I'll be honest. Three years ago, when Legacy Interactive announced they would be releasing an adventure game based on the Law & Order TV series, I felt like throwing up. Law & Order is sacred to me, and call me a cynic, but I just didn't see the group behind simulation games such as Vet Emergency doing a good job with the franchise. Well, I'll say it right now: I was wrong. For the third year in a row, Legacy has released a new Law & Order game for our enjoyment, and with each release I'm reminded just how wrong I was. Legacy has been as faithful to the L&O franchise as even I, a die-hard fan, could have hoped—and breathed some new life into the adventure genre while they were at it.
The newest Law & Order game, Justice Is Served, starts as an episode of the TV show would, with a conversation between two tennis players ending in a grisly locker room discovery. Elena Kusarova, Ukrainian tennis ace and media sweetheart, lies dead on the floor with a bloody gash on her head and an empty syringe nearby. Was she murdered? Did she commit suicide? Or was her death just an unfortunate accident? It's your job to find out, first by assisting New York's finest with the investigation, then by helping the assistant DA prove the case in court.
If you've played the first two L&O games, you probably already know that Legacy Interactive is a company that listens to its customers. Well, fans must really have been talking lately, because Justice Is Served boasts some major changes in interface, graphics, and gameplay.
One of the biggest changes is to the inventory system. It's now divided into four sections: witnesses, evidence, documents, and reports. This makes the inventory much less unwieldy, although I sometimes found myself in the wrong section when looking for paper items (such as a postcard from the victim's house), which are categorized as documents rather than as evidence. On the plus side, the game won't let you pick up irrelevant items or reports anymore. This takes some of the guesswork out of the investigation, but let's face it, carrying around all those items and never quite knowing if the research would be useful wasn't making the games any more challenging before, just more cluttered. In another change, the folders you use to request reports, warrants, and subpoenas are no longer linked to your inventory. Now you can only access them from your desk, either at the precinct or the DA's office, depending on which section of the game you're in.
For players who have played the previous games, Justice Is Served's new interface has a bit of a learning curve, and unfortunately this game didn't come with a manual like the one that helped me learn the ropes with Dead on the Money. (I wish it had—I love game manuals! Are you listening, Legacy?) Still, once I started getting the hang of the interface, I saw that the new system makes more sense. Something Legacy has not gotten around to fixing, however, is the number of save slots available. For those of us who cut our teeth on the mantra "Save early, save often," eleven slots are just not enough! I overwrote all of my saves three times before I'd reached the end of the game. Good thing I never had to go back more than a few saves to retrace my steps. I have my fingers crossed that this will be fixed in the next Law & Order game.
The story, while longer than in previous games, isn't necessarily better—I actually liked the story in Double or Nothing more—but it's still a solid script with as many twists, turns, and red herrings as you'd expect in an hour of television. Let's remember we're talking about a Law & Order episode here, not a movie. Just like the TV show, this game is not about character development, nor is it really about plot twists. It's about finding out "who done it," then putting together the proof.
To that end, Justice Is Served gives the player many more witnesses to interview than the previous games, as well as the unlimited ability to question them about any items, other witnesses, or reports in inventory. While this certainly extends the game's interactivity, it also creates a problem in that you never know when you're done with a witness (unlike in the last two games, where if you tried to question a witness who had nothing more to say, the witness was not home or refused to talk). When I got stuck in Justice Is Served, it was usually because I didn't know to ask a certain witness about a certain piece of evidence. This open-ended interviewing process made it very difficult to figure out whom or what I'd missed. I'd like to see the next L&O game implement some kind of help system à la Gabriel Knight, so the locations where you have unfinished business flash on the map when you click a button. This would steer the player in the right direction without giving too much away, and those who don't want the extra hand-holding wouldn't have to use it.
For me, one of the most exciting aspects of Justice Is Served is the return of Jerry Orbach as Detective Lennie Briscoe. A bit of history: last spring, NBC announced that after 12 seasons, Orbach would be retiring from his L&O gig, but he would reprise his role in a future project. The series is famous for spawning spin-offs—there are three Law & Order shows on network television right now—so, many fans assumed that Orbach's return would be on television. How satisfying, when Legacy announced soon after that he would be returning to our computer screens! Justice Is Served's Lennie is in rare form, too, cracking jokes during witness interviews and raising a cynical eyebrow to the player with the more suspicious answers. I've been missing him on the new episodes, so seeing him in Justice Is Served is a real treat for me as a longtime L&O fan.Continued on the next page...