Reviewed: April 12, 2003
Released: March 25, 2003
Considering the amount of network television that I consume each week I found it surprising that I had never seen a single episode of CSI prior to playing this game. It certainly wasn’t an oversight on my part, but more of a conscious decision to not get caught up in yet another “investigative series”. After a decade of The X-Files, Millennium, The Pretender, The Profiler and a few episodes of John Doe I simply couldn’t bring myself to devote another hour each week to watching people solve crimes or mysteries no matter how intricate their design.
When CSI: Crime Scene Investigation arrived for review I decided to take a quick peek before assigning the title to a reviewer who was hopefully a fan of the show. After all, it was apparent that this game was leveraging its appeal to fans of the series by including the likenesses and voices of the primary cast. My “quick peek” turned into a four-hour gaming session and when I finally exited the game I had completed the first three cases and had most of the review written in my head.
I went back the next day and finished the game then began the meticulous process of replaying all five cases in hopes of improving my performance evaluation. While Ubisoft was banking on capturing the TV audience for this game the exact opposite has happened for me, and CBS can now thank this game for one more viewer each week. I won’t be missing an episode from now on.
CSI (the game) reminded me of the X-Files game that came out a few years ago, only that game had you playing some unknown FBI agent in search of a missing Scully and Mulder. While that title offered a respectable amount of FBI procedures and gameplay it simply didn’t capture the feel of the show. CSI captures the show perfectly (even though I have only see two episodes so far) thanks in part to using the cast from the show and perhaps even more so because of the excellent writing of Max Allan Collins, the scriptwriter for CSI.
The presentation of the game mirrors the same production values of the show itself. You have FMV fly-overs of Las Vegas with the high-energy music from the show then you are deposited into CSI headquarters to get briefed on one of five exciting cases. Each case takes place in or around the Las Vegas area and involves crimes ranging from murder to arson. You will use a wealth of high-tech gadgets and equipment both in the field and in the CSI labs. You also get to interact with other CSI team members to discover new clues or get hints when you get stuck.
CSI features a refreshingly simple interface. You are put into carefully crafted 3D environments using the 3D QuickTime engine. You can then interact with that environment using your mouse to spin the view and click on various objects. Once you find something you can use your detection and collection tools to gather clues and build a case.
I regrettably admit that CSI often boils down to a pixel hunt, but if you put yourself into the game you will probably have a good idea of where you should be scanning the screen. Sure you can stumble through CSI by passing the mouse over every square-inch of the screen and waiting for it to turn green, but knowing that a clue likely exists in the bathroom sink, under the car seat, or in the wastebasket will separate the investigator from the casual gamer.
You are given a lot of freedom in CSI to discover the clues and build a case at your leisure, but there are times when the game seems to hold your hand and drag you along or at least protect you from making a critical mistake. If you reach for the door to enter the shed you will be “reminded” that you should dust for fingerprints before touching that door.
The opening tutorial does a very nice job of showing you the basic layout of the interface and getting you acclimated to proper investigative procedures. I was slightly annoying that this tutorial is forced upon you even on subsequent replays of the first case, but at least you can right-click to skim through verbal and text prompts.
Just like the show, as you collect clues and start for formulate your case there will be flashbacks that depict possible scenarios for the crime. As you obtain more evidence these flashbacks start to add more details and elements until you have recreated the crime. These “reconstructions” can be viewed from a separate menu and are very well done. A few of my favorites are triggered by conversations in the morgue where you see some pretty disgusting, but educational movies.
Solving the crimes consists of you traveling to various locations, searching for clues, interviewing witnesses, and generating enough information to obtain a warrant to interrogate suspects. You get to use a microscope to match hair samples, a computer to match fingerprints, search databases to match shoe and tire castings, or monitor suspicious activity on crime chat rooms.
Modern day crime solving techniques is all about the DNA and Greg will be your new best friend. This guys know everything about everything. Hand him the smallest sample of the most obscure item in the world and prepare of a dissertation that will amaze you. I gave him a shard of glass and he instantly knew it was a wine bottle. I gave him a torn, burnt rag and he knew it was a fabric from Ecuador soaked in lighter fluid. He is also master of the DNA scanner and will process and match any samples you can give him.
There are some pretty cool “toys” you get to play with out in the field as well. These tools are broken down into detection and collection. You get a UV and IR scanner, a “sniffer” to take vapor samples; you can swab liquid materials and use chemicals to reveal latent bloodstains. You can dust for prints; take tire and footprint casts, use tweezers to recover strands of hair or even a flake of dandruff.
