Mr. Bill's Adventureland Review
Reviewed by Laura MacDonald
Law and Order is one of the most successful franchises in the history of television. I expect an all Law 'n Order channel to start up any day now so that you can have your corpse de jour sliced and diced 24/7. OK maybe it's not quite that prolific, but this is one very popular show with a number of derivative series airing simultaneously. So it is no surprise that the show has spawned not one, but three games based upon the original show. And with another game due out soon that is based upon the spin-off series Law & Order: Criminal Intent that's a lot of games.
So how are they doing? From where I sit and play, they are doing fairly well and not merely because of the popularity of the shows. Legacy Interactive, the development team responsible for the game adaptations, has done an impressive job of turning a fictional show into interactive games. Better yet, they have done this by creating plot-based pure adventure games, rather than simulation exercises.
In Justice Is Served the case centers on the life and sudden demise of Elena Kusorova, a rising star in the lucrative world of women's professional tennis. An émigré of the Ukraine, she has been groomed for this sport since her early years, but that career is temporarily derailed by a series of injuries and mishaps. Determined to make a quick comeback, she has engaged the services of a prominent coach. Unfortunately on the morning of the Women's Open, Elena is found dead in the locker room. Well no surprise there... you can't start off a self-respecting Law & Order story without at least one corpse!
So what happened to Elena, and why? And more importantly, we can't lose sight of the most interesting part of this plot line, the 'whodunit'. This newest game has as twisty a plot as any of its video-based brethren. Suspects and motives run rampant in L & O 3, so settle in and get out your pen and paper... you have a murderer to sleuth out.
We have several in game characters derived from the show, who were also present in earlier games, with one new addition. Before we hooked up as a partner with Lenny Briscoe, one of my all time favorite smart-mouthed characters. This time his current TV partner, played by Jesse Martin, is in on the action. I think that having both the detectives in the game actually does more to draw you into the gameplay than when you were some unseen partner to Lenny. Since your character didn't seem to have any lines in the prior games and you did not see yourself, I never felt part of the action, but rather more like a passive observer. I say keep the boys together from here on out.
Serena once again reprises her role for the prosecutoral end of things. However, the DA is a game created character. I assume perhaps Fred Thompson is too pricey for the game or perhaps declined to be in the series, but it would be nice. Even better, I would leap out of my chair if they brought the original DA back for the game series. This is wistful thinking on my part; still it would be a thrill for this Law & Order fan.
The in game characters are broader based than in prior games. Not only is the suspect list more diverse, there are just simply more of them in this newest game. This makes for a more complex storyline, with more twists thrown into the mix. However it does make for more complicated gameplay later on when the prosecutoral side of things takes over. It can be somewhat daunting to pick and choose between all the possible witnesses when going to trial. Not a problem, just be aware that this game demands careful attention early on to the details. Though there is an in game summation or logbook of all your chats with people, these are shorthand versions and are no real substitute for jotting down some of the finer points. You will thank yourself when you get to the more difficult task of pulling together your witness and evidence lists for the trial phase if you keep track of as much as possible during the police phase of the game.
Tennis Whites, Clay Courts and Wimbledon Green
Okay, maybe the tennis analogies are getting a bit thin, but the graphical side of things in Justice is Served does look bright. The look of this game and the sheer size of it are a significant improvement for Legacy. All of the games had high-end graphics, but this game sets the mark. I think the character animations show a definite improvement with increased subtleties in both the facial expressions and movement. The end product is seamless integration of the character builds to the environmentals. One of the interesting things about seeing the varied builds of this game, from beta to gold master, is that the earlier versions have some of the graphics in various stages of completion. It always fascinates me to see the process as it develops through the version, and Legacy takes significant care in building all of the animations. The result is one which the gamer will take pleasure in as they work their way through this case.
Ambiance has been a mixed proposition in prior games. The theme music and the signature two-note sound that signals a new location have always been present. The style of the series has tried hard to mimic the look and feel of the actual TV series, with stress on 'investigative' or court tactics for gameplay. Unfortunately, this focus on search and seizure limited the overall scenery to well-lit interiors and daylight exteriors. However in this latest release, I was struck by the darker look and overall ambiance. There also seemed to be a deeper layer to the sound effects and lighting. It just seemed more realistic as I worked my way through the screens. The dynamic lighting, improved ambiance and enhanced graphics were a welcome improvement.
Topspin and Finesse
One thing that first appeared in Dead On the Money, the second game of the series, were actual hands-on puzzles. There were just a handful, but they added another element to the gameplay that at the same time never came off as artificial or forced. They were well integrated into the logic of the storyline and were nicely constructed. I had heard that there were going to be a lot more puzzles present in Justice is Served, and was curious as to how they were incorporated into the gameplay and storyline. Well I would say, "Well done, team Legacy" in one breath, but with another add a slight caveat. This time there were a wide variety of challenges... some practical; others traditional stand alone puzzles. There was even a nod to some classic brainteasers that you would expect to find in classic puzzle-laden games. A few stretched the logic of the game a bit, but they were all great fun. A large number were logic or cryptic type challenges, which suited the style of the series and this game in particular. I think that this is the best-designed game of the series without a doubt, achieving a well-crafted balance between story and puzzles.
