Friday, April 27, 2012

CSI: 3 Dimensions of Murder Review

CSI: 3 Dimensions of Murder was the first of Telltale's most often overlooked series, CSI: Crime Scene Investigations.  It was actually the third in the series (although it was the first by Telltale), which makes 3 in the title a play on words. As with all games based on the CSI: Crime Scene Investigations (which will be referred in this review from this point on, as CSI: Las Vegas), you have to enjoy the show (or similar shows) to enjoy the game.

Although it was a commercial boxed game, this is the first game to use Telltale's now-standard practice of five episodes (cases in this instance) per game (there were six cases in Ubisoft's PlayStation 2 port, although the sixth case was just a renamed version of case 2 in CSI: Hard Evidence). The multiple cases worked well here, as it felt like you were playing five episodes of the show. If they made it all into one long mystery, it would have become old fast.

The biggest drawback of the game to today's audience is it's graphics.  Moreso than any of Telltale's games before it, this game really shows it's age graphically. Texas Telltale Hold'Em and the Bone games still look nice because of the cartoon style they employed. CSI: 3 Dimensions of Murder went for a realistic approach with motion captured 3D. Since the game was released in 2005, the technique is no longer as impressive. This means that, while the characters do resemble their characters enough to be recognizable, there's definitely some uncanny valley going on here (in the eyes in particular).

To the benefit of the game, Telltale managed to get most of the original voices to do the voices of the characters here. That really helps to give it the feel of playing five episodes of the show. The voices of the suspects are also well done, and include some Telltale regulars as well.  There are also some drawbacks as far as the voice delivery goes, however.  Some of the characters sound too much like they are "phoning it in" by just reading the script. Although the acting is meant to be dry, as in the show, it shouldn't be completely devoid of emotion. The voice actress of Catherine, in particular, is guilty of this.  In addition, the "way to be thorough" line when you check an area with no evidence available is used way too often. It would have been nice to have some variety in the responses. Another drawback in the audio department, is that there is sometimes a crackle during voiceovers. Also, sometimes the dialog a character says starts before a clip starts, stops, and then starts over again after the clip ends.

The good outweighs the bad, however, as the game really feels like the CSI: Las Vegas show. You are presented as a rookie CSI who has to learn the ropes at the CSI: Las Vegas crime lab.  Unlike most of Telltale's other games, the view is presented in first person mode.  In the Windows version, your movement is limited to the areas which present themselves via clickable hotspots while looking for clues.  In the PlayStation 2 version, your movement around crime scene areas is free.  This actually makes the PS2 version more confusing, as Telltale intended the limited movement to improve ease of use (and it certainly doesn't detract from the game).

As you progress in the game, there are scenes taken from the show of shots of Las Vegas (complete with music from the show) when you move to a new location. All of the Hollywood-style CSI technology from the show is available for you to use in the lab, and the famous in your face shots when evidence is discovered are also present in the game.

The writing is excellent as well. The cases are interesting, as were the personalities of the subjects. The best part of the episode though, was the second case. The case, titled First Person Shooter, was a parody of the cancellation of Sam & Max at LucasArts in favor of high selling Star Wars games. The leads on the project also got into the fun, giving murder suspects in the case slight variations on their names.  It was very surprising to see such tongue-in-cheek humor go into such a serious project, but it was a very welcome surprise.

Although it's not quite the "season arc" of the later CSI games, the final episode does manage to tie itself into two previous cases.  It's nice to have a bit of a continuity in episodic-styled games, as it helps to make the five cases feel like part of a whole product, rather than just a bunch of separate mini-games that happen to share characters.

I still like this game despite it's age, and despite some audio hiccups. It's well written, most of the cast comes back to reprise their roles, and the game successfully uses music from the show, as well as low-key, but well-fitting additional music by Jared Emerson-Johnson of Bay Area Sound. In my opinion, the game is worth playing on either platform it was released on, but take note that although it is nice to be able to have free reign of the camera in the PlayStation 2 version, it does make the interface a bit harder to maneuver. You'll find yourself dragging the cursor around the screen with the left thumbstick more in this version in order to find just the right hotspot that you need to click. The PC version is the recommended version for this reason, but even with quirks of the new engine, the PS2 version is still a solid port.

That said, not everyone will take to this game. The dialog delivery is very dry. The gameplay is slow paced, and it's all about talking to suspects, meticulously searching through each scene looking for clues, testing those clues in the lab, and then repeating. However, all of these things actually fit perfectly within the mold of CSI: Las Vegas. To like this game you have to like the CSI franchise to begin with, or at the very least, if you haven't seen it, enjoy Hollywood's dramatization of crime scene investigation procedure. If you don't like these kind of shows there is no way you're going to like this game.

Final Verdict:

3½ out of 5

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