Law & Order: Legacies review

The Good:
  • Dream cast of L&O stars
  • Intriguing stories with lots of twists
  • Multiple endings are significantly different
  • Clever use of challenge/reward system in court
The Bad:
  • No original voice actors
  • Graphics aren’t cartoony enough to hide weaknesses
  • Audio glitches
  • Super-streamlined gameplay gets repetitive
  • Cases are very short
Law & Order: Legacies
Law & Order: Legacies
The Good:
  • Dream cast of L&O stars
  • Intriguing stories with lots of twists
  • Multiple endings are significantly different
  • Clever use of challenge/reward system in court
The Bad:
  • No original voice actors
  • Graphics aren’t cartoony enough to hide weaknesses
  • Audio glitches
  • Super-streamlined gameplay gets repetitive
  • Cases are very short
Our Verdict: Though it can be simple fun in short bursts, Legacies offers a highly scaled-back version of the familiar cops-and-lawyers formula that doesn’t do the intriguing storylines full justice.
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Note: This review was originally published after the first three episodes were released. It has since been updated to reflect the full seven-episode season. The final score has not changed.

 

In the adventure community, the people are represented by two separate yet equally important groups: the developers, who create interactive experiences; and the gamers, who play and review them. These are their stories.

If that opening statement sounds familiar to you (albeit slightly paraphrased), then you are the target market for Law & Order: Legacies. For anyone suffering withdrawal from their weekly fix of crimes “ripped from the headlines” since the 2010 cancellation of the television series after its phenomenal two-decade run, fear not, as the franchise not only returns here in interactive form, but it comes with a dream team of L&O stars over the years. The heavily streamlined nature of the dialogue-based gameplay isn’t quite so dreamy, but for a series that’s always been more about in-depth stories and emotional drama than actual sleuthing, a simplified gameplay approach isn’t entirely inappropriate, and does provide a reasonable amount of suspenseful entertainment.

Legacies isn't the first Law & Order adventure to be released, though the last appeared back in 2005 (or 2004, if you pretend the ill-fated Criminal Intent doesn’t exist). The lengthy wait is probably a good thing, as there have been quite a number of changes since then, with Telltale Games taking over the reins from Legacy Interactive this time around. The basic format is the same: the first half of each episode consists of two or more detectives investigating crime scenes and interviewing suspects and witnesses, while the second half switches to the courtroom as prosecutors try to maneuver through the many legal machinations required to secure a successful verdict. What’s different is… well, pretty much everything. Gone are the inventory, information folders, warrant requests, open-ended interview options, logic puzzles, and overall player control of any kind. Even manual save slots have been removed!

So what’s left? Well, dialogue. Lots and lots of dialogue. About 90% of each case is spent in conversation of one kind or another. Of course, here it’s been turned into an interactive event that requires careful observation and regular input from players. During the detective segments, this comes in the form of quiz-type questions that challenge the validity of each statement you’ve just heard. There’s no L.A. Noire-like “tell” if a person is lying, so it’s more like Phoenix Wright in that way, as you’ll have to either know the truth or guess. You can refer back to a transcript of the conversations so far in each case before submitting an answer, but doing so is rather tedious, and even wrong answers will advance the conversation anyway. Wrongly bluff your way through too many topics, however, and you’ll be forced to start the sequence again. Even this isn’t a huge setback, mind you, as conversations can be right-clicked through to quickly speed back to where you were.

When correct, you’re then presented with a multiple choice test of facts to support your claim. Many of these are pretty straightforward, but as often happens with multiple choice tests, a few have more than one option that seem reasonable, requiring a bit too much interpretation to know for sure. There’s neither a second chance nor explanation of why your answer is wrong (in order to preserve the “replay” value), so you’ll just have to take your big, fat "X" for your troubles and carry on. Each right answer earns you a star and/or a repetitive pat-on-the-back splash screen as a reward, and it’s even possible to exceed the target number of stars per conversation. You’re also commended for identifying “red herrings”, which are topics that yield no actual value to the investigation. This is both arbitrary and silly, as it’s completely out of character to start asking about cell phone reception in an official investigation. Earning stars accomplishes nothing more than bragging rights, anyway, and if you’re not happy with your score you can replay the entire sequence right away.

The dialogue “puzzles” work far better during the courtroom portion. There are still some quiz scenarios, but you’re also required to object to opposing counsel’s tactics. In the first three episodes, a pop-up tutorial instructs you with layman’s term legal definitions of such things as hearsay, badgering, and leading when they first appear, and it’s up to you to identify the correct option from a list when they occur. There is rarely much doubt about which objection (if any) to register, so this doesn't have quite the impact it might have, but the later episodes scale back the hand-holding by eliminating the tutorials, so you'd better remember the terminology for future use. The reward system also feels far more organic in court, as instead of stars you either sway the jury positively or negatively toward your case, as evidenced by an on-screen “scales of justice” gauge.

Jury confidence not only affects the final result, it impacts your plea bargaining sessions as well. It doesn't happen in every case, but at various points during a trial the defense attorney may try to lowball you with a ridiculous request, giving you a chance to counter. Depending on your jury gauge, your proposal will be either accepted or rejected. Or if you’re truly confident in your case, you can scrap the plea altogether and go for the full conviction in court. These issues aren’t merely cosmetic, as the endings can be quite different depending on your choices – and aptitude, though you really need to be trying hard to lose a case altogether. I was surprised to see a whole new endgame scenario play out when I revisited one of the cases with a different approach. Kudos to the developers for putting this much effort into multiple outcomes. Unfortunately, since the game only auto-saves, there’s no way to record your progress right at the critical points, forcing you to restart the entire case from the beginning if you want to check them out. At the very least there should be a permanent mid-point save at the beginning of the trial.

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