Since becoming an
adventure gamer, I've spent very little time watching television. This may
explain why, before I started to play NCIS: Based on the TV Series,
I hadn't viewed a single episode and had no idea of what to expect. As I
played the game, I stepped into the shoes of field agents, a forensics
expert, a computer hacker and a medical examiner in the Naval Criminal
Investigative Service. For the first half hour, everyone was polite to one
another, as though they knew that they were breaking me (the new guy) in.
But after the initial crime scene investigation, an edgier atmosphere
initiated by sarcastic quips, in-jokes, and occasional wackiness began to
Characters: Thumbs Up
This military-related police procedural TV series has
spent years establishing memorable characters and the game version is
clearly aimed at fans of the show (and not at avid adventure gamers).
Those characters are the best aspect of the gaming experience. There are
four cases in the game, all played from a third person perspective. Each
involves a twist or two, and each explores the relationships, prejudices
and quirks of the NCIS team. You steer the NCIS "regulars" by
pointing and clicking as they search the crime scene.
Once the evidence has been gathered, the scene shifts
to the NCIS offices where "goth" goddess Abby Sciuto performs
forensic analyses, geeky Tim McGee tracks down clues on his computer, and
Dr. Donald "Ducky" Mallard examines corpses, which appear as 3D holograms.
Ducky converses with the cadavers as though they are casual acquaintances
dropping in to assist the investigation -- gruesome, yet strangely
endearing. Voiceovers are professional. Two series actors, David McCallum
(Ducky) and Robert Wagner (Tony DiNozzo's father) voice their parts in the
The pace is quick: each case takes about two hours to
complete. The greatest challenge is investigating the fully explorable, 3D
environments. Camera angles change frequently and, if you're not thorough
enough, essential clues are missed. Locations are varied and include a
casino in the U.S., a military base in Iraq, and a luxury hotel in Dubai.
Proactivity with the Mouse
Get ready to use your mouse in unusual ways! The
scroll button helps to open safes, take crime scene photographs, and match
fingerprints. Moving the mouse lifts fingerprints from weapons, shifts
heavy objects, and assists characters while climbing obstacles. The mouse
becomes a tracking device during car chases viewed from satellite photos.
And you click on icons and symbols during computer hacking sequences,
which are mildly timed.
Simplified Nuts & Bolts
The game has an autosave feature, so you can't save
the game whenever you'd like. You can access the second case after you've
played the first case, and the third case after the second, etc. Once
you've completed a case you can go back and replay if you're hankering for
a do-over. (I replayed the first case after finishing the last case to
better understand what was really going on in the story arc.)
The game contains no inventory challenges. An
"objectives" screen lists the tasks and what you must do to complete them.
Most of the gameplay involves lab-related mini-games, computer hacking,
evidence analysis on a deduction board, and using evidence during witness
The mini-games (many involve matching and sequencing,
and some are timed) start out very easy and become only slightly more
difficult as the game progresses. Also, hacking into emails while playing
as McGee was surprisingly basic. Most of the time, McGee simply reports
that the emails have nothing to do with the case, without giving you the
chance to read them for yourself. Overall, the lack of puzzle difficulty
and depth gives the game a "casual" feeling, targeting a general audience
(including casual gamers and non-gamers) who follow the television series,
rather than puzzle achievers who relish a complicated challenge.
Inconsistencies, an Oddity and a Heads Up
Character animation in this game is inconsistent.
Although Ziva David looks quite realistic and lovely, for instance, Tony
DiNozzo seems zombiesque, with odd movements, pasty skin, and blank eyes.
The animation in the (frequent) cut scenes ranges from still figures
displayed via swooping camera angles, to more fully animated sequences.
The game gives the impression that resources were focused on certain
scenes and characters to good effect, but spread thinly for others.
The application icon for this game is a cup of
Caf-Pow, a caffeine-laced beverage favored by Abby Sciuto. This is
meaningful if you've watched the TV series, but completely random if you
haven't. I didn't correctly locate and identify the NCIS "start up"
icon until I had nearly finished the game.
A warning: one case in particular involves scenes of
implied brutality that are horrific in nature. These scenes augment the
serious nature of the plot and are particularly revealing of character --
so they aren't at all gratuitous -- but they are shocking.
The Bottom Line
If, when you go shopping for a crime investigation
game, you are looking for engaging characterizations and an intriguing
story with a variety of easy mini-games, you will be pleased with NCIS:
Based on the TV Series. If you are looking for layered, dastardly
puzzles, you will be disappointed.
I enjoyed NCIS: Based on the TV Series, though
it left me wanting more. The eight hours of gameplay felt much too brief.
I wanted another eight hours. Or possibly another sixteen. I am now
starting to scan the TV listings to catch the series occasionally.
Quick List for NCIS: Based on the TV Series
Four investigative cases taking place in the NCIS
universe. Third person perspective, point-and-click interface. 3D
graphics, memorable characters, good voiceovers. Dialogs can't be clicked
Forensics and computer hacking mini-games (some
mildly timed), motion challenges using the mouse, interviews and deduction
challenges. The puzzles are simpler and easier than in traditional
adventure games, giving this game a "casual" ambiance.
Appropriate for older teens and up. No glitches. No
problems with installation. About eight hours of gameplay.
Aimed at fans of the NCIS TV series, and at
adventure gamers who prefer story and character development rather than
Final Grade: B
What I played it on:
Dell Studio XPS 8000
Windows 7 Home Premium
Intel Core i5-750 processor
6GB DDR3 SDRAM
1024MB NVIDIA GeForce GT 220