There are five cases in CSI and a new case is unlocked when you solve the current one. Each case will take anywhere from 1-2 hours to solve depending on how observant and how logical your thought process is. There were times when I had the crime solved in the first 15-minutes but gathering the proof to back-up my theory took me another hour.
All of the cases are unique and challenging, exactly what you would expect since the game was created by the same people responsible for the show. In a devilishly clever plot twist you will find that that a few of the cases are in fact linked together – a popular device now used in serial television where an episode can refer back to a previous episode. It is for this reason that you are literally corralled into playing the cases in the order in which they appear in the menu.
Once you have completed a case you can go back and resolve that crime again. Why, you might ask? You are given a performance evaluation after each case based on the amount of evidence you found and if you had to ask for hints from your partner. It is quite possible to build an airtight case collecting less than 75% of the evidence, but the more evidence you gather the higher your ranking and the higher your score, the more bonus artwork you get to unlock.
There are up to ten pieces of conceptual artwork you can view for each case ranging from pencil sketches to fully inked renderings. The higher your score the more art is unlocked. While these were certainly nice they weren’t exactly the driving force in my quest for perfection. If you manage to get a 100% rating on all five cases you will unlock a Bonus Gallery that features more than 20 high-quality photos of the CSI cast and additional art and 3D renderings.
One final thing worth mentioning is the underlying desire of the programmers to make this game accessible to investigators of all ages and skill levels. Season adventure gamers will have no problem navigating the interface and finding the most obscure clues, but there is also the target demographic; fans of the TV show who might not be accomplished gamers. For them, there is the ability to ask your partner for advice, either on what to do next or with a particular piece of evidence. While these requests will affect your final score, at least the designers have given you an accessible and realistic hint system built right into the gameplay.
CSI looks really good in a virtual sort of way. While the actual voices of the cast have been used their likenesses have all been artistically recreated. I for one am thankful they chose not to attempt a FMV version of the game. By keeping everything computer-rendered the designers were totally free to explore any type of crime in any type of setting they wanted.
The game is locked in at 800x600, which was more than enough to capture amazing details in the various environments and your little black bag of crime-solving tools. Even though the cursor changes to green when passed over an area you can interact with, most of the time this was totally unnecessary. Most of the clues are pretty obvious, as objects at least, not necessarily as being important to your case - that’s for you to figure out. Even in complicated rooms such as the apartment of the suspect in the final case, important objects are visually singled out with subtle details like a critical book on a bookshelf being at an awkward angle.
The menu is very accessible with all of your tools divided into groups and accessed through a file tab menu system. Individual pieces of evidence are tagged as they are identified, so you know what needs to be investigated further. You can double-click on evidence to get additional info and check on the various suspects and victims in each case. All of this information is cross-linked and updated in real-time as new information is uncovered.
There are nice touches of details like reflective floors in the lab, a Windows interface with familiar desktop icons on a suspect’s computer, and some incredible character animation. All of the characters are constantly in motion whether it be a suspect nervously tapping his fingers on the table in the interrogation room, or the police chief tapping away at his computer digging up more information or obtaining warrants.
The FMV clips that precede each mission are a bit grainy but still a nice touch, but the reconstruction videos are excellent. Some of the more violent clips are a bit fuzzy and flash by quickly to make them even more horrific. They are all narrated by the person who is reconstructing the crime. If you’ve seen the show then you know exactly what I’m talking about here.
There is only minimal music but it is excellent and blends in to set the tense mood of the game. There are plenty of subtle ambient sounds like cars honking and sirens whining that drift in through an open window or the sounds of birds and insects at the gardens or outside the house in the arson investigation.
CSI really shines with the outstanding scripted that is professionally performed by a splendid cast of actors. Fans of the show will recognize their favorite CSI investigators and the rest of the supporting cast including witnesses, suspects, and victims are all perfectly cast and flawlessly performed. You don’t realize how bad voice acting really is in most games until you hear it done this well.
Fans of the show or seasoned gamers will solve all five CSI cases in 6-10 hours. Getting 100% of the evidence is another matter entirely. You will have to find every last piece of evidence no matter how irrelevant and ask every possible question of every possible witness. Nailing the “perp” is only half the battle – you essentially have to prove the innocence of any other suspects and follow every last lead to its ultimate conclusion. Even then you may end up with a discouraging 97% percent.
For fans of the show, CSI: Crime Scene Investigation is a no-brainer. If you have never seen an episode and enjoy a good investigative series then I highly encourage you to check out the show and get the game, or get the game then check out the show. Both compliment each other in a way that I have yet to see in a TV-game relationship until now.