Internet Court review
With its homemade feel and questionable acting, Internet Court feels like “The Room” of video games, but as a huge fan of Tommy Wiseau’s 2003 cult so-bad-it's-good film, I mean that with a lot of affection. For although there's plenty of melodramatic hamming up of lines and mad plot twists in this virtual courtroom FMV game, somehow it only adds to the quirky and often outright hilarious charm. It's Phoenix Wright if the cast were all real people and sitting on Zoom in their pyjamas rather than dressed up in a court of law. And given the completely topsy-turvy year we've had, a little bit of blatantly tongue-in-cheek silliness is alright with me.
This live-action game is split into four chapters, each lasting roughly thirty minutes to an hour. You'll play as one of the serving members of the Internet Court, whether the prosecutor, Super Lawyer 64 (aka the burger-eating “Vick Burger”); the defense lawyer, Don't Stop Defending; or even Judge Doodles, with the final chapter having you swapping between all three. Each chapter sees you working through another important case featuring a “crime” from the worldwide web, such as bad fan fiction or a misleading online advertisement.
Of course, due to it not exactly being an official court of law – it’s really more of a video conference meeting from everyone's homes – everything is a little more lax than your average Ally McBeal episode. Judge Doodles, played by one of the game's developers, appears in his dressing gown and racing car pyjamas, banging his budget gavel on his bed, whilst Super Lawyer 64 presents his cases in a t-shirt with his face on it. It's this strange mix of serious proceedings with extreme nonchalance that becomes the game's comedic force, which is mined to great effect throughout.
Each case sees the judge, defense attorney, prosecutor and any witness and plaintiffs appear on-screen simultaneously, just like you'd see in a video meeting, with the main person speaking showing up in the large screen. Everyone else involved appears in a little box to the side, albeit just their profile picture rather than their live video feed. You mainly watch these characters talk to each other, but at certain points you'll have to interject to propel the case forward. Beneath the main speaker’s image, there are also options to look through a transcript of what's been said already, and through any evidence that's been provided so far in the trial.
With the exception of when you play as the judge – a VR training simulation in which you'll have to choose what you think a judge should say next, and see whether that lines up with what the actual judge in the case did – each case will have you working to point out contradictions in your opposing client's testimony. For example, in the matter of a sudden unfriending, you're given both friends' social network pages to scroll through (appearing as a fake online page you can interact with), and you must click on the pictures or text that you think contradict what has been said in the courtroom. Later on you'll have to do something similar by pointing out grammar mistakes in pieces of text, and even get tested on what different emojis might mean. Whilst this results in a fair bit of scrolling through text or pointing out flaws using different available dialogue options, the absurd storylines keep things feeling fresh.
If you make a mistake and select the wrong bit of text, you'll be given a strike by Judge Doodles, (or by the online Judge training programme when you play as the Judge himself). Get three strikes and you're taken off the case, which will see the chapter end. Thankfully, you're able to simply try again from the moment before you were kicked out, meaning you don't have to play through the entire chapter again to get to where you left off. You can also manually save whenever you want throughout the game and return to that point, so you don't have to finish a complete chapter all in one go.
Throughout the four cases you'll meet some very interesting characters. Along with the regular legal crew there's also a host of defendants, plaintiffs and witnesses to question, most of them played by the developers' friends and family. There's Officer Redpen, a doughnut-chomping member of the Grammar Police; and Mr Okay, an artist who only communicates through printouts of emojis. The amateur acting only adds to the DIY feel of the game, as, without putting it too harshly, it's clear that very few of the extras, if any, have had much dramatic experience before. Whether clearly reading from a script whilst on camera or barely showing any emotion (or sometimes too much), the eager cast members muddle their way through the increasingly zany storylines as best they can.
Somehow, rather than these moments being annoying or downright awful, they work to the game's advantage. I found myself cracking up at some of the scenes purely down to the questionable acting. It's clear everyone is trying their best to get into character and do their part for the game, but without the acting chops to pull it off. And yet their enthusiasm is infectious and ultimately endearing rather than off-putting. The reason it works so well is mainly due to the excellent script, which is just the right amount of mad and whimsical. I can't remember when I last found myself in equal parts baffled (there really are some interesting plot twists!) and in hysterics at a game's storyline and dialogue, but Internet Court had me both guessing and in stitches throughout.
Another reason the game is so funny is its setting. Many of us have had to deal with the farce of sitting through online meetings for work or with family and friends for several months now (thanks coronavirus), and Internet Court observes the comedy within these unbearable situations to great effect. The crisp editing of these sections helps to keep them feeling comical. Plenty of things go wrong for our characters, such as Judge Doodles' camera falling off his laptop several times, and the developers managed to edit these scenes together so naturally that they really do replicate the kinds of Zoom calls we've begrudgingly become familiar with. Amazingly, the game was filmed before the pandemic, but with its on-point observations about how we interact with each other online, you'd never guess that was the case.
There are one or two times when even the homemade charm of Internet Court wears a little thin. Sometimes, for example, the audio is ever-so-slightly distorted, though still perfectly audible. Of course, this may have been intentional to stay true to the fact that the characters are meeting online, and often in video meetings someone doesn't have a very high-quality microphone, but in this aspect at least I'd rather things sounded completely clear. There are subtitles though, which do help. There isn't much in the way of other sound save some quiet elevator-style music that introduces some of the chapters, but there are a few effects, including a robotic “goodbye” used as people quit their video sessions that is sure to raise a chuckle.
It took me about three hours to finish the game, and unlike some FMV adventures there's only one way to finish each chapter. The only replayability here is if you want to go back through and choose the wrong options to unlock extra footage showing your current character fail. All dialogue is skippable once you begin a case, avoiding too much repetition if you do want to play certain parts again. Each finished chapter unlocks some bonus material, the best of which are outtakes from that section. I don't know why more live-action games don't include this kind of extra content, given that they are basically films. Its presence here is just another quirky touch from Internet Court that I loved.
Ultimately, if you're looking for a slick FMV adventure in the style of The Complex or Late Shift, this much more makeshift attempt probably won’t hit the mark. This B-movie-style game is all about cheesy camp theatrics, so if you're simply looking to have a fun time in a courtroom like no other with lots of laughs along the way, you'd be a fool to raise an objection to Internet Court and its delightful eccentricities.
What it may lack in polish, Internet Court more than makes up for in the warmth and wackiness of its writing and off-the-wall premise.
What our readers think of Internet Court
Want to share your own thoughts about this game? Share your personal score, or better yet, leave your own review!