However I do think that having stand-alone puzzles without plot basis does stretch the credibility of the game a bit. There is a sliding crate puzzle that will be familiar to those who have played 7th Guest, Sarbokan's Arcane and other such games. Though it was a great puzzle and one I enjoyed, the strength of the Law & Order games to me are their realistic grounding in police/prosecutoral procedure and strategy. A puzzle such as this detracts from the ambiance and weakens the immersive feeling. Leave it in, take it out... not sure how I fall on this. Like I said, there wasn't a puzzle in the game that wasn't diverting. Perhaps it deserves mentioning for those who are into this series for its reality-based strategy and might not be thrilled to have an isolated pure puzzle dropped into the mix. But other than that small caveat and musing, I would have to say that I like the direction the series has taken and hope the rest follow this track.
Game challenges being what they are, the gameplay itself is perhaps the one flaw in the delivery. In the earlier games, the player chose from a small list of skills that they wanted enhanced. Among them was a sort of in game hint system, where you could opt to have advice from your police sergeant in the 'law' portion of the game and from the DA in the 'order' part. This element was criticized in the past, and rightly so. One of these skill choices was enhanced evidence seeking abilities. Translated into the gameplay, that meant opting for a reactive rather than a non-reactive cursor. As searching scenes for evidence was a pixel hunt at times regardless, the game was amazingly difficult without the reactive cursor. The end result was that the gamer really only had one viable skill option to choose from the list, because evidentiary assistance had to be picked. So in this design build, Legacy decided to do away with the skill enhancement option. I think this was well decided. Give people their functional cursor and let them sleuth out the rest.
In the police section of the game, this worked out well, and with some judicious comments here and there from the main characters, a hint mode was not required. However due to the greater variety of potential suspects and witnesses in this new game, things become very chaotic in the prosecutoral section. I have some experience with this aspect of the game in real life, and it was confusing. No matter what the level of participation by 'legal experts' in signing off on this aspect of the game, there are necessary shortcuts involved in developing trial tactics in a game versus what happens in real life. Frankly if they did have a game that tracks an actual trial, I think people would be bored to tears and possibly give up computer games. So some objections that would likely be made during an actual trial are not put in place, and witnesses that likely would be used are narrowed down to create a viable logic path in the game. This makes sense because when sifting through all the possible witnesses to use for the trial and rebuttal phases, it is easy for even an attorney to get a bit lost within the possibilities. Perhaps some in game expertise that is accessible would be useful here. They did have an item list checker for evidence supporting search and arrest warrants. You knew how many items you needed, and the game tells you how many correct and incorrect items you have so far. I think applying this to the trial subpoena lists would be helpful and eliminate any needless frustration.
As a game series, Law & Order is holding its own, and better yet improving with each new release. Justice Is Served shines with improved graphics, added characters and a logical scenario with sufficient twists to keep people guessing a bit. The trial side of the game remains slightly problematic for gamers. It is in practice and theory more obscure. Most people have been exposed, through the entertainment medium and real life, to various aspects of police investigations. It is also a hands-on search for clues, talk-to-people exercise that gamers are comfortable with. The trial phase is heavily procedural, an area that is truncated in the show and one that is less intuitive for people. I think that using some varied methods of intuitively leading the gamer, or helping without giving away the challenge, would make both aspects of this game accessible and more enjoyable to the gamer. I would also add that creating more puzzling opportunities is a positive step for the developers, but perhaps the basis of these puzzles should be held tightly to the plot. It might be truer to the theme and format of the show, which is the basis of the game, if the puzzles kept to a more realistic and practical format rather then being fanciful drop-ins.
But the bottom line is that fans of the shows and games will be very happy with Justice is Served. The improved graphics, twisty little plot line and the addition of even more show related characters will thrill. As always, Legacy's devotion and care to track the game with the essence, look, and ambiance of the series makes this game a winner. Gamers new to the series will have an immersive challenging experience that will likely draw them into getting the earlier games. Well done, Legacy!
© 2004 Laura MacDonald
Developed (2004) and published by Legacy Interactive.
Rated: T for Teen 13+ (blood, language, mild violence)
Minimum System Requirements:
PC: Pentium III 600 MHz Processor; Windows 98 / 2000 / ME / XP; 128 MB RAM; 12X CD-ROM Drive; DirectX 7 Compatible 16 MB Video Card; DirectX 7 Compatible Sound Card; 1.5 GB of Free Hard Drive Space; DirectX 7; Mouse
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