A lovely young tennis star is found dead on the
floor of her locker room at Forest Hills Stadium in New York. Is
it murder, accident or suicide? There’s a syringe on the floor, a
security card where it shouldn’t be, a combination lock to open, and
a traumatized young Frenchwoman, who has just stumbled across the
body of her chief opponent….
In Law & Order, Justice is Served you play the part of detective
Lennie Briscoe of the NYPD, and (if you can make a sufficient case
for the crime being a murder) you switch roles to become District
Attorney Serena Southerlyn. As Ms. Southerlyn, you seek a
conviction, while delving further into the case before final
arguments are heard.
I’m a Law & Order (L&O) fan. Been one for years, since the very
first episode. I’m also an adventure gamer. So put these two
together and you get someone who LOVES a Law & Order adventure game,
Sometimes fans are the hardest to please.
I played the first L&O game: Dead on the Money (DOTM) several
months after it came out and was disappointed. I dead-ended
continually because of the limited number of inventory slots –
discard the wrong item, and (though I didn’t realize it until later)
– GAME OVER. Same thing with witness interviews – if I missed
asking an important question, I couldn’t go back and re-ask.
Eventually -- GAME OVER. Plus there was an “efficiency” feature
where I lost the game if I didn’t build the case fast enough. GAME
OVER AGAIN. That feature was patched, making the game winnable, but
with the side effect of creating a wait time for lab and research
analysis that was slower than aged treacle.
The latest game in the series, Law & Order: Justice is Served (JIS)
is the third installment. And this one’s a marked departure from
its predecessor. In fact, the improvements from the first game to
the third are remarkable. (If you want to compare the two, Dead on
the Money comes bundled with Justice is Served with two disks for
Improvement #1 – Inventory and Game Mechanics
Whoever came up with the new inventory management system in JIS
should be applauded. It is much easier to identify and keep track
of the multitude of small pieces of information generated by the
crime investigation. There’s a briefcase which opens to reveal four
inventories: 1) witnesses, 2) concrete evidence (stuff), 3)
documents, and 4) reports related to the witnesses, stuff and
documents. It’s easy to cycle back and forth between these
inventories. Finding an item among so many is significantly easier
than you would think. Inventory is unlimited – you don’t have to
abandon a single gum wrapper that might later prove vital to the
Talking to witnesses is much more productive in JIS. You can’t
dead-end by asking the wrong question (at least I never did, and I
spent plenty of time selecting inane choices). You can drag
inventory items over to each witness and hear what they have to say
about everything. You can even ask a witness to express an opinion
about other witnesses (this was amusing, as it turned into something
of a gossip-fest and revealed as much about the character of the
interviewee as it did about the individual being gossiped about –
In JIS, the crime lab or research department can now generate
reports at warp speed. No more thumb twiddling or clicking
aimlessly on the map while you wait to see if the DNA evidence will
finger the suspect. Just visit one location on the map, and your
cell phone will ring to tell you to stop by the lab. It’s a kind of
miracle -- a nice device that eliminates nonproductive wait time in
a game that’s already substantial in length.
The game map has a slider button as big as the Bronx, so this
time it’s easy to see the whole map. Also, there are no timed
elements in the game.
Improvement #2 – Game Complexity
Justice is Served has a more complex plot, with more twists and
turns than in DOTM. The game does a very good job of letting you
get to know the characters, analyze first impressions, then dig
deeper into what they are hiding. (Who said that in a murder
investigation, everyone hides something? Well, if this game is any
indication, it’s true.)
Improvement #3 – The Trial
The trial scene in JIS is a real treat. You are allowed to call
every witness if you like, which enables you to see which ones
actually have something important to say. You are limited as to the
evidence you can enter, but there are plenty of evidence slots to
use (note the slider for accessing more slots). And since the
evidence is so clearly organized and presented, it is fairly easy by
trial time to choose the right stuff.
Suffice it to say that, in DOTM, I finished the trial feeling
like a grossly incompetent nincompoop, while in JIS, by the third
go-round I felt real pride in my performance. The game adapts the
defense attorney’s arguments and cross examination questions to
correspond to the evidence you present at trial. I thought this
part would all be automatically scripted, but it responds cleverly
to how you play as a prosecutor. Defense Attorney Morton doesn’t
waste time addressing arguments that an inexperienced D.A. has
failed to make. I thought this was very well done.
Justice is Served features a celebrity from the world of
professional tennis – Patrick McEnroe. Not only does this add a
degree of verisimilitude to a game that prides itself on realism,
but it personalizes the game in an unusual way. The world of
professional tennis comes alive when you see a familiar face or hear
a familiar name. Also, I admit that my decidedly unglitzy life was
deliciously brightened by the opportunity to order up a
psychological evaluation and surveillance report on Patrick McEnroe.
