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Friday, January 16, 2009

CSI NY: The Game Review


Sometimes you can't expect miracles. CSI is an extremely popular television series. It engages the viewer, taking them along for the ride but also allowing them to exercise their analytical crime-solving skills in the process. At the very least, it's fascinating to passively watch the professionals go about their duties. Ultimately, you will always learn something. One would think a crime-solving show such as CSI would make a great, interactive video game. Here's an opportunity for viewers to demonstrate what they've learned from watching the show. It sounds like a great idea, but, unfortunately, the technology required to make this game realistic is still in its infancy.

Like all of the CSI games, CSI New York: The Game is a linear simulation requiring you to follow procedures in a specified order, using a specified format, with specified tools. There is no room for improvisation or personal expression. You will never get a chance to show off your skills, since there's only one way to solve each case. The developers could have tried a little harder to create the illusion of freedom of choice, but ultimately we have to accept the fact that this is little more than a point-and-click adventure game exploiting the CSI license. Knowing this will significantly reduce our disappointment, as we realize that, like the TV series, we are merely along for the ride.

 


CSI New York: The Game follows the basic point-and-click formula. You'll explore the environment, collect items, enter into conversations with non-playable characters, and solve puzzles. Nothing wrong with that concept, but in the case of CSI New York, all of these elements become tedious after the second case. There are four major cases, with a fifth promised to be available for download in the New Year. Each case incorporates the same elements, and even though the storyline is different, the gameplay is essentially the same. Everything is done in much the same order. Instead of feeling like you're solving a crime, you feel more like the errand boy, following orders and procedures that are written in stone.

You don't have to know anything about the show to play this game. In fact, the less you know, the less disappointed you're likely to be. The two main characters, Mac and Stella, are featured throughout the game. Their likenesses are good, not uncanny, but you'll definitely have no trouble recognizing them or other characters from the show. That goes for locations as well. New York is a highly concentrated, concrete metropolis. While the game will not win any awards for its slightly cartoonish 2D graphics, it gets the job done. What passes for style is the apparent graphic novel-look, which is just a marketing term designed as an excuse for cheap, static drawings. Character interaction involves 2D renderings and conversation trees. The actors from the series provide the dialogue but it doesn't have the same impact or immediacy as the show.

At the beginning of each episode you will arrive at a crime scene. It will, of course, contain the body, and it will also be a source of clues. The stories are penned by actual writers of the series and they will keep you guessing. It's not ablatantly obvious whodunit. In one episode, there's an apparent suicide victim that looks as though he jumped from a skyscraper. A food critic is found dead, locked in a freezer at a restaurant. There are numerous suspects many with motives and others with seemingly airtight alibis. This is where you come in. You will search the scene for clues, taking them back to the lab for analysis. Witnesses and suspects need to be questioned. Eventually, you will arrive at your prime suspect(s) and step up the interrogation process, eventually uncovering the murderer.

Searching for clues is a matter of pointing and clicking. The scene is littered with clues such as fingerprints and items with DNA on it. Too keep you from trying to click on everything, the developers have devised a penalty that will cause the cursor to disappear for a few seconds if you over-click. This does tend to make you stop and think for a moment. Many of the items are red herrings, so it's not advisable to click on everything.

Once you have collected your evidence, it's time to take it to the lab. Here you will play a series of mini-games as you match fingerprints, extract DNA, piece together broken or scattered items including faces, trace blood outlines, and try to crack codes to gain information from computers and other locked sources. Most of these puzzles are very easy, but sometimes it's not always clear what you are supposed to do and in what order. There are hints that you can use, but they virtually solve the puzzle for you. You are allowed to skip two puzzles in each episode. These mini-game puzzles relate to the actual clue processing in only the remotest of ways. This sense of detachment is only heightened by these make-work puzzles.

Interrogating subjects is as easy as clicking on the dialogue on the conversation tree. There's no real satisfaction here, as you'll eventually go through all of the conversations anyway. Eventually you will interrogate the prime suspect where, during the questioning, he or she will break down and fully admit their guilt. End of episode, move on to the next one using the same techniques and procedures. Lather, rinse, repeat.

I've had CSI New York: The Game on the examining table for a few hours now, and I have concluded that its demise was self-inflicted. Pull the sheet over it and give it a proper burial.

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