Law and Order: Justice is Served

Genre:   Adventure

Developer & Publisher:    Legacy Interactive

Released:  2005

PC Requirements:   Windows 98/ME/2000/XP, Pentium III 600 GHz, 128 MB RAM, 16 MB 3D, video card, 1.5 GB free hard disk space, Direct 7, 12x CD-ROM



Additional Screenshots




by Becky

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, right?

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 each game.)

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 D.A.’s case.

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 – err, investigated).

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. 

More Pros

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 mind).

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. 

Some Cons 

Yes, JIS has them, and they weren’t all created by the criminal justice system.

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 the game.

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 interviewing witnesses.

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 problem.

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  

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