As the CSI: Crime Scene Investigation brand of television continues to branch out, so does the CSI brand of computer games. With two relatively new TV spin-offs--located in Miami and New York, respectively--joining the already preestablished Las Vegas-based flagship series, it was probably only a matter of time before those spin-off shows found their way into the crime-solving PC adventure genre. That matter of time is now, thanks to CSI: Miami by Ubisoft and developer 369 Interactive. Miami is, essentially, a direct clone of CSI: Dark Motives, which was released earlier this year. Despite being a marginal improvement on the original CSI game, Dark Motives still didn't quite come together as an entertaining adventure. As for CSI: Miami, it's a copy of a previously released game that wasn't that great to begin with, but with the less-engaging characters of the Miami cast and a series of mysteries that also aren't as interesting. So if that sounds like the opposite of a recommendation, you're right on the money.
The setup for CSI: Miami is exactly like its predecessors: You are yet another green recruit in the world of crime scene investigation, and your new squad just happens to be the CSI: Miami team. You're initially greeted by David Caruso's character, Horatio Caine, who welcomes you to the team and gives you your first assignment. There are five mysteries for you to solve in total, all involving murder of varying degrees of foulness. In each mystery, you team up with one of the members of the cast, each of whom helps you through the process of solving a crime. The members of the team also act as the mouthpiece for the investigation. Your duties will include the manual process of collecting evidence, processing said evidence, interviewing witnesses, and so on and so forth. Occasionally you'll have to decrypt a message or put together a torn picture or something, but generally, the gameplay consists of evidence collecting and processing. If you played either of the previous CSI games, you'll know exactly what to expect from Miami, as no aspect of the gameplay deviates even slightly from the original formula. There's not even a single new crime-solving tool at your disposal within the interface--it's just that much of a copy-paste job.
And with a direct copy of the same game engine comes all of the trappings that helped sink this game's predecessor. For starters, the game is immensely easy across the board. The default difficulty is so easy, in fact, that the term "game" seems quite generous in this case. There are so many help indicators and available hints that there's practically no reason for you to ever get stuck anywhere. On the plus side, you do have the option to turn off many of the game's methods of handholding, but even so, the game still isn't very hard. Even if you don't have the evidence indicators, you'll only need to look for the pieces of scenery that seem slightly brighter or are generally more focused on, and you'll be good to go.
Another problem stems from the game's plot progressions, which can often become troublesome. CSI: Miami is very picky about when it wants to let you progress and when it doesn't. Some pieces of evidence can be ignored, but other, seemingly arbitrary processes must be adhered to. For example, in one case, you find yourself collecting a couple of pieces of evidence from two different locations, one of which has a fingerprint and the other that has a DNA sample. The point of the evidence is to prove that someone in particular was in both of these places. You have two fingerprints already, as well as two DNA samples from that same person with which to compare these other pieces of evidence. However, you can't just compare one previous piece with the corresponding new piece of evidence. You actually have to test both fingerprints and both DNA samples with each of the new pieces of evidence before the game will let you progress. The game is also periodically bad about getting ahead of itself, or lagging behind from where you've progressed to in the story, skipping ahead to questions and details you're unaware of, or reiterating things you already know. Overall, it's just kind of sloppy.
Then again, the adventure gaming mechanics of fan service games like CSI: Miami are rarely ever much to write home about. Instead, it's the mysteries and characters of these games that are supposed to draw you in. Unfortunately, CSI: Miami, while by no means a disaster in this category, simply doesn't handle this aspect quite as well as its most recent predecessor. Part of the problem is that the CSI: Miami cast members just aren't as compelling as the regular CSI roster. With perhaps the exception of Caruso, you never get much of a feel for the personalities of any of the other CSIs you're supposedly working with. In fact, their voice acting is downright bland and dull throughout much of the game. Not even the supplemental suspect characters can save it either, as most of them are too hammy and have deadpan tones when they read their lines. Caruso, again, is the lone bright point, but even he tends to overdramatize some pretty simple lines. But, then again, this is David Caruso we're talking about.
Similarly, the mysteries in CSI: Miami are rarely intriguing. There are some neat plot twists here and there, but none of them have much substance or much excitement, and they never seem to have a satisfactory conclusion. Perhaps even more annoying is the fact that the last mystery in the game (without giving too much away) tries desperately to tie together all the other crimes into one big, confused mess, which just doesn't work. In a crime-solving adventure game, you have to be interested in the crimes you're solving, and though a couple of them start out hot, none of them remain interesting from beginning to end.
CSI: Miami doesn't really present itself any differently than Dark Motives, save for slightly brighter-looking menus. The characters in the game are rendered just like in Dark Motives and they look fairly realistic, although they don't really move around too much. The lip-synching is also bad. You'll occasionally run into some nicely put-together cutscenes that show graphic depictions of the crimes being committed, and while these do look decent, the video quality itself isn't especially high in resolution and a lot of artifacting is noticeable. You also may find yourself running into some occasional choppiness too, as we tested the game on a pair of different high-end ATI cards, and both times we encountered some stuttering in the movement of the models and in the video. Apart from the spotty voice acting, the remaining areas of CSI: Miami's sound design are pretty much the highlight of the game. The music is nicely atmospheric, and the game features a solid array of sound effects.
Though it's hard to really be surprised by the fact that CSI: Miami doesn't stray too far from where Dark Motives left off, it's still a pretty disappointing effort. What made Dark Motives appealing to some fans of the show was its use of the popular characters and intriguing mysteries, neither of which are qualities that CSI: Miami pulls off nearly as well. Like its most recent predecessor, CSI: Miami is a game that traditional adventure fans will simply balk at due to its rudimentary mechanics and marginal difficulty. However, unlike its most recent predecessor, fans of the TV show probably won't get a whole lot out of it either.