"Often, the interface is the issue. The Wii Remote directs a cursor on the screen. Hover near the edge and, if there's more to see in that direction, the view will glide until you've reached a boundary. The same is true of vertical planes. When you pass over something interactive, your cursor turns into a bright green arrow or a hand. Then you can use your tool kit to collect items or bring latent fingerprints into view. There's no question that it feels authentic to the show, but there are times when it's also slightly unfair."
For many discerning folk, “CSI: Crime Scene Investigation” has been the weekly reason to watch CBS television for eight years. It's a compelling drama that puts the viewer in the role of a forensics expert, if only by proxy. The fact that it has spawned a few video games is hardly surprising, but it does raise the obvious question: are they any good? CSI: Crime Scene Investigation – Hard Evidence, the first in the series to hit the Wii, is a solid but ultimately flawed effort on the part of developer Telltale Games part to justify an answer in the affirmative.
Hard Evidence is divided into five cases, along with a silly tutorial investigation involving a missing donut. Each is self-contained, with a new mystery presented at the opening and with the rest of the time devoted strictly to solving it. What you basically get for the same price as one of the early seasons of the show on DVD, then, are five episodes that will thrust you in the role of an unnamed new addition to the entire forensics team from the hit show. It sounds good, almost too good to be true... and in some ways it is.
As you'll soon find, investigating cases in Hard Evidence is a hassle. That's apparent as early as the first case, which revolves around a cab driver that was burned alive in his own vehicle. The case opens with you at the scene of the crime, accompanied by Nick Stokes. He provides regular commentary and (if needed) hints. Taking advantage of the latter will deprive the player of unlockable content and an ego boost when the case is finally solved, so most people will initially choose to go it alone.
That's when the frustration begins. Hard Evidence is like the perfect jigsaw puzzle. You'll find clues scattered all over the place. Piecing it all together feels fantastic. The minute things go wrong, though, they really go wrong and your investigation is completely stalled. Suddenly, you're wandering in circles, talking to the same suspects and witnesses (who have nothing new to say and don't mind telling you so), going over the same few areas with a fine-toothed comb, trying all sorts of item investigations at the lab and sitting through load screens the whole time.
Often, the interface is the issue. The Wii Remote directs a cursor on the screen. Hover near the edge and, if there's more to see in that direction, the view will glide until you've reached a boundary. The same is true of vertical planes. When you pass over something interactive, your cursor turns into a bright green arrow or a hand. Then you can use your tool kit to collect items or bring latent fingerprints into view. There's no question that it feels authentic to the show, but there are times when it's also slightly unfair.
An especially striking example of this comes in the third real case, where a critical piece of evidence can easily escape notice. It's a blood-flecked straw that places an important individual on the scene and ultimately provides the evidence you need for a warrant. However, in the game it is positioned at the very bottom of the vertical axis, meaning that you have to specifically scroll your perspective to its lowest available limit and hover over a certain spot to even know that there's anything worth seeing, an unlikely circumstance as you will have already found two other objects in the area and may assume (quite reasonably, given the game's flow up to that point) that you've exhausted the area of clues. Even when you see that the area hasn't been checked off your list as completely cleared, you can't be entirely sure that you've missed something because sometimes you can't put an area entirely to rest until a few visits dictated by plot. It feels a little bit like losing a pair of keys, then searching the same 10 places throughout your apartment because you have no idea what else to do.
Your apparent freedom should feel liberating, but often proves inconsistent. You'll want to open a drawer, for instance, when your partner says that you can't do that just yet. Usually it's just a matter of a missing warrant, but sometimes it's just because a plot twist you have no way of knowing about demands it. Then there are interrogations, where you must ask every question on a menu in order to unearth every last vital clue. Only a complete dufus would choose not to run completely through the listed options, so why are they options at all? It doesn't feel credible. Nor do situations like the one where someone you are trying to sweet talk takes a drink from a paper cup and then you immediately swab it for DNA (on TV, you'd at least wait until they left).
Such limitations won't keep true fans from enjoying the game, though, either because they've decided simply to use the hint system or because they love the show and its characters that much. For such people, Hard Evidence really is something special. Although it's hard to tell if some of the voice acting is done by show regulars, there are a few instances where you never wonder. Jim Brass sounds exactly as he does on the show when grilling a witness in the interrogation room, plus Grissom has that scholarly tone to his voice that practically screams “William Peterson.” Visual likenesses are decent, too. There are times where teeth and lips don't line up quite right and eyes look completely lifeless, but it's always clear that someone behind this game loves the show and its stars every bit as much as other fans.
That's not to say that the visuals always live up to expectations. When you head from one part of Las Vegas to another, you'll be treated to some truly blurry snippets of video, like happens on the show. The difference is that on television everything looks clear, while here the effect is like someone took real video and filtered it through dishwater. Everything is blurry or grainy. And though there usually isn't much reason to complain about the detail the artists have provided for faces, bodies are another story. Often, limbs look like they are tan blowup dolls. You'll get used to shortcomings in time, but they can be jarring at first.
In the end, at least the game's technical shortcomings for the most part feel reasonable. CSI: Crime Scene Investigation – Hard Evidence is ambitious and different enough from the average console fare that perhaps it never really had a chance at perfection. What it lacks in polish, though, it makes up in heart. Fans of the television show are sure to appreciate that, as are those who like a good mystery and a change from the endless stream of games about alien invasions, mystical swords or sports commentators that love turduckens. If you're willing to put up with a few rough patches in order to experience something different, you'll likely find that Hard Evidence is money well spent.
Staff review by Jason Venter (January 31, 2008)
Jason Venter has been playing games for 30 years, since discovering the Apple IIe version of Mario Bros. in his elementary school days. Now he writes about them, here at HonestGamers and also at other sites that agree to pay him for his words.
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