Portrayal of the professional tennis world in the game is
splendid. You observe the personalities and passions, the crazy
competitiveness and the lure of fantastic wealth. You sense the
imperative to excel and cringe at the willingness to manipulate or
backstab to advance, both athletically and socially. There’s
glamour and then there’s the dark side.
Voice acting in JIS is very good. The snooty tennis star says:
“Next question,” with disdainful aplomb. The defense attorney
speaks with feisty verve -- you can tell he loves his job. (You
know, if I ever need a lawyer, I want to HIRE that defense
attorney.) The parts of Detective Lennie Briscoe, Ed Green, and
District Attorney Serena Southerlyn are voiced by the actors from
the TV show. Even Patrick McEnroe proves himself to be a pretty
decent voice actor.
Good voice acting is especially important in JIS, because the
characters aren’t physically expressive. They stand still as you
interview them, and gesture occasionally with one characteristic
movement. (Patrick McEnroe sneezes a lot.) Lip synch, though, is
good enough that you don’t notice it. Facial movements are fairly
realistic, although not as expressive as in other recent games (the
facial modeling in WANTED: A WILD WESTERN ADVENTURE springs to
The interface is mouse driven, so that point-and-clicking your
way through the game is extremely easy. Music and background noises
are subtle; there is some attempt to provide ambient sound at the
witness locations, which works well. The familiar opening music
inaugurates the game. The synthesizer echoing between scenes
reminds you that you’re right there in the L&O universe -- this time
as a player.
Yes, JIS has them, and they weren’t all created by the criminal
The majority of the game is spent listening to people tell you
things. You interview witnesses and listen to the reports of a lab
technician, a surveillance expert, a researcher and a coroner.
During the trial, you listen to expert testimony and witness
testimony. More than other adventures I’ve played, the L&O series
depends on dialog to advance virtually everything that happens in
There are puzzles, often of the
deduce-the-combination-for-the-lock variety. One puzzle in
particular – the Ukrainian doll puzzle – I enjoyed very much.
Another – the storage boxes puzzle – I found difficult and
frustrating. On the whole, although JIS’s puzzles won’t light any
fires for breathtaking novelty, they did provided relief from
Where JIS comes up short as an adventure game is in the paltry
number of locations it allows you to investigate, and the
repetitiveness of those locations. You mostly explore apartments
and offices. Come on, people, this is New York City! There are
many more interesting places to explore than yet another apartment.
Why not let me search the Cloisters or explore the Plaza Hotel? I
want to investigate the vaults under the Brooklyn Bridge or search
for evidence at Tiffany’s. Get me out of the locker room at Forest
Hills and let me chase down clues all over the courts.
I hit a few glitches in the game – one crash to the desktop and
two screen freezes. Strangest was a sequence when I was searching
an apartment and close-ups showed nothing but a black screen.
Saving the game and then restarting from the save eliminated the
Final quibble – beating the detective portion of the game
requires unusual memory and organizational ability on the part of
the gamer. Every “chapter” in the game produces multiple pieces of
evidence. For example, a single witness generates testimony, a
background check, psychological evaluation, and surveillance
reports. You need to know which of the above will “count” when
issuing a search warrant or making an arrest.
For me, the process involved a ridiculous amount of trial and
error. Truth is, I was absolutely terrible at this. I floundered,
with no way to know if I was missing a huge section of the case, or
if I was submitting evidence when I should have been submitting the
report on that evidence (or vice versa).
There were also moments in the game when I came to a standstill
and had absolutely no idea of what to do next. Cluelessness was
usually eased by looking for new locations on the map, going back to
old locations to see if new dialog had become available, or running
every possible analysis/evaluation on every witness/bit of
evidence/document – even if at the time it seemed unnecessary.
Quick List for Law & Order: Justice is Served
A good mystery story with complexity and plot twists. A glimpse
into the world of professional tennis, with New York City as the
setting. Chance to play the role of a detective and then the role
of a District Attorney. Very good voice acting.
Point and click interface, first person perspective. Huge
amounts of dialog and character interaction. A sprinkling of
puzzles, mostly of the locked-room variety. No action puzzles, no
timed puzzles. No slider puzzles, no mazes, one sound puzzle.
Insufficient locations to explore. Minor stability problems.
Graphics and music are serviceable. Large amounts of inventory,
the application of which can be quite confusing.
Aimed at gamers who like a good detective story, and at fans of
the Law & Order TV series.
Final Grade: B