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Law & Order 3 hands-on archived preview

The famous “duh-duh” (or however you prefer to spell it) that informs over 25 million people each week that it’s Law & Order time will soon make its third appearance on computers everywhere. While Law & Order: Justice is Served does not necessarily represent a giant leap forward for the series, Legacy Interactive has made some important improvements, and appears ready to serve notice that this is not going to be just a series for casual TV show fans—these are games for adventure gamers.

The most formulaic show on television has now gone well over 300 episodes and shows no signs of losing steam. Every week begins with a dead body, discovered by some poor innocent stranger, then cut to the detectives making dryly humorous comments about the case as the investigation begins. By the time each hour ends, a myriad of characters has been introduced and the eventual truth behind the murder proves to be quite a tangled web. The PC series is no different—starting with Dead on the Money and continuing with last year’s Double or Nothing, as you peel away the layers of the mystery you’ll encounter all kinds of odd characters telling you all kinds of lies.

The story this time around revolves around the dark, corrupt, seedy world of—women’s tennis! Don’t worry non-sports fans, there’s no in-depth tennis knowledge required to understand what’s going on, although there is plenty for tennis buffs to enjoy, most notably the guest appearance of Patrick McEnroe. A young, beautiful Ukrainian tennis phenom has been murdered. A jealous rival? A vain boyfriend? A long-lost parent? These and many more potential suspects will come into the picture. Between interrogations, you’ll be pawing through relevant locations to accumulate enough evidence to obtain search warrants—so that you can go paw through even more locations!

When what has happened is finally clear, and you’ve got the bad guy behind bars, the game is only half over; now you take over the job of assistant district attorney, charged with winning your murder conviction and locking the murderer away forever. Elisabeth Rohm returns for her third L&O game, as does Jerry Orbach as the inimitable Det. Lennie Briscoe—whose trademark dry wit is always loaded and ready to fire.

Those who have played through the first two games in the series will notice one major change—elimination of the “skills.” Feedback from the beta testers led Legacy to the conclusion that allowing the player to choose two skills to make certain aspects of the game easier was eliminating too much of the challenge. Thus there will be no blackboard hints this time around! Technically, Justice is Served is a more appealing game than the previous entries; Legacy has switched from the previous Java-driven interface to a C++ engine, and the difference is evident. The game has also upgraded to 800x600 graphics, a noticeable improvement from the 640x480 used in the first two games.

But the most welcome change, from the perspective of an adventure gamer, is Legacy’s decision to actively appeal more to fans of intellectually stimulating games. Those who have read my CSI reviews know that my least favorite aspect of those games is how they dumb themselves down to appeal to the massively mainstream audience they will inevitably attract. Law & Order: Justice is Served won’t pass for Riven anytime soon, but it is certainly a step in the right direction. There are far more “puzzle” aspects of this game than the first two in the series put together, including more that one very intelligent combination lock puzzle that really require you to have paid attention to the details of the story (rather than just use trial and error). And hey, there’s even a music puzzle! What more could you want from your Law & Order game?

Having played all three games in the series now, and being a very big fan of the television series myself, I can say without hesitation that this is definitely the strongest and most well-executed story yet in the PC series—and definitely the most faithful to the television show in its structure and accessibility. And despite my general puzzlephobic tendencies, I definitely appreciated the extra intellectual touches, and I think most fans of adventure games and mysteries will as well.

So, the bottom line is that this game is a must-buy for fans of the television show or those who enjoyed the first two entries—but if you don’t fit in those two categories, you still may want to give it some thought if you enjoy a good contemporary murder mystery. Law & Order: Justice is Served ships in October from Legacy Interactive.

 

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