Law & Order: Justice is Served

Developer:  Legacy Interactive
Publisher:  Vivendi

Review by Steve Ramsey (November, 2004)
This is the third adventure game in the Law and Order franchise and I said when I reviewed the second one, Double or Nothing, that I would be happy to play the third. Let's see if I was right.

After a familiar opening theme, Elena Kusarova, the young tennis tyro known as The Ukrainian Ace is found dead on the locker room floor prior to the start of the U.S. Open. You and your colleagues from the precinct arrive to commence the investigation.

My immediate reaction to the opening cut scene was that the tool bar was in the way. I wanted to move it, or minimise it. It is permanently displayed across the bottom of the screen, and whilst it is chock full of critical stuff, it seemed to be blocking my view. Which of course it wasn't, and after a while I forgot about it.

Having played a previous Law & Order, I quickly settled into the rhythm of Justice is Served, but first timers would likely be as comfortable. The game itself introduces you to the main concepts at the first relevant opportunity, it's like an in-built tutorial, and gets you quickly moving things along.

The aim of the game, as in the TV show, is to investigate the crime and collect enough evidence to make an arrest, then prosecute the accused and get a conviction. You do this by searching the various locations and collecting objects and potential evidence, and interviewing the people you come across. Many are potential suspects, others possible key witnesses. Not everyone, or everything, is important.

A menu of question options is available each time you speak to someone. Some questions will elicit grunts or monosyllabic responses. Others will lead to more helpful answers.

Having found something you can, if you choose, send it to the crime lab for analysis. You can also send it to the research people to see what they can tell you about it. You can get a background check on any of the people you meet, and put them under surveillance as well. You can even get psychiatric assessments. Not everything you learn will be useful, but you can't get through the game unless you ask the right questions about the right stuff.

You make all these requests from your desk, either in the precinct office in the first part of the game, or the District Attorney's office in the second. It's all very simple and straightforward. Simply drag the icon representing the object or person you want to know more about onto the right form, and hit submit.

All the items and information are kept in the tool bar I referred to earlier. Considering how much is collected, it's all managed rather well. Four separate menus keep track of people, documents, objects, and reports and analysis respectively. Click the one you want, and the relevant icons are displayed. About 8 can be seen at one time, then scroll left or right to see more. Hold your cursor over the item to get an identifying label, or double click for more information. It's much harder to describe than it is to use.

A separate little side scrolling menu contains a log of your events, the main game menu, your phone and a map. The phone will ring when any of your research or surveillance reports are ready.

The forms you use to submit things for further examination or analysis keep track of everything you have asked about. The experts also keep a list of everything they have told you about. So despite the large amount of reports and requests flying back and forth, it's pretty easy to keep on top of it all. The log I mentioned helps as well.

At various times you might want to get a search warrant in order to access a person's home or office. Simply select the search warrant form, drag the icon representing the person you are interested in onto it, then add the evidence you believe will convince the relevant authority to issue the warrant. If you are successful, you will end up at the place you wanted to search. If not, a cutscene will tell you that you need more evidence, and a check of the warrant request will tell you how many pieces of the evidence you submitted were correct, though not which ones. Simply try again with other evidence, or do some further investigating. You may not have found the key piece you need, or done the necessary analysis.

Information gathered will open up new locations as you progress through Justice is Served. There were around 30 by the time I had finished. You can show the people you interview the objects and reports you gather to see what they can tell you or to gauge their reactions. Showing some characters particular items is essential to getting them to open up. You may well have to interview key people more than once as you learn things from other characters or your investigations. You might also have to try and arrange immunity or offer some other incentive to get certain people to tell what they know.

Whilst there is obviously a direct path through the game, much of what you do and the order in which you do it is not confined to that direct path. So there is a fair bit of openness to how you go about things which is a definite plus.

