Genre : Adventure
Developer: Legacy Interactive
Release Date : September 30, 2003
Pre-order 'LAW & ORDER II: Double or Nothing': PC
Going strong after more than a decade, the Law & Order franchise has experienced unparalleled success for a network television series. With two successful spinoffs and a lucrative broadcasting contract, it seems like it can do no wrong. After completing last year's highly-anticipated video game, fans can continue to work alongside Detective Leonard Briscoe and Serena Southerlyn in the latest installment, Law & Order II: Double or Nothing.
You are sent to investigate the murder of a Dr. William Ramos, who is found dead in his car on a busy New York street, but the crime had no witnesses. You scrutinize, follow clues, and develop leads until you have the correct suspect in custody. Everyone who played the first L&O game will be overjoyed to learn that the time limit has been removed. When I start a game, I usually take some time to get acclimated and check things out. Within 15 minutes of popping in the first game, I was harassed with phone calls about sending one too many gum wrappers to the forensics lab (yes, I watch too much CSI), as well as reminders about the time running out. While these features added a certain sense of realism to the game, eliminating them in this installment allows us to just focus on the gaming experience, and that's what we were put on this earth to do, right?
As long as a couple of glitches are ironed out between this build and the ship date, the simple and straightforward gameplay ensures that few problems will be experienced. L&O II is a completely mouse-driven adventure, with the exception of the space bar, which activates the game interface at the bottom of the screen, which includes a map, case file, cell phone, and the case log. The game plays out like an episode of the show and is divided into two segments: crime investigation with Briscoe and trial proceedings with Southerlyn. Prior to each gaming segment, you are asked to select 2 of 4 "skills:" interview (eliminate unrelated questions during interviews), evidence (magnifying glass to help examine crime scenes), case organization (hints for putting together warrants and subpoenas), and teamwork (assistance when required). Legacy Interactive did a great job in creating a game with just the right level of difficulty; had we been allowed to select 3 of the 4 skills, could have solved the case blindfolded and with our hands tied behind our backs. I spent close to 30 hours playing two games to test out the benefits of each skill, and allowing the selection of only 2 skills was just right to make this game semi-challenging. The creative puzzles were a very enjoyable aspect of the game and also helped establish an appropriate level of gaming difficulty.
Since the gameplay is pretty self-explanatory, there is little need to incorporate a full-blown tutorial. Small yellow tutorial boxes will crop up as necessary, teaching you how to collect your first piece of evidence, interrogate your first suspect, etc. A helpful new feature that was introduced in this sequel is the ability to re-conduct an interview, in case you didn't like the results the first time around. As you collect evidence and encounter suspects, you can access your case file to request further analysis via four departments, as appropriate: forensics, research lab, surveillance, and psychiatric evaluation. However, this process is not as simple as it should be. The right side of the case file is extremely organized, with clearly-labeled file folder tabs, but to say that the left side is cluttered would be an enormous understatement. All of the evidence, testimonies, research, surveillance reports, lab tests and psych evaluations are jammed into the left hemisphere of your case file in a giant scrolling mess. Trying to find a particular person or piece of evidence is quite the task, especially when you're nearing the end of the game. After a while, you will get a general sense of the order of case file items, but when you need an item to convince an interviewee to comply, you will be shown a completely different view of your inventory, with all of the items in a different order so ... happy scrolling! The buzz is that the interface will be more organized in the third L&O game installment, due out next spring.
While playing this beta, I encountered a few minor inconsistencies. Sometimes, the gameplay jumps ahead of the storyline, as I was advised to follow up with Shirley Cho, when that name had never come up before. Other times, I was told that the evidence analysis for certain items was complete, only to find that said items weren't on the discussion list when I arrived at the crime lab. Luckily, these items were not vital to the case, but nonetheless, it is a jarring experience. Also, if a call comes in from the labs in the middle of an interview, your subtitles disappear for the rest of the conversation. These problems certainly won't make or break the game, but it would be nice if they are fixed in the retail version.
The graphics were not completely optimized in this build, but from what I've seen, they are pretty good, but the lip synchronization and facial expressions are simply ground-breaking. On the models, the forehead, eyes and mouth are very animated, conveying emotions that are easily discernable, and the hand gestures are also pretty well done, most noticeably in the trial portion of the game. The characters are good likenesses of the actors and are easily recognizable. The face was apparently the focal point of development attention, but as a result, the rest of the body suffered, with each character sporting helmet hair and stiff torsos. The game could have definitely benefited from the developers paying some more attention to creating fluid upper body movements. The pre-rendered static backgrounds are also very crisp and detailed, with reflections being the centerpiece. While you're examining Dr. Ramos' car, you can look through the glass sunroof at the skyscrapers, but what really impresses is the amount of detail that you see in the glass' reflection of the car interior.
It is somewhat difficult to evaluate the sound in a game that relies so little on it. There is no music in the game whatsoever, aside from the Law & Order theme song and signature jingle. All of the actors lent their voicing talents to this game and did a great job, helping to reinforce the feeling that you're helping out in an actual episode. The dialog is smart, with snappy innuendos that are suitable for the entire family. Aside from the short introduction movie, the only ambient sounds that you encounter will be general office noise during phone calls from the labs.
If you enjoyed the first L&O game, Ubisoft's CSI, or are simply a fan of the television series, you would do well to pick up this game. While it does not boast super high-resolution, jaw-dropping graphics, its effective visuals, outstanding facial animations, engrossing gameplay and storyline certainly make this worth an adventure lover's while.