoid of what we used to call "flavor" — little animations like people milling about or objects moving in the breeze or whatever may be appropriate in a given scenario. There isn't even any music, and background noise is often very subdued when it's present at all.
The whole experience feels ... stiff and uninvolving, like you're doing the entire thing through an old computer simulation rather than playing a video game. I nearly fell asleep multiple times during the two hours or so required to finish the first case, and it's not the fault of the writing itself; it's standard video fare and it does its job adequately, but everything is so spread out and bland that it's extremely difficult to stay interested. A weak attempt to broaden the interactivity comes around in the addition of Insects (you grab them to add to Grissom's collection) and Thoroughness Points (extra points for looking at stuff that contributes absolutely nothing to the case — yes, the game rewards you for doing things that are pointless), but they don't add anything at all to the cases and mostly serve to encourage the player to look at everything without rhyme or reason. Forget that the dumpster won't have any relevance to the game, it's worth a point!
Technologically speaking, Hard Evidence is equally weak. The Wiimote, admittedly, is potentially the best fit for the interface, and most of the game is built around it. It's a fine pointing device, and in most cases, it does the job more than adequately. The only complaints with control push the line on picking nits: moving 3-D objects around to view them requires using on-screen buttons and is rather clunky, and sometimes moving the viewpoint in space is too sensitive, resulting in spin-o-vision. That's it, and if anyone knows me, you know I can be a serious complainer.
The interface itself isn't even all that bad, though it really needs some review. Other than a very retro dialogue tree selector and the confusing-but-often-necessary PDA that lets you pick sub-screens (Locations, Evidence, Options, and a fourth option that never seems to get used) by pushing buttons, all there is to the game is clicking when the hotspot goes green or is hovering above the correct tool or button. Without laboring the established point, this doesn't really come up as the most exciting stuff; interacting with evidence is strictly limited to picking the right tool to claim it or the right computer to analyze it. That's it. Strictly yawnsville.
I also have trouble forgiving Hard Evidence on a strictly technical level. The game looks positively ancient, like someone found it tooling around in the dumpster behind an abandoned PlayStation development shop. The aforementioned environments are stark and lifeless, but it's the actors who really take the cake, featuring dead faces, mitten hands, and absolutely no effort at lip-synching to the pre-recorded dialogue. It's shoddy workmanship that produces actors who, at close range, could easily be mistaken for grown-up Cabbage Patch Kids. The engine itself stutters along like a '76 Pinto on its last working cylinder. Audio is prone to skipping and stutter, the frame rates plummet for no visible reason, and load times are abhorrent in a title that involves moving between very small areas. I even had issues where the pointer would skip around the screen a bit, and it had nothing to do with my Wiimote. The game simply wasn't tracking it well enough while it chugged through ...well, nothing I could see.
All in all, CSI: Hard Evidence is another on the list of "cash in, garbage out" TV and movie tie-in games that have plagued consoles for the last few months (if not years). If you're a truly hardcore "CSI" fan, I suppose you could take this for a spin or two, but with technical issues, a completely boring design, poor pacing, and really no replay value, you're better off picking up a DVD boxed set and playing along at home.
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