With Sam & Max, Telltale did what seemed to be impossible. They took a classic SCUMM flagship with a hardcore following, made a sequel to it outside of the loving arms of LucasArts, and released it to, not fanboy griping, but overwhelmingly positive reviews.
CSI, unfortunately, does not sport the same game quality and gloss as Sam & Max and relies more on riding the popular CSI license than being a quality game. Laziness plagues the title from start to finish and turns what could have easily been of the best licensed games around into a sub-par bargain title.
Since I believe that one good turn deserves another, I’m going to be lazy, too. Rather than writing paragraph upon paragraph about the lazy game design, I’m just going to list the good, bad and lazy things about this game and discuss the important bits in more detail below:
|The Good||The Bad||The Lazy|
|•Storylines are well written
•Most main characters are voiced by the original actors1
•Though it’s simplistic, you do most of the lab work in this game yourself rather than just hand it off to Greg
•Game includes mini sidequests like collecting insects and bonus unlockables
|•The game is very anticlimactic compared to previous CSI games.
•Product placement is painfully obvious 2
•Game defaults make the game entirely too easy
•The unlockables suck
•The game is much too short (about 10 hours)
|•The game takes any opportunity it can to recycle levels
•The game has only five achievements—one for each level you beat3
•Character models are blocky and horrid4
•Four of the dead bodies you examine are exactly the same character model, just with some random facial hair or tattoos.
•Too many loading screens
•After sitting through a loading screen, the game throws you into a cutscene that’s already in progress
•Items that you have pieced together and fixed remain broken in the lab overview screen
•Arbitrary limits to your search warrants5
•Reuses characters whenever possible
•Skipping spoken dialog will result in people overlapping
•Warrants aren’t given even when they are very rightly deserved5
1 Most main characters are voiced by the original actors
With the exception of Sara Sidle (Jorja Fox) and Catherine Willows (Marg Helgenberger), the voice acting is done by the actual cast of the show, and the sound-alikes and extras aren’t perfect, but they certainly beat the hell out of most videogame voice casts.
2 Product placement is painfully obvious
When you first look at your PDA and realize it’s an HP iPaq, you figure they’re just trying to add some realism to the game. When you see a billboard for Visa credit cards, you figure a fictional advertisement might take away from the real world feel of CSI. When you realize that every piece of electronics is HP branded; every billboard, storefront, and flat surface in the entire game is advertising Visa credit cards; and even the chief of fucking police is telling you how he sure is pleased as punch that Visa’s Continuous Monitoring Service™ noticed suspicious transactions on a victim’s account and averted an identity theft crisis, you stop being so goddamn naïve and you realize that you’re getting a big load of shameless product placement rammed down your gullet.
3 The game has five achievements—one for each level you beat
This may be a bit nitpicky, and I’m not the biggest achievement whore on the planet, but it wouldn’t have taken very much effort at all to put a few more achievements in the game. You could double the amount just by offering separate achievements for beating a level normally and another one for beating it with a Master ranking. Let’s triple it by adding achievements for getting all the bonus insects there are to find in every level. I could keep going all day.
4 Character models are blocky and horrid
Keeping in tradition with the last CSI game, character models are still about a generation-and-a-half behind the times, with none of the main characters looking overtly like who they were supposed to be and Catherine Willows, more specifically, looking like Robert Z’dar.
5 Arbitrary limits to your search warrants/Warrants aren’t given even when they are very rightly deserved
These two points are related in that the game lazily creates artificial barriers so that you don’t find the case-breaking evidence too early. This really fucking irked me. An example: I have a warrant to search a pool house, and I want to examine a crossword puzzle on a table. When I go to pick it up, though, I am alerted that my warrant doesn’t cover it. Apparently, I have a special warrant that covers the pool house and everything in it EXCEPT crossword puzzle lying in plain sight on a table. I later find out that it’s the case-breaker piece of evidence. Something like this happens in most levels.
6 Grissom contradicts himself in evaluations
This isn’t an important issue, but I would find myself confused at the end of every level when Grissom would tell me that I “Didn’t need any hints at all,” “Found every piece of evidence there was to find” and “Followed the evidence to a clear conclusion” and then would proceed to tell me “As I mentioned, there are areas where you could use improvement.” Uh, no, you definitely didn’t say anything like that.
The game is actually kind of fun, but, unfortunately, for all the reviving of the point-and-click adventure genre TTG did with Sam & Max, CSI just plants the genre’s foot firmly back into its grave with this game’s blatant laziness and reliance not on quality game design, but on the CSI license and lucrative product placement deals to make a quick buck.