If you have played either of the first two games, a lot of this is probably sounding familiar. It was certainly a lot like Double or Nothing but there are some differences. You don't get to choose two attributes in this game, which isn't really a loss. This one was also a whole lot longer, and there are some straight out puzzles. Whilst on occasion they seemed a little too tacked on, they were reasonably well integrated into the game (eg reassemble a torn note, solve combinations) although the box maze was way too contrived and in my opinion should have been left out. There is also one simple little puzzle that is beautifully created to be something more than it seems.

Although the main attraction in Justice is Served is piecing together the information and evidence, the puzzles added a little something, and helped to break up the pattern of the game. And people have secrets they don't keep lying on coffee tables, so a little combination cracking and the like makes a fair bit of sense.

The story features some of the voices and characters from the TV series including Jerry Orbach and Elizabeth Rohm, as well as Patrick McEnroe. Anyone with a passing interest in tennis will be familiar with a lot of the themes - egos, svengali coaches, overbearing parents, precocious talent, money, performance enhancing drugs, and a win at all costs mentality. You don't have to like tennis to enjoy Justice is Served, but you will probably get a little buzz if you do.

The voice acting and writing is exceptional, and the rhythm and patter of the TV show is present. There is also a great insult involving sex and spam that I have made a mental note to work into a conversation sometime.

Eventually you will want to arrest someone. Select the warrant, drag your supporting evidence and witnesses onto it, and if the case is strong, the District Attorney will arrest the person concerned, you get a detective score, and then the game switches to playing the Assistant DA. The focus of this part of the game is to successfully prosecute the case.

After a further short investigation like the one described above, you assemble your witness and evidence briefs, and if you have assembled a strong case then off to court you go.

When presenting your case you will need to ask relevant and non-leading questions, or risk an objection, and similarly, you will need to be on your toes to object to improper cross examination. The Judge will rule accordingly. You can freshen up on your legal practice theory on the DA computer if need be. Once you rest your case, the defence attorney will ask that the case be dismissed. Depending on your evidence and how you went at trial, it will be granted or denied. If it is granted, it's game over and you need to start from a saved game and have another go. If it's denied, then you move to another short investigation, then it's time for the defence case. This progresses as before, then it's a rebuttal investigation, and some more witnesses and evidence to select for your final part of the trial. After all that, you get to watch a final case presentation, and then ultimately (and hopefully) a successful verdict.

The last thing you get is another score, and then a password to open some web material. I won't spoil what is on the locked site, but the site states that the content has been unlocked according to your score, and to play the game again to get a higher score if you can't access all the material.

Game set and match!
I did get a conviction, but not on the first (or indeed the second) try. The trial is certainly the most difficult part of the game. Calling too many witnesses didn't seem to be an issue, although it might affect your final score, but my failures and some more playing around once I had finished made it abundantly clear that lack of key witnesses or evidence will be fatal to your case. I suppose you could simply call everyone and use everything, but that would defeat much of the purpose.

If you get stuck during the game, you can call certain people for guidance on some things - do you have enough evidence to get a warrant, can you go to trial and so on? They will even help you with how to fill in forms and make requests. I mentioned how the warrant forms can help you, and you might also be stopped from progressing in the game, for instance going to trial, if the DA thinks your case material isn't up to scratch. He won't save you all the time though!

Law & Order: Justice is Served loaded and played flawlessly, although there was a fair bit of disk reading and an occasional little delay whilst it accessed data. You can tweak some settings, and play with subtitles if you wish.

It's not a hard game, but it is a thoughtful game, and you will need to consider everything you know and review your material more than once if you are going to get a conviction. Whilst I felt a little bamboozled and lacking in direction at some points, everything pretty much hangs together if you are meticulous and attentive. If you like reading or watching crime dramas and trying to put the pieces together, you will likely get maximum enjoyment out of Justice is Served. I certainly did.

See the Law & Order: Justice is Served walkthrough. rating:  

Copyright © Steve Ramsey 2004. All rights reserved.

System Requirements:
Windows 98/2000/Me/XP, Pentium III 600 MHz or equivalent, 128 MB RAM, 12 x CD ROM, 1.5 GB available hard disk space, DirectX 7, DirectX 7-compatible 16 MB video card, DirectX 7-compatible sound card.