Law & Order: Dead on the Money
As soon as I heard about the imminent release of this Law & Order game I was interested. Not only did it sound intriguing but it also seemed to me that, based on a long running Television series, it might be a good candidate for attracting new adventure game players into the fold. I've just finished it, and with a couple of reservations, it gets my seal of approval on both the above counts. Firstly there's lots to enjoy for adventure game players; it's an entertaining game with a difference (more on this later) and, secondly, fans of the TV Law & Order series will feel right at home because it is just what the lawyer ordered.
The game has some familiar faces and voices, and many of you will recognise Jerry Orbach, S. Epatha Merkerson, and Elisabeth Röhm from the TV series. I did, even though I'm too consumed with books and computer games to spare much time for the TV. I have to confess that I've only seen one episode of Law & Order but I recognised the characters. They really do look like their TV counterparts, they are very well animated and, of course, the voice acting is near perfect ... they sound just like themselves as well J . Though it's a pity that the game has no text captions for deaf or hard of hearing players. Occasionally I experienced sound distortion and missed snippets of conversation so I would have appreciated text back up, especially because conversation has such an important place in the game.
Overall though the sound is good and the graphics, especially those of the characters and the courtroom scenes in the latter part of the game, are very clear and work well to show what the characters are feeling in response to what is going on. Conversely I found the relatively small number of other scenes, including the crime scene itself and the victim's apartment, to be a bit fuzzy. It didn't worry me in the least but I'm mentioning it for the benefit of those who demand graphical perfection. Though I should point out that I did play with options set to maximum speed rather than premium good looks. Also I haven't heard of other players complaining in this respect so it might have been a problem peculiar to my computer.
The game begins with a murder in Central Park, and that's all of the plot you're going to get from me. It is divided into two distinct sections, the murder investigation and the trial and you play an unidentified assistant in both scenarios. The play is fairly structured and negotiations are formalised (especially in the second part) to the point that the game has the slight feel of a simulation as well as an adventure. It works well, and although it cuts to the chase and doesn't embellish the plot with peripheral details, there is still some leeway to do a bit of ambling around. By this I mean that you will have some choices about what to do next, though once this caused a bit of a problem for me when Lennie Briscoe expressed surprise at the existence of someone he already knew all about.
Not surprisingly a large proportion of the gameplay consists of talking to people ... interrogations or interviews in the first part of the game and courtroom cross-examinations at the end. When in conversation you are presented with a short list of questions and the one you highlight will determine what you ask next and ultimately what information you gather. So it's important to choose questions wisely to elicit useful information. If you talk about the weather it won't help at all!
Other than conversation there are a limited number of places to search for clues. These include the locations noted above as well as a couple of suspects' homes. There are plenty of things to pick up and you can send them off to the lab for testing, or to records for a bit of research. It's very easy to fill your inventory (or your case file) so you might want to be judicious in what you collect. I confess I wasn't, so periodically I had to purge my case file. You can easily 'trash' what you don't want although I did a test and the game allows you to discard vital evidence ... be warned!
As well as sending items for research you can also research people and, if you have enough to go on, order surveillance; get a search warrant; an arrest warrant, etc. Everything you collect including evidence and various reports is identified by a small graphic that you can click on to get specific information. To take the case to trial you'll need to select which pieces of evidence and which witnesses are relevant, compile the paperwork and submit it. Make a mistake and you'll be told you are not ready yet and given the chance to reconsider. When each section of the game is completed you are awarded a 'score' for your performance.
Law & Order: Dead on the Money is a fairly straightforward game and especially good for new players. Experienced adventurers might want to skip this part but there is help on hand in the form of four options to decrease the difficulty level. You can't be too greedy, you can only choose two of them, but they do make a difference. First on the list is Interviewing. If you check this option you will streamline the conversations and eliminate irrelevant or inadmissible questions. Next is Evidence Collection. This one gives you a magnifying glass to make looking around easier. Teamwork follows and this gets you some advice from colleagues during the game and, finally, with Efficiency checked you do things more quickly and have more time to solve the case.
Anyone who knows my reviews will know that I checked 'Efficiency'. And this brings me along to my major complaint about the game ... it's timed! I have no idea why, certainly not because it would be more 'realistic' because murder investigations are usually kept open. As it is so well known that many adventurers don't like to be rushed I was surprised to find this 'feature'. It very nearly stopped me before I started but I made a conscious effort not to clock-watch so that I didn't feel penalised rather than rewarded as I progressed. I played as I normally would, and tootled around enjoying my investigation. This strategy wasn't totally successful, as nearer to the end of the investigative section I had to save and load too often as I worked out the most efficient route through.
So even though the time was manageable I'm registering my strong objection to the clock feature that counts down the remaining time as you perform actions. This game would have been better without it. Except for a bit of slowness at the very beginning it ran well on my machine under Win 98. I cannot, however, speak for later Windows Operating Systems. I have heard of some players having problems in this respect.
I took up the challenge and had fun with this game. In the process I kept the records clerk and lab technician flat out filling in reports. I particularly enjoyed the trial part because I didn't feel so pressured. I did my homework and read up on the optimum way to frame questions and was ultimately quite successful. I also got to shout 'Objection' a lot ... and in the right places. I got better 'marks' for my legal work than I did for my investigation ... I might have found my true vocation at long last!
Note: Law & Order Patch now available
Good news for me and other players who don't like playing against the clock. Our Objections have been sustained! In their new Patch Legacy Interactive have tinkered with the clock to make it count down 10 times slower in 'Efficiency' mode. According to my estimation this should effectively cancel the clock. There should now be absolutely plenty of time to leisurely explore and get things done! Thank you to Legacy for a rapid and positive response to player feedback.
The patch also addresses mouse sensitivity issues experienced by some players.
Copyright © Rosemary Young 2002.
All rights reserved.
Pentium II (or compatible) 400 MHz, 96 MB RAM, DirectX-compatible 8 MB Video Card, 12x CD-ROM Drive, 700 MB of Hard Drive Space, DirectX 8.1 or later (on CD).