With "Law & Order: Dead on the Money," Legacy Interactive has ventured into the rarely explored genre of the mystery game. The game sets players into the world of the television show "Law & Order" and presents them with a murderer to catch and convict. "Extended Play" brings the killer to justice, but is not so sure that it's worth the effort.
True to TV life
The game, like the show, is divided into two parts. The first has you teaming up with Detective Lennie Briscoe (voiced by Jerry Orbach) and hunting the killer of a jogger found dead in Central Park. Once your suspect is apprehended, the game shifts into the courtroom and sets you up in the DA's office alongside Serena Southerlyn (voiced by Elisabeth Rohm) where you'll pursue a murder one conviction.
As a licensed title, the game stays true to the television series. The pacing, plotting, and characters all represent the show's award-winning nature. Fans will appreciate the touches, like the black location screen and the plot twist that always seems to come forty minutes into the episode. The story and writing are both very good, and the game could easily have been in the series.
Crime scenes and interrogations
While the thought of playing a detective and solving a mystery is appealing, true mystery games or detective simulations are a rarity in game libraries. Legacy Interactive has made a valiant effort, but "Law & Order: Dead on the Money" still falls into the same traps as other titles in the genre. Gameplay is divided among searching Quicktime-VR locations, interrogating civilians through conversation trees, and managing the reams of evidence that crops up throughout the case.
The searches and interrogations are where the game (and the genre) is at its weakest. A good detective will spot clues at a crime scene that a normal observer might overlook. However, by making the clues responsive to mouse clicks, searching the crime scene for evidence just becomes an exercise in basic mouse controls. In addition, the way the clues tend to stand out from the backgrounds makes finding them serve no challenge at all.
Conversations and interrogations are also limited by the manner in which they are presented. The player is presented with three questions to choose from, only one of which will produce helpful information. This correct question is usually painfully obvious, with the others seeming like comic relief at times. These conversations are limited to a set number of questions, so that, if you do happen to ask the wrong one, you will most likely not have another chance to ask a better question. It seems New York detectives have better things to do than to get all the information they can out of a witness.
To create challenge and confusion, Legacy Interactive has peppered the game with a slew of useless clues and false leads. Most of the time, all these will do is cause the player to spend an extra five minutes at the crime lab hearing about how the used ketchup packet was nothing more than just trash. The ketchup packet is just thrown away, and the case resumed. The only limited resource in the game is time, and pursuing too many false leads will end the game prematurely. Again, this only means backing up and attempting a different path, creating a difficulty level just above that of breathing.
All evidence collected over the course of the investigation is stored in a case file, which can fill up quickly. The management of evidence is handled well, with the ability to send almost anything in the case file to the crime lab or to research through a simple point-and-drag interface. Suspects can be tailed, and many times research on them will produce some useful information. Once a suspect has been apprehended, this case file gets transferred to the DA's office and becomes accessible in the second half of the game.
In the second half of the game, players are set into the role of an assistant DA prosecuting the case, which is divided between segments in court and more investigation. The investigation is run identically to the first half of the game, but the story introduces new situations and characters. In place of interrogations, players will find the need to coerce reluctant individuals into testifying.
Action in the courtroom has the same conversation-tree approach as the interrogations, but with far more rewarding results. Most of the laws of a courtroom are in effect, and players should be familiar with what types of questions are not allowed. Luckily, the game provides a database that provides all pertinent information and proves to be very useful when objecting to the defense's questions. Prior to each day in court, evidence and witnesses must be arranged, and only those chosen may be presented that day. All of this makes the basis for a very good courtroom simulation, and expansion of the concept could easily become its own game.
Top-notch voice acting
Also strengthening the entire game is the voice acting. In addition to the talent from the "Law & Order" series, a group of professional actors were used. Their abilities make a story so reliant on discussions captivating. Lip-synching is done very well, and the character models are more than adequate. While the game only runs in 640x480 resolution, it never really requires anything more.
After catching and convicting the murderer and receiving a performance grade, there is nothing more to do. "Law & Order: Dead on the Money" is a single-play, seven-hour game in a genre that has never had a great title. This is primarily because the medium does not support the concept very well. Although it's an excellent representation of "Law & Order" in playable form, there just isn't much to play. "Extended Play" gives "Law & Order: Dead on the Money" a 2 out of 5.