I should put out there straight from the very beginning that I have not seen a single episode of NCIS from start to finish. Oh I’ve seen bits and pieces here and there that would maybe add up to a full show, but that is the extent of my NCIS experience. So why then did I spend money on the Xbox game based on the show? An even better question is why did I not just spend rental money on it, but full on retail money for it. The answer is simple – I needed my annual CSI fix.
I’ve never hid the fact that the CSI games, released almost annually, are a bizarre source of joy for me. I can never really explain why. They’re easy, short, and aside from different storylines each game is practically identical. Yet for some reason I find myself looking forward to each one, year after year. This year Ubisoft denied me my CSI. Instead they announced there would be an NCIS game. Not being familiar with the show I was disappointed but in a moment of weakness, I picked it up alongside another game when I was at the store (for the record that game was Uncharted 3, which in my opinion is the better game between these two). I figured this must be just as good.
No, no it is not just as good.
You may have to forgive my ignorance pretty frequently here as some of the things I rag on may in fact be loyal to the show, which is all well and good but it does not translate into a fun game.
There are four different episodes in the game, each one focusing on a different case but as expected everything starts to tie together in the final episode. The stories themselves are mildly interesting at best. Granted the CSI games are never overly engaging as they tend to introduce maybe three suspects total so there is never much of a guessing game over who the culprit is. But here everything feels a lot more flat. I was never that interested in finding out how things were going to be resolved. It all follows the same basic plot structure. “Hey remember that guy you talked to way back at the start of the case who seemed completely innocent? Nope! Fucker was up to something!” You get some plot twists but nothing too mind-boggling. The stories for each episode serve as a means to get from point A to B to C but they are not particularly engaging.
Of course the characters you are siding with don’t make things better. Again maybe it’s all accurate to the show but I can’t accept a successful, long-running show would contain dialogue this terrible and characters this bland. All of the attempts at humour are painfully bad, along with any and all attempts to have the characters banter with one another. Each episode contains subplots like who gave Ziva these flowers and how does Gibbs drink so much god damn coffee?! The proper answer to both of these questions is of course oh wow who gives a shit? The characters are bizarre as well, particularly Gibbs. The game at least portrays the guy as kind of crazy. He just spends his time sneaking up on people to ask them about their progress and then usually yelling “deduction board!” Kudos to him though, he always knows the exact second you finish running a test so he can ask you how it went. He must just wait outside the door and watch until its time. Then everyone has to explain everything to him in ridiculous detail and spell it all out in a way that even Kindergartners would find unnecessary.
It especially doesn’t help that the voice acting is across the board quite terrible. I understand that practically nobody from the show lent his or her voice to this game, and it definitely shows. Every line of dialogue is flat and often laughable. You can see the subtitles and you assume that perhaps the last part will have an inflection or a shift in tone but nope, not at all. Clearly nobody was interested in bringing their A game to this project.
As for the game play, well there ain’t much of it. In the first episode you are quickly introduced to the handful of tasks you will be asked to do, then for the following episodes you will be asked to do them again and again and again. An episode typically starts off with a crime scene that needs to be investigated. This involves moving a cursor around (yes this is a point and click title) and clicking on specific objects. Then once you’ve selected it you take a picture of it. It’s not like CSI where you need to select the appropriate tool (which I realize isn’t much of a game play improvement but come on at least it’s something), you will always just take a picture of it which involves nothing more than positioning a reticule and pressing A at the right time. You will do this more times than you can count. Every now and then you will need to interact with the environment which involves holding the A button and moving the left thumbstick in the direction you’re told. These are the only two things you will be doing at the crime scene. I have to believe they could have come up with something, ANYTHING, to add some variety but nope. Eight crime scenes in total, each containing the same exact two activities over and over.
The other part of the game is to process the evidence you uncover at these crime scenes. There are more mini-games to be had here but the variety is still lacking. Most of them are matching two images, and it is never once close to being challenging. I have a shoeprint with squares on the bottom and my options for matching are shoes with circles, shoes with triangles, or shoes with squares. God damn it what do I do?! That’s the kind of wall you’ll be up against. No lie, 99% of evidence processing is picking what shit matches other shit. It actually reminds of one of those old NES Fisher Price games, and I’m not sure why NCIS would ever want me to think about those games again.
Other games include holding a cursor over a dot until a meter fills up (actually almost this exact idea was used in Arkham City, a game I never ever thought I would be comparing this one to), memorizing a pattern to replicate, and clicking on buttons that you are told to click on. They’re all boring and they all show up far too often.
The one element that initially shows some promise is the aforementioned deduction board. This is where you start to piece together the evidence and explain why certain things are connected. I say initially because it takes only the first question before you realize this will be just as much of a cakewalk as the rest of the experience. Let’s say that the two pieces of evidence you’re connecting are the gun that was used to kill the victim, and the fingerprints of someone named Michael that you pulled off of said gun. When it comes time to explain why these things are related to one another, you will receive choices like the following:
- This gun is actually a knife
- A dinosaur was here
- Michael shot the victim with this gun
- Fingerprints are pretty
Needless to say you will never have to guess what the correct solution is. Even if you did, and this holds true for all of the aforementioned mini-games, you are given multiple chances to get it wrong and if you happen to run out of chances, you are simply set back 20 seconds and have to do the game again. You are not penalized in any form whatsoever. There are no stakes here. At least the later CSI games started to rate your performance but here there is none of that. You can bomb literally every aspect of the investigation and things will play out exactly the same. The one advantage here is holy shit will you ever net yourself some achievements. Everything is based on story progression so if you’re even slightly committed (I say slightly because this game is barely 4 hours long) you will get yourself a cool 1000/1000 with no effort. It’s not Avatar The Burning Earth easy, but it’s right up there amongst the most unearned achievements I have ever received.
This is a hard recommendation for just about anyone, even if you consider yourself the single largest NCIS fan that has ever lived. If you are an achievement chaser then I would at least throw it in your rental queue but don’t under any circumstances pay money for it. This game will likely be 5 dollars in about 3 months so if you absolutely need it then just hold off. I for one will trading it in for Skyrim the very moment I post this, which means that as you read this I am no doubt enjoying Skyrim. Freaky.