When you’ve achieved a certain goal, it takes a lot of hard work to improve on it. In the same respect, it takes a lot of hard work to do something that doesn’t quite live up to your previous standards. You have to find the bar that you set for yourself and make sure to dive under it. It looks to me like 369 Interactive didn’t work hard enough to jump over the bar they’d set after CSI: Dark Motives, and instead settled a few notches down for the latest installment in the television-based series, CSI: Miami. Perhaps there was a reason for its rather quiet release?
If you’ve played any of the previous CSI games, you’ll recognize the basic premise and the interface. After an incredibly short greeting by David Caruso’s character (probably put together last-minute), you progress through five different cases of murder and mayhem in the Sunshine State. It proudly displays its ‘M’ rating with drugs, embezzling, sick affairs, sex … nothing new, of course, to viewers of the popular show. You play the new recruit and partner with a different CSI on each case. They are not very involved, but as I will discuss later, this is not necessarily a bad thing. Together, you must juggle several roles – evidence collector, suspect/witness interviewer, amateur scientist. And, of course, when all is said and done, suspect apprehender. You have enough tools at your fingertips to get the job done, from fingerprint powder to luminol to tweezers and adhesive lifter. These can all be found in the tools section of your inventory bar, which also has separate sections for locations and evidence as well as a case file that records all of the information you receive via interviews and evidence analysis.
I was pleased to see that the developers did not forget about gameplay difficulty, an option that you can choose at the beginning of the game. I played on the medium level and found that it was challenging enough for me, not nearly as easy as the original CSI: Crime Scene Investigation but providing me with hints only where I know I needed them. There were still times, however, when the game slipped and made obvious or helpful statements that really weren’t necessary. There were also times when fingerprints were made very visible but you were not allowed to dust them until they were practically covering your monitor. This is just a small example of the game’s strange ways of linearity, requiring you to perform tedious tasks in order to progress instead of skirting your way around the problem. As a larger example, comparing DNA samples or fingerprints can get old after you have to do it more than once to establish the same piece of evidence that had been foreshadowed for the last ten minutes. Similarly, going back and forth from place to place to interview suspects can become rather annoying.
Now, I’ve never watched more than a minute of CSI: Miami, but after playing this game I don’t have intentions to do so. The main reason is because of the characters. They are dull and wooden and serve no real purpose in the game. Their voice acting is terrible, sometimes barely audible or overdone or just deadpan. David Caruso’s bland voice is almost as bad as his movie career, but I don’t think anyone did a worse job than Calleigh Duquesne, played by Emily Proctor. Some of her lines make her sound like a valley girl, not at all like a serious crime scene investigator. I don’t know what makes the show so popular, but it can’t be the actors. Most of the suspects, on the other hand, are voiced very well.
As far as graphics go, I didn’t have much of a problem. Sure, there are some areas where it’s clear somebody was in a hurry, but nothing really sloppy or dated. The real problems came with the choppiness of the game, especially including the lip-synching. The game skipped horribly, at times starting the dialogue before the character had even moved their lips. Lack of emotion or other movement in the characters (i.e. looking at another character when speaking to them instead of doing the same twitch every fifteen seconds, a la Silver Earring) did not help.
Puzzles, or the lack thereof, are rather poor. If you are new to the series, you may find it puzzling to understand the uses of each tool. Otherwise, puzzle fans are at a disadvantage. There really aren’t any. In each case, you may come across something simple like a cryptogram, a jigsaw puzzle, or a locked door, but nothing that won’t take you more than five minutes. I can’t say there’s really an excuse for any of this; there are plenty of situations I’m sure you can discover for yourself where you’ll probably think of a way to make the situation into a puzzle. Music and sound effects are just as minimal, if not absent entirely.
After each case you are treated to an observational challenge. It tests random facts about what you saw and heard during the investigation, such as “What color was the piece of dust on the sweater of the girl who was hidden in the crowd?” or “What was the name of your partner?” This feature was introduced in CSI: Dark Motivesand continues to baffle me as to its purpose. However, it will not affect your overall ranking for the case very much. Subsequently, your ranking corresponds to how much bonus material is available for you to view for the case. It consists mostly of boring test renderings, draft sketches, a cryptogram quote, and a jigsaw puzzle. Overall, it is not the most interesting of the bonus material we’ve seen in the past, but again I wish to encourage develops to include this in their games as a satisfying reward, provided that the material is worthwhile.
Speaking of satisfactory rewards (or, rather, quite the opposite), here is a prime example of how the developers dove under the bar. Let me quote from my review of 2003’s CSI: Crime Scene Investigation:
“Worse, the plot holds together about as well as wet firewood. The writers attempted to connect the last two cases to case one, making you reconsider the suspects and the overall connections between the cases … There’s a lot of missing links here, and it’s all rather confusing.”
Well, Max Allan Collins did it again, despite an otherwise beautiful script. And again, a plot that overlaps like that is just not fit for the series. Why the idea even came up during design is beyond me, but I will continue to bash it until the message is clear. So, gamers beware: confusing plot twists ahead!
Despite all the good among the bad in Miami, this game fails to deliver everything that it could have. It is living proof (among many others) that in order to successfully top a sequel (or, in this case, an otherwise successful sequel), you have to work twice as hard. And that is something that the developers simply failed to do.
Final Grade: C-