The CSI television series remains among the best-viewed programs worldwide, season after season. It shouldn't come as a surprise then, that Ubisoft continues to publish games based on the series as well. For the first time in franchise history, however, they’ve released a Nintendo DS exclusive, even if the name sounds familiar. CSI: Deadly Intent - The Hidden Cases may share a title with its PC/console counterparts, but it contains four completely new cases to solve along with the team of the ninth TV season, set in Las Vegas. Unfortunately, with its bland mysteries and shallow, repetitive gameplay, the game can't compete with the show or even earlier games in terms of story depth, excitement, or sustained interest.
The Hidden Cases was developed by Other Ocean Interactive, and looks noticeably different from the other versions of Deadly Intent. The designers have used a cartoony style that is somewhat reminiscent of graphic novels. The characters from the show, including Laurence Fishburne’s Ray Langston, resemble the actors so you can easily recognize them, but they don't look very attractive. They’re fairly basic and appear as if the artists used stills of the actors frowning or looking very tired to base their designs on. Marg Helgenberger’s Catherine Willows in particular has seen better days. The other people in the game mostly look miserable, angry or arrogant. Sure, they're all victims or suspects of some crime, but it wouldn't hurt to add some levity or have someone smile every once in a while. As it is, they're an unfriendly bunch and I had a hard time feeling sympathy for any of them.
The environments look a lot better, showing nicely detailed and believable locations such as an artist’s workshop, a casino bar and several homes. They are diverse and pleasant to look at, although it’s a pity they aren't more interactive. It would have been nice to be able to investigate more stuff, even if some of it turned out to be irrelevant to the case. Here it's simply a matter of moving the stylus around the touchscreen until the cursor turns yellow over necessary hotspots. Most locations are bigger than what is shown on the screen, but the stylus will automatically scroll the location as you move it. There are a couple of cutscenes that show what happened during the murders, but what could have been an exciting presentation of explosions and fatal wounds are just grainy cartoon animations that have no dramatic impact at all. The game does not include voice acting, which seems like a waste of such a renowned license, and while there is a musical soundtrack and some sound effects, I quickly turned these off as they are very repetitive.
As in earlier CSI games, you are a new recruit, starting on the night shift of the Vegas unit. Catherine welcomes you and will evaluate you after each case, which must be completed in sequence. The first investigation deals with a movie stunt in which a car has blown up prematurely. As an extra surprise, there is a dead body inside. Next up is the opening of a posh new casino, where the owner makes one last tour before the party starts, only to find a body impaled on the sword of a glass statue. In the third case, someone has used live ammo in an airsoft shooting range. As per the series' tradition, the last case ties together the earlier ones, starting with a suspicious death in a police holding cell.
Unfortunately, all these stories are shallow and bland. The crimes themselves are serious enough, but the background stories are boringly written and there is little psychological detail in the motives of the perpetrators. The outcomes are not immediately predictable, but only because you do not know all the facts from the beginning. Once you've interviewed a couple of suspects and analyzed some evidence, you can see where the case is leading and it's simply a matter of clicking through to the end. There is never any need to try getting your head around the case, as all the thinking is done for you.
With all the various people introduced in supporting roles, by the time you play the fourth case, you'll have a hard time remembering who exactly that guy with the suit was again, unless you play the whole game in one sitting. Each case lasts between an hour and ninety minutes, so the entire game can be finished in four to six hours, but a handheld game is usually played in shorter sessions. Deadly Intent is not very suitable to such a style of play. You can review all the evidence you have gathered for a recap of each case so far, but unfortunately you only get a description instead of actually looking at anything.
Each case follows more or less the same structure. One of the CSI regulars tells you where the crime scene is, and tapping the phone on your screen, you get the option to travel to that location. Once there, you must investigate it to find clues. When you find something interesting, you’re offered a couple of forensic tools to use. These include such things as a swab, luminol, a dustbrush and a camera, but you are only offered two or three tools per object. You can simply pick again if you try the wrong one originally, but it is important to choose the correct one for the job, because Catherine will evaluate your "Collecting" skill at the end of each case. Usually it’s not hard to figure out which tool to use, as nobody would pick up a bottle with a pair of tweezers or use plaster on a letter. Occasionally, though, it feels unfair if the evidence is just an unrecognizable cluster of pixels on the floor, and you choose the glove only to be told the object is too small to grab or you can't use it on a fluid. Some pieces of evidence trigger a response from the field agent accompanying you. These can be a general remark (“Oh, you found some blood? Interesting.”) or more helpful insights about the object or the state it's in to help the case along.Continued on the next page...