Developer: Legacy Interactive
Release Date: October 18, 2005
Legacy Interactive's Law & Order: Criminal Intent follows the television series' Detective Robert Goren, a member of the Major Case Squad with the New York Police Department. You're in for a busy day, with three available cases: a floater in the East River, a dead woman at the St. Theodore Hotel, and a beating victim uptown. You can choose to play the cases in succession or concurrently, and you can return to the precinct at any time to select any of the other cases. Upon completion of all three cases, you unlock a bonus fourth investigation, which ties together all of the day's atrocities.
In previous Law & Order offerings, you played in first-person mode as the detective's sidekick, but in Criminal Intent, you control Goren in third-person perspective. This is a completely mouse-driven adventure, and you'll point and click to move Goren around the environment to interrogate people and examine evidence. The mouse cursor (a very Syberia-esque ring) glows when hovering over a hotspot, and clicking will bring up the option to view, use, collect, or analyze an item, or to analyze or chat with a person. The right mouse button activates the Nokia N-Gage, which contains a map, phone book, messages, your case file (evidence, witnesses, documents, reports), and a cell phone. Its predecessors have gotten close to the holy grail of an organized interface, but this title actually delivers one that is both user-friendly and intuitive. Depending on your preferences, you can either keep the N-Gage minimized on the desktop, or keep it completely out of sight and summon it with a right-click.
The interview process has been completely reworked for L&O: Criminal Intent to more accurately reflect the psychological bent of the television series. During interviews in previous iterations, you were only able to choose from a list of available questions, but now, you select the tone (empathetic, straightforward, flattering, deceptive, or confrontational) that would most likely persuade your witness/suspect to talk. You are usually given enough wiggle room for mistakes in the line of questioning, but should you rub your interviewee the wrong way, s/he will refuse to help, and you'll have to revisit later in order to continue the discussion.
A new gameplay dynamic is introduced with a laptop, furnished with profiling software. You can submit collected evidence and documents to have the program build up a criminal profile of the suspect. Once the profile is strong enough, you can begin submitting witnesses for analysis, and the profiling software will indicate the likelihood of him/her being the perpetrator. Legacy Interactive added a level of realism to this portion of the game by actually enlisting a forensic psychologist to develop the criminal profiles.
Another new addition is the streamlined process of submitting evidence for analysis, which turns out to be somewhat of a mixed blessing. You no longer have to collect evidence and re-open the case file in order to submit the item for analysis – just click on an item and select "analyze," which automatically sends evidence to the research unit and the crime lab, regardless of whether you wanted to or not. Selecting "analyze" when you're interviewing a person will initiate a background check and surveillance. While this streamlines the evidence-gathering process, it also results in your N-Gage ringing incessantly.
Graphically, things have improved since L&O3, and pre-rendered backgrounds have been enhanced by the subtle use of light bloom. Characters' gestures and facial features continue to be the highlight of the game, from raised eyebrows to looks of disbelief. With such superb handling of facial expressions and arm gestures, it is extremely puzzling that the characters' bodies aren't better modeled, rather than coming off as rounded blocks, but we played a preview build, and this might improve by the final release.
Actors Vincent D'Onofrio and Jamey Sheridan lend their voicing talents to the game as Goren and Captain James Deakins, respectively, and do a great job, reinforcing the feeling that you've walked into an actual episode. The ambient sound has largely remained the same since L&O3, with appropriate background music playing in each dwelling that you're inspecting and basic office white noise when you're at the precinct. It's the minor details that continue to delight, such as when Goren visits a crime scene that's covered in gravel, and his footsteps actually crunch as he walks.
If you enjoyed previous L&O games, Ubisoft's CSI franchise, or are simply a fan of any "Law & Order" television series, chances are that you will enjoy L&O: Criminal Intent. It doesn't try to fix what wasn't broken, and it keeps things fresh by introducing some new characters and gameplay dynamics into the mix.
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