Hard Evidence was the fourth game based on the original CSI television show, and the second developed by Telltale Games. While the last game was a large departure from the previous entries, with a presentation in three dimensional graphics for the first time, this entry was mostly the same as it's predecessor, though there were some noticeable improvements.
As this is Telltale's second game in the series, your character is no longer a treated as a rookie CSI, but it's left ambiguous as to whether you are the same character as before. Grissom sometimes asks if you met someone that he introduced you to in the previous game, but the question is never answered. However, since he runs CSI, and you only worked one case each with each of the CSIs last time, it's not implausible that he doesn't remember exactly who you met before. Because of this, you are treated as someone who is not completely new to the job, but are still new compared to the rest of the team. However, even if you are not a rookie CSI this time, since you still have your superiors, the format from the previous game still works here.
This is Telltale's first game to incorporate a tutorial section. It's a silly, yet fun case where you train by using the tools of the CSI crime lab to learn who stole and ate Grissom's donut. This is a nice addition, as there are a lot of tools at your disposal. It's nice to be shown what everything does, rather than having to read descriptions about tools and locations, and figuring it out as you go. Plus, since the tutorial is completely optional, it doesn't get in the way for those who have played other games in this series before.
Since it was made only a year after the last game, the graphics haven't improved much. Like it's predecessor, this game really shows it’s age graphically due to the realistic style chosen when the engine really wasn't capable of that yet. Like 3 Dimensions of Murder, the characters do resemble their characters enough to be recognizable, but there’s definitely still some uncanny valley going on here. There is also some obvious reuse of areas and character models. The areas aren't bad, since it's said to be different rooms in the same hotel, but the character models are distracting, especially in one case involving four victims. The blatant product placement in the series also really kicks into full gear here. The Hewlett Packard computers are subtle, but all of the Visa advertisements really stand out in a bad way.
While the graphics could have used some improvement, the presentation still really feels like the show. Like before, as you progress in the game, there are scenes with music from the show and establishment shots of Las Vegas when you move to a new location. The music in other locations was once again composed by Jared Emerson-Johnson, and, while being quite low-key, fits the game well. Once again, all of the Hollywood-style CSI technology from the show is available for you to use in the lab, and the famous closeup shots when evidence is discovered are also once again present in the game.
However, sometimes the camera pans in on an item that is necessary to progress. It's not quite as bad as in Back to the Future, since it only happens after a line of questioning relating to the item, and close-up shots are a big part of the CSI franchise. However, the close-up shots still happen even if you already examined the evidence prior to questioning the witness about it, which makes the close-up shot feel redundant and unnecessary.
This game continues on from the last, requiring you to scan locations for evidence and then using various lab tools to run the evidence looking for clues. However, this time, the tools are more streamlined, and less confusing. You now have a PDA which can choose which location to visit, examine evidence, read the case file, and receive messages from supervisors. But the best improvement is in the tools themselves. When you choose the detection and collection menus, only the tools of a certain type are selectable based on your evidence. You still have to select the right tool for the job, based on the tool's description, but since the only tools presented are the ones that can be used for what you're trying to do, chances are you'll hear the "that's not the right tool for that" line less often than before. Computers now also flash when you are able to use a piece of evidence on them. Usually you are told that you can't scan evidence because it hasn't been fully processed yet, which works well, and helps to alert you that you haven't completed everything necessary to move on. However, sometimes you can't examine evidence, and you're told you don't have the warrant for that yet when that reasoning makes no sense in context, other than for plot necessity.
The repetitiveness of the "way to be thorough" line from the last game is solved in a clever way in this game. You can still check areas with no evidence, but rather than repeating the line, it's only said once and the rest of the time an indicator comes up telling you that you got a thoroughness point. These points are counted up, along with how well you did investigating and questioning witnesses with your final performance review by Grissom at the end of each case.
The collectables make their first appearance in a Telltale game here. In the show, Grissom likes to collect bugs, so you can find bugs in the game. Finishing each case, collecting all the bugs, and achieving master ranking on all the cases gets you trailers, storyboards, and concept art. This is a precursor to things in later Telltale games like the stickers won in the bonus games in the Sam & Max seasons and the collectibles and awesomeness rankings in Strong Bad's Cool Game for Attractive People.
Once again, they got most of the original voices to do the voices of the characters here, which again really helps to give it the feel of playing five episodes of the show. The deliveries here are a bit better than in the first game, as the lines said by the show's cast are delivered in a slightly less dry manner, and seem more natural. The suspects are are again voiced well too, with some later Telltale regulars appearing such as Gavin Hammon (who delivers an excellent performance as the new age hippy Ed Freeborn). Most of the time, the dialog does a great job of drawing you into the game. However, sometimes dialog cuts off early, particularly in the tutorial section.
The cases are interesting, and would fit right in with the show, though there's nothing quite as clever as the case involving a popular video game series that was in the previous game. There's still no overarching plot, but the last case again connects to previous cases. Though none of the cases quite hit the high of the best case of the previous game, the cases are all still interesting in their own right, and the improvements in the game design over the original make up for the lack of a real standout case. The design is streamlined to make the game less confusing and more fun to play, the repetitive dialog is trimmed down, the original cast seems to be getting used to their voice roles, as they put in a more natural performance, and the supporting cast is good as well. The game successfully uses music from the show, and the additional music by Jared Emerson-Johnson, while low-key, fits the game perfectly.
Once again, this game isn't for anyone. All of the improvements did nothing to make this game more enticing to those who don't like the CSI franchise, or at least like Hollywood's style of exaggerated crime scene investigation techniques. If you do like these kind of shows, you'll most likely enjoy this game. If you don't like them, then you won't like this game either, since it follows the formula so closely.
3½ out of 5