Review: Gameloft S.A. CSI: Miami
The general rule of licensed games is this: no matter how mediocre the game may be, it'll still sell based on the name. So we weren't totally surprised when CSI: Miami ($5) from Gameloft turned out to be a relatively short, disappointing little Click Wheel iPod game: over the course of a couple of hours of gameplay, you proceed in relatively linear fashion through a murder investigation, using forensic tools and interacting with members of the same-named TV show's cast. Updated November 19, 2008: Originally published on September 18, 2008, this review now also covers the iPhone/iPod touch version of CSI: Miami, with new details and pictures at the bottom of this page.
You play as Lieutenant Horatio Caine, whose likeliness is taken directly from the sunglass-snapping David Caruso, along with the faces of other CSI cast members. Using a point-and-click interface that transforms the Click Wheel into a trackpad with a single action button, the game basically walks you through the steps of an investigation spanning four “chapters,” three suspects, and a collection of locations that are easy to navigate while looking for and analyzing evidence. When a dead woman’s body washes up on the beach, you use a magnifying glass to look for clues as to how she died, then proceed to do the same on a second victim, search a bunch of buildings and vehicles, crack safes, and match DNA evidence.
It’s the word “linear” that explains CSI: Miami’s ultimate lack of appeal as a video game—to say that it has “twists and turns” might be a little generous in the plural department. You find bodies, drugs, blood stains, and scraps of glass or fabric, and the game all but tells you directly which tools to use to search them. Mini-games to extract DNA, match up samples, and break into safes are all but mindless, and we didn’t make a single mistake during any part of the story; the only delay in the whole game was choosing which piece of increasingly numerous, similar evidence to present to suspects to get them to talk.
Some of this was clearly by design. Gameloft had the difficult choice to make between creating a detective game that really required thought and presented the player with lots of options, or crafting something that followed the same formula as the TV show: an investigation that gets a little larger and apparently open-ended before it neatly resolves. The formula wouldn’t have worked well at all but for the presence of a few themes that help keep people interested in the show: strippers, drugs, and the high-rolling Miami lifestyle, complete with exotic cars and yachts. The simple fact that they’re in an iPod game—sadly, without any sort of pre-purchase parental advisory—makes CSI: Miami just titillating enough to keep you wondering what’s going to happen next.
Production values on CSI: Miami are about par for a Click Wheel iPod game: there’s legitimate music, real character and background artwork, plus video cutscenes that nearly make up for the highly limited animation throughout the actual gameplay. While the cutscenes are oddly paced and seem to always end abruptly, they provide quick glimpses at the show’s actors, and even give you a completely meaningless explosion to watch at the game’s end. The mini-games can be revisited from an unlocked menu after you’ve opened them, and there are multiple levels of difficulty—albeit with the same mystery to be solved.
If there’s one good thing about CSI: Miami as a title, it’s that the game doesn’t end as unsatisfyingly as Gameloft’s previous licensed iPod TV show game, Lost, which seemed to stop without any conclusion—quite like the show itself at that point in time. This game has a beginning, middle, and end, and when you’re finished, you feel as if the storyline made sense. But just like watching CSI, you won’t feel like much of a detective when it’s over; it’s mostly just a matter of putting in the time and going through the motions of seeing what’s next. Unlike Lost, which took three hours to play through, this one only lasted us two hours. For CSI: Miami fans, that may be enough to merit a download, but we wouldn’t recommend this title to anyone else.
Updated November 19, 2008: The iPhone and iPod touch Version of CSI: Miami
We weren’t really impressed by Gameloft’s CSI: Miami for Click Wheel iPods. Now, two months after the release of that game, iPhone and iPod touch owners have a chance to play it, too, and the results are frankly worse—at a higher price of $8.
As before, you play through a single murder mystery with characters from the TV show, rendered mostly as digitized photos and occasionally in very brief video clips. Now, their on-screen dialogue is matched to voice-overs, which only sound sort of like the real actors, and the artwork has been improved modestly in detail for the iPhone’s and iPod touch’s screens. There’s no doubt that it looks and sounds a little better than before, but these aren’t major upgrades, and don’t make a huge difference to the game; Gameloft has also added additional mini games such as Cell and Droplet to those found on the iPod, breaking up the investigative tedium with more light, largely mindless action.
What do make huge differences are the controls and the game’s stability. For all of its other faults, namely its brevity and linear structure, CSI: Miami on the iPod wasn’t hard to control—as we’ve mentioned before, Gameloft often does a good job of streamlining game controls for Apple’s otherwise challenging Click Wheel. On the iPhone, we found interactions with virtually all of the game’s environments to be downright frustrating, and possibly buggy.
For instance, Horatio would show up someplace, perform his investigation without the benefit of sparkling “look for clues here” markers, and after finding a couple of things, the game would just sit there waiting for something to happen that we couldn’t figure out; pre-programmed event triggers seemed not to be firing properly. This was despite actually knowing what was supposed to happen next, as we’d already played through the game; sometimes a reload of the title would fix the problem, other times, it wouldn’t. Similarly, scrolling interfaces for the map, environments, and help system didn’t always register button presses in a predictable way. CSI: Miami on the iPhone feels as if Gameloft rushed it to the App Store without quite getting the control scheme right, in hopes of fixing it later.
We’ve noticed that this is unfortunately a recent trend with this company’s titles, which we’ve previously praised heavily for being really right straight out of the gate. Past Gameloft iPod-to-iPhone ports have seen their ratings drop a full grade level to reflect bugs, related stability problems, and higher prices, but have generally remained good or okay due to the quality of the underlying title. CSI: Miami on the iPhone suffers a similar drop, but falls into our “bad” rating category because the game’s not that good, and the interface problems make it even worse than the Click Wheel iPod version. If you’re listening, Gameloft, it’s time to start holding your titles back until they’re guaranteed to work without issues: these buggy, not-quite-right games are detracting from the reputation of a company that we’ve previously been proud to hold up as a shining example of excellent game development.