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"We're the number two crime lab in the country. We solve crimes most labs render unsolvable. So what makes you think you belong here?"
- Captain Jim Brass
In Sin City there are no secrets, only hidden answers. As a rookie crime scene investigator (CSI) in Las Vegas' impossibly well equipped crime lab, it is up to you to help find those answers and put away Nevada's criminals.
Yes, another year has passed and another CSI game has been released - this one based on the cast of season 9 of the ever-popular show. This is CSI: Deadly Intent, the follow-up to the enjoyable Hard Evidence and 3 Degrees of Murder games, and the frankly awful spin-off title CSI: New York. As always with this franchise, the game is presented with you playing the new recruit to the CSI team, partnering a different cast member for each case you are given - there are five in total, each slightly longer and more complex than the last. The format is very structured; each case starts at the crime scene where you collect evidence, then you move on to the morgue to talk to the medical examiner Al Robbins about the victim, and finally you head to the labs to process everything you have found. When you have put together sufficient evidence, you can approach Captain Jim Brass to ask to bring in a suspect for questioning or to be allowed access to new areas to search. Finally, once you have enough information to secure a conviction you can confront the guilty party, who will obligingly crack and confess, thus solving your crime. The result is part adventure game, part whodunit; an attempt at creating interactive episodes of the TV show, basically. Given the involvement of episodic adventure game experts Telltale Games, Deadly Intent seemed to have the potential to pull this off successfully.
CSI is played from a first person perspective and is a "point and click" style puzzle game. By this, I mean you see through the eyes of the rookie you are playing, and you are given a fixed position to stand in and work from within each location. You can pan around the room (in some cases up to a full 360 degrees) and zoom in on certain highlighted features, but you cannot walk about freely as in action or platform games. You interact with your location by pointing the cursor (at evidence, at a person you want to talk to, at a tool you want to use) and clicking. The controls are therefore exceedingly simple and only require you to be able to use a mouse. For the most part, this works quite well. If you are in a single room environment, the panning and zooming allows you to see everything quite easily; however, if you are in a larger, more complex, setting then the weaknesses in this system quickly become apparent. Try to move along corridors or up stairs by clicking and moving to another static point on the screen is a strange and quite disorientating experience, and one that clearly underlines how much this game would benefit from freer movement.
Collecting evidence is a simple (perhaps too simple?) process. When faced with a new location, you use your cursor to look for hot-spots in the scenery; when you see one, you click to zoom in and take a closer look. If there is an observation to be made, your partner will make it, and if there is evidence to be collected, your cursor will automatically change to a toolkit symbol. There is a range of tools that regular watchers of the show will be familiar with - the brush to dust for fingerprints, and the swab to collect fluid samples, for example - and which one to go for requires little thought (you are not going to need the casting kit to take a sample of blood now, are you?). You even get told when all evidence has been collected from a scene so you know you have finished with it. This seems a useful thing at the beginning, but you quickly realise how much it restricts the game and prevents a sense of realism. Surely it would be possible to allow the player to freely explore a crime scene and find evidence in a more natural way without this gathering-by-numbers process?
Things get a bit more interesting once you are allowed into the lab, however. Each processing area (e.g. DNA, fingerprint analysis, microscopic analysis) works like a mini-puzzle. These are quite fun to play, and each gets progressively bigger and harder through the game, so you don't get too bored of tackling the same type of puzzle repeatedly and it retains a sense of challenge. The puzzles are nicely designed so it is easy to get to grips with what you need to do, but without it being too easy for you to do it. A minor gripe I have is that even when you turned the assistance system down as far as it would go, the game insisted on telling you how to use each of the lab areas each and every time you accessed them, which got a little irritating after a while. I would have liked to have the option to remove this after the first time I used each piece of kit.
The interrogation process was certainly an improvement on previous games in the franchise, and unlike the evidence collecting, did allow you to think and behave in a more realistic way. Should you reach a point in the interview where the suspect makes a statement that you don't believe ("I never touched the murder weapon!"), you can click on an icon to bring up a selection of evidence relating to that part of the case. Choosing the appropriate evidence (their fingerprints from the item you have already demonstrated to be the murder weapon) will allow you to challenge the suspect by proving that they are lying. There is no real penalty for getting it wrong (other than dressing down from your colleagues and a dent in your final score should you care about such things), but it is a nice incentive to get you thinking a bit more about what you are doing and feeling a bit more like you are playing a detective.
**Graphics and Sound**
The CSI games have been presented in 3D since 2006; this was a nice improvement on the 2D titles, but little appears to have been done to develop them since then. The scenery is good but not great, and the characters are excessively flattering renditions of the actors they represent (Nick Stokes seems remarkable young, while Catherine Willows is even thinner than she is on TV). The flattery I can live with, but the lack of textural detail and stiff, blocky animation of the characters is disappointing (cut scenes are particularly awkward) and makes them feel like they are full-paid up inhabitants of the uncanny valley. There is also some poor rendering of objects that varies between laughable and annoying - especially so when you need to process an object as a key piece of evidence and it looks like it has been animated by a YTS trainee. Sound, on the other hand, is actually pretty good. The music is authentically reminiscent of the show, and all the featured characters are voiced professionally by the CSI cast, with well-delivered and clearly audible dialogue that helps create the image that you have an interactive CSI episode.
