"To the deduction board!"
That's when I knew that the NCIS game was in trouble.
Well, there were other moments, such as when the faux show credits referred to Mark Harmon's character as "Jethro Gibbs," completely ignoring his given first name of "Leroy." And Tony DiNozzo doesn't utter a single word about movies. Instead, he's always talking about ... food? Gibbs also doesn't give nearly enough headslaps in the game.
For the uninitiated, the "NCIS" acronym stands for Naval Criminal Investigative Service, a law enforcement agency that solves crimes involving naval personnel. The NCIS game is based on the long-running TV series of the same name. In the game, you help the NCIS team solve four different cases by scouring the crime scenes to collect clues; back at NCIS headquarters, you analyze the evidence. The first crime is a shoot-out at an Atlantic City casino. It seems pretty open-and-shut, but as the game progresses, it turns out that the casino caper is tied to a bigger global plot.
The most redeeming factor about NCIS is that you could crawl out of the womb, pick up the controller and start playing. The game is that intuitive and easy. It could be a children's game if it weren't for the subject matter.
It also doesn't let you fail. You cannot progress to the next area before you've found every piece of evidence in the current crime scene. There is an on-screen indicator to let you know how close you are to completing the current area, but it's not as if you can actually leave to do something else in the game.
Once you've collected all of the evidence, you head back to the lab to process the evidence as Abby Sciuto. It sounds more exciting than it is. Regardless of what you're checking — bullet striations, fingerprints, tire treads, shoe treads and chemical compositions — the tasks boil down to repetitive minigames of matching patterns, and that gets old really quickly. Timothy McGee has similarly simple "hacking" minigames, and Ziva David can crack open safes. Dr. "Ducky" Mallard performs an autopsy by analyzing a body for clues, which glow in a garish pink to grab your attention.
As for the deduction board, it's the flat-panel TV where the NCIS team views their findings as the case progresses. There's no real "name" for it in the TV show, but I guess they had to call it something.
On this, ahem, "deduction board," you drag and combine case elements to arrive at a conclusion. You're then asked to choose one of four possible conclusions, which is basically a multiple-choice test with three ludicrous answers and the overly apparent correct one. The game is too simplistic here, not letting you combine case elements out of the expected order, even if they ultimately belong together.
Once you've gathered and processed the evidence and arrived at a conclusion, it's time to interrogate a suspect. Interrogations require a Quick Time Event (if pressing a button once counts as a QTE). If you miss one of them and fail the interrogation, the interview is repeated until you get it right and hit all of the QTEs. If you catch a suspect in a lie, you can present him or her with the contrary evidence by pressing that same QTE button and choosing the correct item from your case file.
In a minor nod to the show, Caf-Pows (a comically large, heavily caffeinated soft drink) keep track of the number of tries that you get in the minigames or interrogations. If you run out of Caf-Pows, though, you can restart, so there are no repercussions.
It may seem that this game is meant for hardcore fans of the "NCIS" TV show, but if you are a hardcore fan, you'll be sorely disappointed. Only Gibbs and Ducky marginally look like their characters, and everyone else looks quite generic. When characters chat on the phone, they hold the phone up to their faces and stare at something mesmerizing on the ceiling. What exactly is up there?!
Although writers from the TV show contributed to the game, it's apparent that they penned the plot but had no hand in the dialogue. Former Mossad agent Ziva David is all hard angles and incorrect idioms, but her explanations about the linguistic errors actually make sense. It's very apparent that she is smart, strong, and can beat you with one arm tied behind her back. In the NCIS game, she is not capable enough to ride on the short yellow bus. When asked to carry a wooden plank to a gap between two platforms, she responds, "I don't understand what you are trying to do here."
The voice actors for the NCIS team aren't very good sound-alikes. (Why does Gibbs sound like Owen Wilson?) David McCallum and Robert Wagner are the only actors from the show to lend their voice talents to the game as Dr. Mallard and Anthony DiNozzo, Sr., respectively. They do a good job and all, but the average age of the voice actors is hovering at 80. Call the AARP.
Based on it being the one-year anniversary of Ziva being naturalized as a U.S. citizen, the NCIS game is set after the eighth season of the show. Isn't it a coincidence that there's a "Buy the Season Eight DVD" trailer in the game's main menu?
It's difficult to not view the NCIS game as a blatant cash grab. It may be available at the lower price point of $40 ($30 for PC), but the four cases only take about four hours to complete and there is zero replay value. If you're playing the Xbox 360 version, you gain a full 1,000 Gamerscore simply for completing the game. You have the option of replaying the cases, but since you've seen everything during the first playthrough, there's no reason to do so.
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