CSI: Fatal Conspiracy Review

If you’re a regular viewer of programming on CBS, try this experiment. Take a few minutes to watch The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson, then spend a few minutes watching any episode of any version of CSI. Gripe as you might, it should become fairly obvious where the network is spending all their money. Yes, CSI is massive television phenomenon, with its edgy characters, absurd plotlines, and brow-furrowing one-liners. No great surprise then, to see the franchise dipping its toes into the highly profitable pond of gaming. This most recent outing has been dubbed “CSI: Fatal Conspiracy”. No, really. That’s what they’ve decided to call it.

Any fan of adventure titles will be familiar with the work of Telltale Games, having produced such hits as Sam and Max, Wallace and Gromit, and the resurrected Monkey Island series. One question that quickly springs to mind though, is just how can the normally simplistic, animated style of Telltale make a transition to the pseudo-realism of CSI? Of course, if we’re completely honest with ourselves, we understand that the colorful, flashy world of CSI is absurdly oversimplified to begin with. The trick then, is to convert the challenge and fanciful gadgetry of the show to a gaming engine.

The game is played in first person; you are a nameless new agent on the CSI team. Solving each puzzle requires a moderately keen set of eyes, a decent memory, and a bit of patience. You cannot move freely within a three-dimensional space, however. Your path of movement is predetermined on “rails,” although you do decide the time and direction of your linear journey.

Telltale has done well to assume the people playing this game will be simpletons. The basic interface is found within your PDA, conveniently placed within the corner of the screen and accessible at any time. From here, you can access the game options, case information, evidence, and locations. The “locations” feature enables you to instantly jump to any location you’ve unlocked – based on game progress, naturally – and they will even provide a nice green checkmark icon to indicate when you’ve explored 100 percent of that location.

The problem is that these searches can be terribly dull. Dragging the cursor across the scene with one stick, and turning the camera with the other, players must wait until the cursor icon changes to indicate a potential point of interaction. This might mean anything from picking up an object of interest, or simply moving closer to another area of the building. The latter is indicated by an “up” arrow icon, which unfortunately also indicates a simple “zoom” opportunity. Since these two possibilities can be occur in close proximity and have no distinguishing icons, frustrated players may find themselves missing out on clues and having to revisit areas to search for them.

Conversation is a simple matter of tapping the button to select a question. The interrogation room does offer an interesting opportunity to present evidence to a suspect which contradicts his claims, but you must be sure the evidence is substantial or you will lose “cunning” points. The game does track points for attributes such as “thoroughness” and “cunning,” but these affect little more than the achievements, so there’s a distinct lack of pressure that will bore some players but help to relax the casual crowd.

The hotbed of high-tech activity can of course be found in the laboratory, where you can perform anything from chemical analysis to DNA matching. This is accomplished through the use of clever mini-games; many of these are simple matching games that a child could learn. Much like clue hunting, the lab’s activities can get dull very quickly.

Fans will be happy to hear that CSI: Fatal Conspiracy is voiced by the cast of the show – Oh Lawrence Fishburne, how far ye have fallen. However, the actors seem unmotivated and detached from the action at hand, possibly because they are screen actors rather than voice actors. However, I would guess that’s where the majority of the budget was spent – a budget which may have been aided by fine folks at Asus and Garmen, judging from the number of times their logo appears on screen. The rest of the soundtrack and audio atmosphere is barebones.

Remember that attractive, animated style that made Wallace and Gromit so easy on the eyes? Let’s just say things haven’t been quite so pretty for the CSI folks. The developers have obviously attempted to emulate the original actors without any interesting attempts to reintroduce them as stylized caricatures. This means awkward jagged edges, creepy looking mouths, and low-res texturing that simply shouldn’t be seen in modern games. Despite the approachability of the title, it’s fair to say this isn’t Telltale’s best work, probably due to certain external influences. Nothing I say will dissuade CSI lovers from diving into this shallow pool of a game, but don’t worry. We’ll all be taking samples of your beautiful corpses when it’s over.

[Reviewed on Xbox 360]