When you've got a show as popular as CSI, it doesn't take a lot of extra effort to sell related items to the series' rabid fan base--related items like, say, video games. But rather than coast on its past success, Ubisoft has raised the stakes with the third CSI game, 3 Dimensions of Murder, due out next week. Development of the third installment has gone to the adventure-game specialists at Telltale Games, who are also handling the upcoming Sam & Max revival, and based on what we saw of the game during a recent demo, it looks like Telltale has put some thought into how to better bring the popular CSI experience from the TV set to the computer monitor.
As the game's title implies, 3 Dimensions of Murder is the first installment in the line of CSI games to bring the gameplay into a fully 3D space. You won't be able to walk around freely in the style of a first-person shooter, but everything in the environment is fully modeled and rendered in real time. That lets you look around the crime scene at will, as well as zoom in on relevant hot spots, such as a body or other evidence. Once you've finished gathering clues, such as blood, fingerprints, or clothing fibers, you can head back to your mobile lab (located in your van outside) to run interactive analyses on all of the evidence you've obtained. This generally looked to us like a process of dragging and dropping evidence into various high-tech machines, but the analytical process has an interactive element that looks like it'll be pretty satisfying.
From what we've seen, the 3D-graphics engine has allowed Telltale to beef up the cinematic presentation of the game. For instance, when you come upon certain important clues at the crime scene, the game will occasionally cut to a dramatic flashback of the events that resulted in that particular piece of evidence, using the same in-game graphics that you're currently exploring. You should also feel like you can explore the scene more efficiently, since you can get up close to certain objects to look for the more obscure pieces of evidence that will help you cinch the case.
3 Dimensions of Murder will apparently be chock-full of authentic CSI elements to keep fans of the show happy. All the principal actors from the show provide the voices for their respective characters--and since you're playing as an unnamed investigator and not any of the established characters, you'll get to interact with each of them in due turn. There will be plenty of familiar locations from the show for you to visit and get your work done in, such as Grissom's office, the lab (which is separate from the mobile lab but provides mostly the same tools), and the morgue.
The game will offer five distinct cases that must be played through in order, though some of the cases will have common story threads that will tie them loosely together. It seemed to us like the investigative process will be pretty straightforward--scan the crime scene, collect evidence, run the analyses, follow up on new leads--wash-rinse-repeat until the case is solved. If you do get stuck, you'll be able to ask the show's recurring characters for help, and while doing so will impact your overall score, it'll let you get through the tougher parts and proceed on to the climax, if you just want to finish the cases and see the storyline.
Though Telltale has clearly worked to make the gameplay in this latest CSI game more involving and complex, it'll still be available to a wide audience from a technical perspective. The game will require no more than a GeForce 3, so anyone with a PC from the last few years should be able to run it pretty well. CSI: 3 Dimensions of Murder is due out next week, so stay tuned for a full review of the game soon.