Ubisoft and CBS Consumer Products have launched a new Facebook game centered around the popular television series CSI. Dubbed CSI: Crime City, the game is developed by an independent developer called Area/Code and takes the player to a social rendition of the modern murder-mystery show.
Most similar to treasure hunting titles of the past, CSI: Crime City fits well within the concept. Even so, its mature themes, despite its cartoony visuals, are hardly as age agnostic. From murderous strippers to snooty actors, players use the same “digging” concepts of games such as Treasure Isle and Treasure Madness in order to solve the mystery. As interesting and well made as it is though, the game does still come with disappointments.
Players enter the big city with an immediate case to resolve. Once the case is opened, they catch a glimpse of the crime before it happens in the form of a small cutscene, then they travel to the site of the crime and begin searching grid spaces for evidence. Each grid searched consumes a set amount of energy. However, some grids will have special attributes to them, such as blood stains or “details” (burns, scratches, etc.). These spaces must be searched using special tools. Rather than machetes and pickaxes, these consist of things such as luminols, tweezers, and cameras.
As players search about the crime scene, they will turn up not only evidence, but extra cash and energy as well. The cash is of particular importance because it is used to not only purchase the tools, but lab equipment as well. As with the show, players must take evidence to the their lab for processing, but each piece has a particular set of tests that must be run. In order to do so, players must purchase equipment such as a ballistics station, DNA sequencers, microscopes, and so on.
Each station comes with five levels, gated by the player’s level, and has an associated power level to it. Unfortunately, the game isn’t clear on what this means, and we’ve yet to earn enough cash to purchase the next level up. Still, it appears that the higher levels to affect the station’s social capabilities (more on that in a second) and may also affect processing time.
Depending on the level of the case, different pieces of evidence take different amounts of time to discern anything from. It could be a minute or it could be a day. Once it is finished, the game will inform the user, and a blurb of information about what was discovered will be disclosed. As an added bonus, characters from the show that specialize in each form of analysis make a guest appearance.
This is also where the core social mechanic comes into play. Beyond friend-based leaderboards and wall postings, players can actually visit one another’s labs and utilize each other’s equipment. Since the highest level equipment costs virtual currency, and players can eventually work on multiple cases at a time, it becomes extraordinarily useful to have many available work stations. This is not only because not everyone will want to buy the virtual currency stations, but each one has a finite number of slots for evidence processing. Higher level machines, however, will have more available slots for friends to use.
While the evidence is being investigated, players can return to the crime scene or start a new case. This is prudent as there is an apparent “Bonus” bar that fills up as players discover evidence, which seems to play a role in granting bonus experience and money after solving a crime. However, not finding evidence when one searches or taking too long instead decreases it. This is a bit counterintuitive as players get extra experience for having searched the entire scene.
The game also has a small mini-game associated with finding energy. When this occurs, users play a matching game where they have to identify as many pairs as they can in a short amount of time. Depending on how many they get, they’ll earn different sizes of coffee to boost their energy (typically this costs virtual currency). It was fun the first time, but this is the only mini-game we’ve seen thus far, and it gets old, quick. Getting extra energy should be a reward, but the game just got repetitive and annoying since it broke the game flow.
Wrapping up a case was a little disappointing too. Once evidence is finished processing, it will unlock different crime scenes, with new cutscenes that the player can search. This will repeat a handful of times as the story unfolds. Unfortunately, while the mysteries are interesting to watch (of course, not as much as the actual show), the player never gets the chance to solve them themselves. All the game becomes is a collection game of finding evidence and watching the game solve it.
This is what makes Crime City feel like a treasure collection game. If it just let the user solve the cases on their own, using all the same mechanics, it would be better.
In the end, the game feels like it could appeal to both social and traditional gamers. Obviously it leans more so to the former, but if the game just incorporated more mystery (most of the time its obvious who killed who) and the option for more serious problem solving, it would appeal to the latter, more. All the same, it is still a decent game, the best social title with the company’s tag on itthus far.