Reviewed: December 15, 2010
Released: October 26, 2010
A simple scan of the TV listings for the upcoming week and it becomes painfully obvious where the money is being made in network television – from one of three genres; Reality (Survivor, Jon & Kate, Real Housewives), Talent Competitions (America’s Got Talent, American Idol, Dancing With the Stars), and mystery-drama (CSI, CSI: Miami, CSI: NY, Law & Order, Law & Order SVU, Law & Order: Criminal Intent, NCIS, need I go on?). The networks seem to bounce back and forth between their own versions of the very same shows that the other networks are making, trying to maintain their place in the viewing spectrum.|
It is no surprise that these franchises would want to take a stab at the lucrative gaming industry, and really at this point most of them have; save for some of the family-following reality shows, we already have multiple titles from the likes of Survivor, American Idol, Dancing With the Stars, NCIS, Law & Order, and more. For the most part, these TV series-based games tend to be a bit, er…lackluster in terms of quality – but the appeal to the television masses is fantastic, and these titles tend to garner massive revenue with very little investment. It’s a win-win situation for the broadcasters – a vicious cycle that keeps these games generating at a consistent clip.
But every now and then the network decision-makers see fit to actually seek out a reputable development house to come up with a quality game title to represent their franchise – which is precisely why I was excited to hear that Telltale Games (Monkey Island, Sam & Max, Wallace and Gromit) was at the helm of the latest CSI franchise release, CSI: Fatal Conspiracy. Sadly, where Telltale’s trademark point-and-click adventures have become lasting franchises on the PC and consoles alike, this Xbox 360 version of Fatal Conspiracy is an outright mess.
CSI: Fatal Conspiracy is the quintessential point-and-click adventure from the days of yore. Low-res static backgrounds displayed by fixed camera angles, all managed by a horrendously slow on-screen cursor that gives gamers little more to do than scan every inch of screen real estate in hopes that the cursor will change color indicating a possible clue. This staid gameplay may still work on a traditional point-and-click medium – say a mouse, stylus, or touchscreen – but on a controller-based console like the Xbox 360 the results are miserably tedious.
The game is divided into five interrelated “episodes”, each of which can be accessed from the main menu and take roughly an hour to complete. These episodes put the gamer in the shoes of one of the cast members, searching for clues, analyzing samples, questioning witnesses, and making arrests. Each episode has been written by the actual CSI writing staff, and as so carries a certain level of professionalism (for better or worse) compared to many other game screenplays.
I say for better or worse because as an Analytical Engineer by day and techie-hacker by night, I can attest to the fact that a great majority of the science purported by these the CSI shows is absolute hogwash (and has been ruining court cases for years, but that’s a different story altogether). This means that there is a certain suspension of disbelief that is required to digest all of the game’s over-blown drama and nonsensical investigation requirements, but we gamers are used to playing make-believe in the sake of entertainment, so it is not too much of a stretch.
Then again, probably the most infuriating part of any point-and-click adventure (other than the obvious control issues) is that most are developed with a particular sequence of information discovery in mind. This means that certain clues or information may not be available until prerequisite clues have been discovered – and Fatal Conspiracy is one of the biggest perpetrators of this crime. I fully understand that there needs to be some structure of linearity to the storyline, but when gamers can search every pixel of a crime scene with no indication of fibers, fluids or other clues – only to return to the location at a later time and find one or more of these items, is like a slap in the face.
Add to that the fact that the game gives little-to-no guidance other than to say “maybe you should look for more clues” or “that item will not help here” and it becomes an exercise in tedium trying to figure out the developers intended order of operations that will yield the correct results. I must admit that while the gameplay is seriously lacking, the production value is actually quite impressive. As I mentioned, the screenplay is penned by the show’s writing staff, and as an added bonus the series’ cast all make appearances for their particular character’s voiceovers. The character models are a bit on the creepy side, and backgrounds often mask clues within their graininess – but they get the job done in the end.
As you can tell, I was not at all impressed with CSI: Fatal Conspiracy. This is a shame given the fact that I have really enjoyed the other point-and-shoot franchises that Telltale converted over to the Xbox 260 and PS3. With Fatal Conspiracy, it is as if Telltale forgot what made Sam & Max, Monkey Island, and Wallace and Gromit so successful in the console world, and it comes off as a sorry port of a lackluster PC game.