This year has proven to be busy for the CSI: Crime Scene Investigation license. With both the first CSI: Miami game and a proper sequel to the original CSI adventure game making it to the PC, you'd think that Ubisoft might just call it a year and get ready for the next crop of licensed TV crime drama adventure games in 2005. Well, you'd be wrong, because for some reason, Ubisoft is now publishing CSI: Crime Scene Investigation for the Xbox, a compilation of the first two CSI PC games put together in one package. While this idea in and of itself is in no way offensive (despite the fact that neither of the games in this package were all that great to begin with), the fact that this compilation is such an obvious rush job, with loads of graphical, audio, and gameplay glitches littered about that weren't present in the original games, is deeply offensive.
The two games in this package, CSI: Crime Scene Investigation and CSI: Crime Scene Investigation: Dark Motives, are your basic, run-of-the-mill crime-solving adventure games. In both, you're introduced as a new recruit in the show's Las Vegas crime lab, and it's up to you to solve a series of cases by collecting evidence, processing evidence, interviewing witnesses, and occasionally solving really, really easy puzzles. In each case, you'll be partnered with one of the show's cast of crime-solving scientists, each of whom acts as your guide throughout the case as well as your mouthpiece, since your recruit never speaks. There are 10 cases total in the Xbox version, which actually just consists of the five cases from each game. The cases are placed one after the other with no break in between, meaning you'll finish the first five cases, and then suddenly you're a new recruit and you're being reintroduced to the entire cast once again. If that seems rather disjointed, you haven't seen anything yet.
The interface in the game has been changed a bit to make it more console-friendly, as opposed to the point-and-click interface found in the PC games. Here, you'll use the right control stick to move the camera around the scenery and the left control stick to move your cursor. When the cursor turns green, you've got a piece of evidence, or at least something you can more closely examine. By pressing A, you can zoom in on it. The trigger buttons each bring up quick access to your evidence and to the available locations. The interface itself is OK, though it's definitely clunkier than the interfaces used on the PC. Then again, if you've already played the PC versions and you've become accustomed to those interfaces, then you've got no business even considering this game, since you'll find nothing new here.
Both of the CSI games were immensely easy on the PC, mainly because they spent more time holding your hand and telling you what to do than actually giving you things to do. Dark Motives was better about this, and to its credit, the mysteries in that game were actually pretty interesting. The original game, however, lacked the interesting mysteries and was far more relentless about taking the challenge out of the game. Unfortunately, because of the game's structure, you don't get the option to bypass playing through the exceedingly weak first game, as you absolutely have to complete the first five missions before you can get to any of the Dark Motives content.
As if that weren't enough of a turnoff, CSI gets even worse, thanks to a series of annoying glitches. A big part of what you'll find yourself doing in the game is processing things like DNA, fingerprints, tire tracks, and footprints. You'll run these things through the computer, doing searches through criminal databases for matches (or comparing them against other samples when necessary). However, a lot of times when you're performing searches, you'll see matches that actually don't turn out to be real matches. These fingerprints or DNA samples or what have you are exactly the same, but either because another one of the search results is programmed to be the right match, or because you aren't supposed to be able to find that match yet (presumably because you haven't encountered the suspect in question in the storyline yet), that match just won't take. This was not an issue in the PC games, and it seems to be a by-product of a lousy port job. It should also be noted that this seemed to be most prevalent an issue with the first five missions, rather than with the Dark Motives material.
The glitches don't start and stop with gameplay either, as there are a bevy of graphical hang-ups in the game, again, mainly with the first five missions. Characters will jarringly shift from one animation to another, bugging out badly in the process. Background pieces will show horribly obvious seams and texture breaks, and in a couple of cases, we actually saw the scene literally break before our eyes. What we mean is that parts of the scenery actually wouldn't line up with other parts, mainly in areas where characters were standing, which resulted in what basically looked like a patch of broken glass. The Dark Motives sections don't seem to be totally devoid of issues either, as we did notice some of the animation problems there too. However, overall, it looks like the later portions of the game had better luck in the porting process than the original game did.
It's a shame too, because the Dark Motives portions of the game don't look too bad. While the characters don't move around a ton, they're nicely rendered and look very much like the real-life characters on the show. Even the minor players, like the suspects and victims, are equally well rendered. The first five missions, however, are a different story. The models are far lower in resolution, lack much of the detail the Dark Motives models had, and generally, those sections of the game just don't look good at all. You'd think maybe, just maybe, the developer could have cleaned up the first game's graphics a smidgen rather than going for the schizophrenic graphical approach. Then again, considering how obviously rushed everything else in the game is, maybe not.
The audio is perhaps the one shining star the game has to offer, as the entire CSI cast, including William Petersen, Marg Helgenberger, Paul Guilfoyle, and Jorja Fox, all reprise their roles here. Petersen is a little on the dead side in his line-reading (and not just in his typical style either), and more than a few of the game's side characters deliver their lines in a ham-fisted way. However, a lot of the cast members make up for this shortcoming with some fairly impressive work. The music in the game is also very good, though it's likely much of it was just taken directly from the show's musical score. Unfortunately, like with the rest of the game, there are some technical issues here, although they're far less horrible than the graphical problems. Mainly, a couple of sections of the game simply lose dialogue in the middle of a cutscene, and we noticed more than a few minor audio skips at somewhat inopportune times. Also, the music occasionally seems to overlap, causing a sort of echoey effect. Once again, these issues reek of a quick and dirty development process.
On multiple levels, CSI: Crime Scene Investigation fails miserably. The cold, hard fact remains that neither of the games featured on this disc were really very good in their original form on the PC, so the fact that you're effectively buying a cheap, semibroken port of two games that weren't especially appealing from the get-go simply doesn't fly. If you love CSI so much that you absolutely have to play this, just go buy Dark Motives for the PC. Sure, it's only half the content, but it's the only half that's any good to begin with, and considering how reasonable that game's technical requirements are, nobody with a computer should have any trouble playing it. Compare that to an Xbox version of the same game that's significantly more broken and the choice ought to be crystal clear.