C.S.I. Dark Motives

Review

posted 4/29/2004 by Randy Kalista
other articles by Randy Kalista
Jerry Bruckheimer’s television opus, CSI, is an unstoppable ratings powerhouse. The number one show in America clocks in more weekly viewers than the population of Switzerland, Singapore, and Libya combined. Aside from the original Las Vegas setting, The Magic City of Miami backdrops another immensely successful spinoff, and CSI has further plans to worm its way into the Big Apple. There are comic books, graphic novels, and also last year’s top-selling adventure game, CSI: Crime Scene Investigation.

Despite lukewarm reception from gaming sites and publications, Ubi Soft garnered sufficient sales to warrant a second release. CSI: Crime Scene Investigation: Dark Motives is again voiced by the original cast and scripted by Max Allan Collins (who has, aside from his CSI credits, Road to Perdition and Dick Tracy fattening his writing resume.) All of which is convincing evidence for an authentic conversion from the television to the computer screen.

As the newest intern for the Las Vegas Crime Lab you’re immediately introduced to Gil Grissom, Head of the CSI Department. Grissom commends you on your fantastic grades, interjects some obscure Italian movie director reference, then gives you quick and dirty biographies on the rest of the team. Catherine Willows, his blood-splatter specialist, will partner up with you on the opening case, “Daredevil Disaster.”

Selecting beginner, advanced, or expert determines the level of difficulty you require to challenge your puzzle-solving strategy. The tutorial gives a limited overview regarding the range of actions you can undertake, though solving your first case is going to require a healthy dosage of trial-and-error. All the tools of the trade are at your disposal: cotton swabs, tweezers, electrostatic dust print lifters, fingerprint powder, as well as more exotic collection/detection tools. By your second mission you will be more confident in their implementation, but patience will be your greatest asset initially, not Mikrosil and Luminol.

You may turn to your partner for hints about suspects and evidence, but this will knock points off your final evaluation from Grissom once the case is closed. The questions available for you to ask your partner will appear onscreen (i.e., “What is there to learn from the beta tape images?”) However, the questions themselves are typically enough of a hint. Your partner isn’t going to hold your hand every step of the way, granted, but their advice often falls short of revealing anything too useful. This puts the mission’s success more into your own pocket rather than having a member of the cast blow the case wide open.

This is where a thin line between love and hate festers. Fans of the show are readily familiar with frequent dead ends and multiple misleads that can occur during an episode. There are likewise times when an entire case hinges on a single piece of evidence. Let it be no surprise then, such principles adhere in Dark Motives as well. Even an experienced puzzle gamer may hit a brick wall if a singular piece of evidence is overlooked or not fully processed. While not frequent even for a novice, such painful setbacks in the story’s momentum are still discouraging.

The scene of the crime will be presented in a 360-degree panoramic shot, although more locations will inevitably open as the case unfolds. Your mouse pointer will turn green as you scroll over an evidence hotspot. Zooming in and utilizing the right tool for the right job is critical. Employing tweezers when adhesive tape is required will have your partner quip in with vaguely helpful remarks like “We can’t use that here,” or “Try using a similar tool.”

A good chunk of the traces, prints, documents, and other general items you collect will be run past Greg Sanders in the lab for further processing. Although it looks like he got his hairdo from a drivethru at Supercuts, he is definitely your man when it comes to piecing together the evidence. His offbeat sense of humor complements the dry witticisms that pervade the majority of a CSI script. In the lab you’ll have access to a computer and a microscope image analyzer to accomplish some of the analytical grunt work yourself. Visually matching up fingerprint and DNA readouts are a couple of the undertakings that were conspicuously missing from last year’s CSI game.

What aren’t missing are the fantastically rendered reconstructions. These hyper-paced cutscenes grant the viewer a visual reconstruction of events (or hypothesized events) as key evidence is uncovered. Amidst the droll pacing the rest of the game may assume, reconstructions inject a syringe full of adrenaline into the storyline. There is often a gory element incorporated into these cutscenes, contributing heavily to the Mature ESRB rating accompanying detective work in Sin City.

Through five scenarios you’ll be scrounging to put cases together, much of which stem from conversations with victims (if they are alive) and suspects (if they are cooperative.) Many times suspect cooperation is not required, and superlative evidence will allow you to acquire a warrant to search a location or question suspects. Conversation is where the dreaded linear structuring of a CSI game takes root. There are typically only one or two routes to take during any particular questioning, with no reward or penalty associated from posing one question over another. It keeps the story flowing in a sense that feels superficial, when a more multiple choice approach would be much more gratifying. Conversations end up being a patronizing doggy treat when they should be scenarios testing your interrogation skills.

If you manage to corner a suspect in one of those sterile interrogation rooms, and stack up sufficient corroborative evidence, then you may be duly compensated by hearing your prime suspect spill the beans. Soon after, you’ll reunion with Grissom who’ll no doubt commend you for your stellar efforts. But before you receive your evaluation he’s got a few questions for you. Grissom sets you up with five multiple choice questions that will also play into your final score.

Achieving a high enough final grade, you’ll be treated to a huge handful of unlocked bonus material: behind-the-scenes interviews, conceptual art, etc. You’ll likely unlock every item if playing at the beginner level, and there’s virtually zero replayability once you’ve finished a mission, so completing a case from higher difficulty settings gather no greater fruits.

Graphically there is little to complain about. The renditions you see on screen are all very convincing likenesses of the CSI crew, although everyone is firmly rooted to one or two motionless locations, and the lip movements (along with their subtitles) don’t match up 100 percent. The voice acting isn’t quite on par with the show’s caliber, but Grissom and his squad deliver a decent act nonetheless. The static environments are assembled logically and bits of evidence are brushed seamlessly into the backgrounds.

Notoriously missing from the game’s intro theme is the classic “Who Are You” from The Who. Instead there are the technovibe mood-setting compositions from John M. Keane who is currently in his fourth season with CSI. The indoor and outdoor ambience of each scene is interspersed with appropriate background noise, and Keane’s haunting synth sounds take the backseat as necessary.

Collecting actual evidence is fairly easy after your first go-round, and interrogations are a walk in the park. To wit, CSI is all about analyzing orgies of evidence. Fans of the series already know this and will be thrilled to take part in the action, while this uneven focus may alienate non-fans. With no gunfights and no car chases and no flashy explosions in this cop show, CSI seems the antithesis of a Bruckheimer production (try Bad Boys II, try Pirates of the Caribbean, or try Armageddon for some typical Bruckheimer fare.) Make no mistake: Dark Motives is a commendable effort in translating a hit TV series onto a PC screen. CSI enthusiasts can’t pass this title up, but the hype could easily be lost on the other 260 million Americans that don’t watch the show.




C
Navigate the City That Never Sleeps with the original CSI cast through five twist-and-turn cases. Followers of the series will find the scenarios true to form, but outsiders may be left searching for a motive to buy into the show’s success.