CSI: Dark Motives review

The Good:
  • The cases, generally, are interesting and there are some good twists
  • Length is definitely better this time around
The Bad:
  • Voice acting is still dreadful
  • These cases, while longer, aren't much harder than the first game
  • Would be nice if the game let you do anything yourself rather than holding your hand always
Our Verdict: A good translation of the television show, recommended for hardcore fans. Only recommended for others if you like your detective games with a heavy dose of hotspot hunting.

Thank goodness for journalistic integrity. I had it all figured out for this review. I was going to pull up my, if I do say so myself, fantastic review of CSI, make a couple changes, copy, paste, BAM! Instant review. Yet this nagging feeling, which I’m told is called “conscience,” is telling me that I still have to write a brand-new full-length review.

Surely though, after playing CSI: Dark Motives, you’ll see my dilemma. After all, we’re pretty much talking about a slightly-improved expansion pack here.

When CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, the adventure game, burst onto the scene in March of 2003, it overwhelmingly smacked of a typical licensed game: designed to appeal to fans of the license, but all in all a fairly mediocre game, and a rushed one at that (somehow the game got out the door with a bug that never allowed the player to get a 100% score on a case). (Note: I have since been informed by the developers that the bug did not make it impossible to get a 100%, just very difficult, and this was why the bug was discovered post-release. I apologize for the incorrect information.) The result? A debut at #3 on the sales charts, an altogether smashing performance at retail stores nationwide, and—surprise, surprise—a quickly announced sequel, to be pushed into store shelves on March 23rd, 2004, exactly one year after the original’s release.

Not much has changed in the past year. C.S.I. the television show is still cleaning up in the ratings, even after being matched against phenom The Apprentice for most of the recent television season. It remains one of the most consistent shows on T.V., for better or for worse; it should come as no surprise, then, that the second PC game adaptation is remarkably consistent as well—for better or for worse.

You certainly know the drill if you played the first game. You, the rookie Crime Scene Investigation detective, will take part in five cases. Each of your cases pairs you with a different C.S.I. team member, all of whom are voiced by the television actors. Your cases take you to the morgue and Dr. Al Robbins; to the police station and Lt. Jim Brass; and to the evidence room and Greg Sanders, the uber-geek evidence analysis guy. These three characters are also voiced by the authentic television actors. I use the word “voiced” a bit generously here; yet again, the voice acting is miserably and uniformly understated, performances all delivered with the urgency and energy of a sedated tortoise. I watch the show, I know that these guys are capable actors, and I know they don’t sound half this bored investigating brutal murders when they’re on TV. William Petersen, who plays Lt. Grissom and serves as executive producer, makes over six figures per episode; certainly he could have been convinced to take his daily nap after recording his lines, rather than during.

Besides the voice acting, another main complaint of the first game was the fact that it basically boiled down to Hotspot Hunting 101. Well, guess what; no changes here. Your investigation is still very much a matter of slooooowly mousing over eeeeeeevery inch of the crime scene, waiting for that blue arrow to turn green.

The primary complaint from hardcore gamers, though, was a simple “It’s too easy.” Part of this problem was the length of the game; I completed the first game in under six hours total. This is definitely an area of improvement; the cases are much more substantial and each one will likely require at least two hours of playing time. There is more complexity, and some more interesting twists—so much so, that I felt one of the cases (the third) just collapsed on itself trying to twist around. Points for trying, I guess, but this was definitely the weak case of the bunch. Most of the cases have just the right amount of intrigue and the “aha” factor to please fans of the show; the fifth and final case has a particularly devious and unseen twist that serves as a nice cap to the game as a whole. As a result of the greater length of the cases, there is a great deal more evidence; many cases will load you up with seven or eight different fingerprints or DNA samples. I would imagine this much more resembles real detective work than the first game.

Length alone does not make the game any more difficult though; the developers at least attempted to remedy this by offering some difficulty settings. One of them is to turn hotspot detection off, so your pointer will always remain blue, and you guess where the hostpots are. I played on this setting for about ten minutes, and after breaking the left mouse button on two separate mice, I wept miserably and vowed to never play adventure games again. I’m sure this would be okay if the hotspots were more, y’know, hot, but they’re positively frigid, considering you’re often looking for a vinyl flake or a strand of hair, and considering there’s sometimes no indication at all from the art alone that a hotspot has any significance. Unless the idea of clicking everywhere, and I mean EVERYWHERE, on every background, and I mean EVERY BACKGROUND, is appealing to you, I recommend ignoring this setting.

Other, slightly more feasible settings include the option to turn off automatic questions (you instead are forced to drag evidence items onto suspects and witnesses in order to elicit responses), and a fairly useless option to turn off “yellow tagging” evidence when you have learned all you can about it. Still, it’s all a fairly weak attempt to fix lack-of-difficulty problems through simple on/off switches, when the answer really should be to fix it through gameplay mechanics.

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