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Law & Order: Justice is Served - E3 2004 archived preview

As with yesterday's Atlantis Evolution, I have here another game that I can certainly file under "happy surprises" of this year's E3. Legacy Interactive has had no small amount of success with their previous installments of Law & Order on the PC (Dead on the Money and Double or Nothing). You would think they would be content to keep churning out slightly modified versions of the same game, with new stories, and continue collecting on this lucrative license. I can't say that I wouldn't do the same in their situation.

It became remarkably clear, though, during my meeting with Legacy Interactive that they are in no way content to make mediocre games. They are committed to turning the Law & Order franchise into great games--and not just that, they're committed to making great adventure games, which is exactly what the third in the series appears to be.

As in the previous two games, Law & Order: Justice is Served follows the characters from the television series through one lengthy case, both the investigation and the courtroom phase. Jerry Orbach returns as Detective Briscoe, and Elisabeth Röhm as assistant district attorney Serena Southerlyn. S. Epatha Merkerson, however, does not return here to play Lt. Anita Van Buren; instead you will be joined by Briscoe's TV partner, Detective Ed Green (played by Jesse L. Martin).

This change in characters, though certainly not notable for those who do not follow the show, should create an interesting dynamic, as rather than a partner and a supervisor you now have two partners and no prominent supervisor. This also should leave room for plenty of the dry Briscoe-Green banter that is one of the hallmarks of the show's recent years.

The story takes place in the dark, seedy world of professional women's tennis. What's that? You don't think women's tennis is dark and seedy? Well, it is after one of its stars is murdered in cold blood! The story will seem pretty open and shut after only a half-hour of gameplay--but like any episode of the TV show, you'll soon find there are numerous twists and turns, and it will take quite a while (this will be the longest of the three games so far) to reveal the killer. Of course, your work is only half-done at that point, as you still must successfull convict the killer in court. You are almost guaranteed to fail on that account your first time through; expect to play the court sequence quite a few times before you can secure a conviction.

The biggest change here is the complete removal of the "skills" feature. In previous games, you were able to pick two skills in order to make certain aspects of the game easier; the decision was made that the skills system was no longer an effective gameplay device. Teamwork (the ability to have hints provided by the lieutenant) has been eliminated, as player feedback indicated that the game was just too easy with hints available. Interview skills (the automatic pruning of unneeded questions) are now built in; the lame, obvious "correct question" trees of previous games are no longer. Case organization and evidence collection skills were also determined to be hampering the level of difficulty. And, as in Double or Nothing, there is no clock; you will have unlimited investigation time.

Besides story and gameplay enhancements, some technical steps forward have been taken as well. The resolution has been expanded to 800x600, and the difference from the previous 640x480 is quite clear. The game engine has also been ported to C++ from Java, which should certainly result in a faster and more efficient game.

The best part of my entire meeting with Legacy, though, was realizing how much they really are fans of adventure games. They have taken what almost seems a counterintuitive step with such a hot mainstream property, and quadrupled the number of "adventure game puzzles." There are quite a few Myst-type puzzles with tricky locks and such, as well as some inventory combination puzzles.

In what had to be the coolest moment of the meeting, Legacy showed me an early build of Law & Order: Criminal Intent (to be previewed at a later date), and surprisingly enough, it's being developed as a third-person adventure. One of the main reasons? The Legacy team was inspired by none other than Syberia!

The Law & Order games will always appeal primarily to fans of the show, but even those with a passing interest in the show, or even a passing interest in quality mystery adventure games, should definitely consider this game. It may be a pleasant surprise for you too.

Law & Order: Justice is Served will be released on PC in September of this year.


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