Proof that if you ignore something, not only does it not go away, it thrives for 10 years and running, leads to two highly successful spin-offs, and spawns eight video games. If you had told me in 2002 that CSI would become an institution well before 2010, well after the 9/11 pony (that they rode to the bank) had been run into the ground, I don’t know if I would have believed you. Chiefly because I didn’t know as much about TV then as I do now—that police procedurals are eternal, as long as they spend enough time on human development to balance out the depiction of the investigative process. CSI set itself apart from its ancestors by sexing up the lab work (not to mention the lab-work montage) and turning its expanding viewership into forensic-technophiles. Compared to Law & Order’s Zinfandel hangover, it was a night of vodka and Red Bull with no consequences.
It’s either a testament to the game’s writers, or it’s just due to the nature of the franchise, that a player like me can be all but absent from every chapter of the CSI saga and hop into the game without a moment’s background research. Probably a bit of both, but what’s interesting is the fact that Fatal Conspiracy, absent of any inter-episode subplots, flashy editing, and Emmy aspirations, effectively presents the clearest distillation of the cookie-cutter CSI single-episode formula imaginable. Like a typical episode, the “adventure” consists of gathering enough forensic evidence to find out what’s really going on, running data through various computers and microscopes at the lab, and applying for warrants to search other locations and interrogate potential suspects.
With the party vibe scaled back to a dull murmur, the CSI environment actually becomes more than tolerable, if less than totally engrossing. The desire to complete a given investigation is cramped a little by the fact that it’s not clear how much the player needs to get done in order to turn a “No, there’s more work to do” into a “Yes, we can interrogate the shady so-and-so”—i.e. how many clues you need to gather at the torched-up beauty spa before a case can be made for arson. (You think you’re done long before you actually are.) Mostly this is due to the unfortunate side effect of realistic 3D gaming environments: Lots of things look significant, but you won’t know until you wave your wand over it and the arrow icon becomes a toolbox icon—just like at a real crime scene.
A well-behaved product of corporate marketing, there’s nothing particularly scandalous or dirty in the game’s universe; it treads the NSFW barrier, but like the originating TV show, its depiction of Las Vegas’s poverty row is decidedly Disney-fied and PC. Suspects say what they’re expected to say, and don’t expect the inner turmoil or grayed-out lines of morality of something like The Wire or The Shield, as this is strictly Bruckheimerville. Despite the franchise’s bid to be the glitter-hunk of the television policier, the game is best suited for a genial, post-dinner game for three or more players (CSI-head status optional), and the drink of choice ought not to be Four Loko, but a nice pot of Roobios tea.