CSI: Miami Heat Wave is a Facebook game from Ubisoft. It’s the second of the publisher’s games to be based around a TV show after House M.D. Critical Cases, and shares a lot of the good and bad points of that particular title.
In CSI: Miami Heat Wave, the player is cast in the role of a rookie CSI agent assigned to help out Horatio and the team as they investigate a variety of cases. The player is introduced to the basic game mechanics through a two-part tutorial that concludes with a simple full-scale case, then sent into the field to continue their career.
Gameplay in CSI: Miami Heat Wave unfolds over several distinct components. Initially, the player must search crime scenes for evidence, which is achieved by clicking on tiles on a grid. The player receives soft currency and experience points for every click, but conversely each click costs energy. Occasionally the player will uncover a “trace,” which causes a glowing arrow to appear on the floor pointing in the direction of a piece of evidence. Following the trace, sometimes over several tiles, will guarantee the player finds one of the objects necessary to proceed.
During the crime scene parts of the game, the player is also sometimes presented with “Empathy Quests” which task them with finding additional objects, usually relating to the victim. These are optional objectives that do not impact the completion of a particular case, but reward the player with “Reputation” points if successfully accomplished. Reputation is, in turn, used to unlock new cases, so it is in the player’s interest to collect as much as they can.
Once all the evidence has been found, the player moves back to the CSI lab. Here, the player must collect resources from various lab stations, which are in turn required to process the items of evidence that were located at the crime scenes. Processing evidence takes an amount of real time, though the delay may, as always, be bypassed by expending hard currency. Delays early in the game are not very long, but they gradually grow longer as the player progresses and the apparent “complexity” of the cases increases.
When all evidence has been processed, the player gains the opportunity to question suspects. At this point, they are prompted to ask the suspect about the retrieved evidence, and then given a selection of questions to ask them, each of which costs energy and only one of which is considered “correct.” Unfortunately, there is no easy way to determine which is the “correct” question, as most of them seem relevant, but this system is actually a social mechanic: if the player makes use of their friends who are playing the game, they may automatically discard “irrelevant” questions and be left with the correct one. Upon asking all of the “correct” questions, the case proceeds, sometimes to additional locations to search and sometimes to an “arrest” screen, where the player must simply click on the suspect to cuff them and send them to jail.
CSI: Miami Heat Wave is a potentially interesting game. The various game mechanics are thematically appropriate and the dialog, while quite poorly-written throughout, is at least in keeping with the somewhat cheesy nature of the show. Horatio’s one-liners and well-timed donning of sunglasses is present and correct, for example.
There are a number of issues that cause the experience to be less than it could be, however. For starters, the big-headed cartoon art style, also seen in House M.D. Critical Cases, is ugly and pulls the player out of the atmosphere of the experience. While the game and show do feature an element of humor, the core theme of both is violent crime, and as such the art style is completely incongruous. This certainly isn’t the first time that a Facebook game based on a TV show has used a particularly inappropriate art style — The Walking Dead Social Game is another prime example, as is the aforementioned House game — and it probably will not be the last. In all cases, it actively detracts from the experience by making it look a lot more “childish” than the tone of the game and its source material demands — presumably in an attempt to make the games more “family-friendly.”
Secondly, the game’s reliance on an energy system for its monetization is significantly frustrating from a gameplay perspective. While the player is initially able to level up at a good rate, refilling the energy bar in the process, it doesn’t take long to reach a point where their play session is throttled. In the case of “core” gamers in particular — to whom this game might actually otherwise appeal — this will probably mark the point at which they quit the game, never to return. Various paid “Elite” membership packages are available — including a permanent one for approximately $20 — but these do not remove the energy requirement entirely, only speed up its recharge to two minutes per point.
Were it not for the ugly art style and the overly-aggressive energy system, CSI: Miami Heat Wave could be a great game. Its core gameplay is solid, for sure, making it worth a play despite its issues — it could have just been so much better by stepping outside the apparent “conventions” of social game development.
Worth a play, though its ugly art and aggressive monetization have a significantly negative impact on the experience as a whole.