**Deadly or Deadly Boring? **
Having completed the game, I have noticed that there is evidence that it might have been rushed out into the shops before it was truly ready for release. For starters, I experienced some trouble installing the game on my PC. When I did eventually manage this and played the opening case for the first time, I soon reached a point where I was stuck and there seemed no logical way forward. The in-game hint system was suggesting this was because I hadn't processed a key piece of evidence - trouble was, I didn't have said evidence to process. After a frustrating search through the level revealed nothing further, I consulted the ever-reliable gamefaqs.com to find out where I was going wrong. The answer, it seemed, was that I should have been given this piece of evidence by the medical examiner when I was interviewing him post-autopsy. Having concluded the interview, I had received nothing - but now I knew where the evidence I needed to progress the case was lurking, I returned to the game and went through all the prompts the game allowed me when talking to him. Nothing. For whatever reason (perhaps because I was skipping through the slow dialogue by reading the subtitles?), the action that supplied the evidence failed to trigger. Unfortunately the assiduous autosave function prevented me from returning to a point before this error occurred, so the only solution was to play through the case again, which was somewhat annoying.
The second time I played this case I was careful not to skip any dialogue that might trigger the release of evidence, and this time duly got my missing item in the morgue. Later on in the level, however, I got stuck again. Following the same tactics as the previous time, I discovered that the problem this time was that I was supposed to collect three fingerprints from an object - but the game had stopped me using my forensic toolkit after I had revealed just two of them. Try as I might, I couldn't get the game to let me to use my toolkit any further on the object in question...so once again I had to restart the level. This time, it felt very annoying! The third time the game did work all the way through to the end of the first case, but I was very careful not to try and make the game work any faster than it wanted to - clearly by skipping dialogue and cut-scenes glitches can occur. With the game this buggy, I'm afraid you just have to be prepared to tolerate the slow bits when you play it.
But not all of the game is bad - far from it. An intriguing new feature is the customisable help system that has been built into Deadly Intent. Unlike most games where any available help exists purely on an on/off basis, in this game you can pick and chose how much help to have and in what form you get it. There is an option to allow you to ask your partner for help, for instance, and another in the form of evidence tagging (where you are shown a nice friendly green tick as an indication that you have fully processed an item of evidence and there is nothing further to find). You also receive helpful hints in the form of emails sent to your character's PDA during the game if it appears you are taking too long to ignoring the correct next move; if you are not stuck you can simply ignore these messages, of course. This is a nice idea, but needs some improvement in regards to what is actually written in the messages. When I checked them, I generally found they provoked a "yes I know I need to do that but HOW do I do it?" response from me due to their wonderful vagueness. I hope this feature is developed further in future games, as it could become a really good handicap system to make a game challenging to experienced gamers while not putting off novices.
Finally, Deadly Intent tries to add an extra something into the game by including a scoring system - you are marked in percentages for skill (how successful you were at processing evidence appropriately), cunning (your ability to present evidence to refute a suspect's claim or to get a warrant) and thoroughness (whether you check every possible avenue). This system allows you to earn achieve...sorry, "awards" for your activities. Perfectionists may find they want to replay levels to earn better scores, but I found that this offers nothing to the game and generally ignored it; I certainly had no wish to replay solved cases.
CSI: Deadly Intent has some good ideas, but too many are not followed through to their best conclusion, and the game is weakened because of it; this is a shame given Telltale's experience at bringing out excellent games in this genre. Having said that, the cases are written by the show's scriptwriters and are quite interesting and varied as a result, although it would have been nice to investigate something that wasn't a murder (surely other crime happens in Las Vegas?). The cases had sufficient depth to make them feel like an actual episode of the show, although the formulaic approach did start to get a little wearing towards the end. The game had some nice puzzles in it (looking for traces of hidden text in forged documents was particularly good, for example), but there were too many instances where I felt I was not being allowed to think for myself. It was like the game was holding my hand too much and telling me what to do and when to do it - and if I didn't follow things through in the order it wanted me too, then I got emails popping up on my PDA to remind me I wasn't being a good little rookie and following orders. For the price paid (£9), this game offered decent longevity (early cases last 1.5 to 2 hours depending on how much you use the help features; later cases take around 3 hours each) and I don't have any real complaints about value for money, although I suspect most people won't find much replay value in the game.
In summary, I found this a quite enjoyable game overall, but one that was frustrating, poorly designed or rushed in production in places. Hard core CSI fans would probably have an enjoyable weekend with it without feeling too cheated at the current Amazon price, but I wouldn't recommend it to casual fans of the show or anyone trying point and click or CSI games for the first time.
Just about recommended to CSI fans. Not recommended to everyone else.
Developer: Telltale Games / Ubisoft
Specifications: Windows Vista or XP / Pentium 4 processor / 1GB RAM / 64MB, Direct X 9.0 compatible video card / 4x DVD ROM /6GB free hard drive space
PEGI Rating: 16+ (scenes of violence and drugs)
Price: RRP £20, currently £7.99 on Amazon.co.uk