In the computer game system, the fans are served by two separate but equal groups: the developers (who latch on to big-name licenses regardless of the viability), and the publishers (who distribute and market the resulting games whatever the quality). Now on "X-Play," these are their stories.
| Law and Order II: Double or Nothing|
Developer: Legacy Interactive
Publisher: Vivendi Universal
ESRB rating: Teen
Rating: 3 out of 5
Pros: Favorite characters are represented; replicates show's structure and rhythm
Cons: No replay value; more of a narrative than a game
[scene] Two Legacy Interactive developers are standing over the corpse of the original "Law and Order" game.
Cue intertitle music: Ba-dum
Developer 1: "Do you think it was the missing interactivity or the complete lack of replay value that did it in?"
Developer 2: "Beats me, but one thing I do know, we have a name brand cash cow here and I'm not about to let it go. Let's sample some DNA and make a clone."
Translating a narrative experience into an interactive game is no easy task, especially when that narrative is as well known as the "Law & Order" franchise. This is Legacy Interactive's second shot at the job, and this outing, while much improved over the first, still suffers from many of the same problems.
"Law & Order II: Double or Nothing" puts players into the dual roles of detective and prosecutor in a classic "Law & Order"-style story. It opens with the discovery of a body and proceeds through the investigation, arrest, trial, and (if played correctly) successful prosecution of the murderer. Like the show, the gameplay is divided between police and the District Attorney's office.
In the detective portion (partnered with Lenny Brisco, dutifully voiced by Jerry Orbach), players must find a suspect and build a case by collecting evidence and interviewing witnesses. Both tasks are accomplished by selecting locations from a map screen. Evidence collection is a first-person perspective pixel hunt in static, 3-D locations while interviews are conducted by selecting questions in a best guess multiple-choice style. Detective skills can be enhanced at the start of the game. They range from visual hints during evidence collection, to providing helpful suggestions when the case is stalled.
The hardest part of the detective segment is creating search and arrest warrants. Although logic may tell you that certain evidence should be enough for a warrant, the game is very picky in requiring just the right combination. The case organization skill can help out here by pointing you in the right direction.
In the similar second half of the game, players build witness and evidence lists for court instead arrest warrants. You do some additional investigation here and can re-select your skill enhancements if you desire.
I'd rather be watching TV
Once you get the hang of the game's mechanics, things become fairly easy. When a witness gives more than a yes or no answer to your question, that's a good indication you are on the right track. This pattern can be used very effectively in the courtroom where you can trust the open-ended questions to be the right ones more often than not. The best part of the game is watching the narrative unfold in a smooth manner, but the game fails when its mechanics interfere with the story.
There's a fair share of misdirection and red herrings during the investigation. Some feel forced, but most make sense or at least form a coherent narrative. The linear structure of the game can be frustrating, however, when your own intuition points in a direction that is not accessible until you've triggered the right plot events by chasing a few wild geese.
The game's animation is good, but anyone familiar with the show will be hard pressed not to notice the eerie animatronic quality of the performances. And is it just us or is Detective Brisco doing a Dick Clark reverse-aging impersonation? He must be 175 years old and doesn't look a day over 80. For a game with so few locations and very little animation beyond the characters, load times can be quite long, especially when interviewing witnesses. Most screens are static with one or two animations running (a spinning fan or blinking co-worker). Sometimes you can even see a box drawn around the animated portion of the background as if it was not properly integrated into the scene.
I'll take double... oh wait, there's nothing
Once you've successfully solved and prosecuted the crime, there's little reason to replay "Law & Order II." There's only one case and no alternate endings. It's a shame since the game sets up so many blind alleys that could easily be reworked into multiple endings with a little more time and effort. "Double or Nothing" is a competent "Law & Order" script and the game hits all the show's normal beats. Aside from the thrill of solving a few puzzles, though, there's little difference between playing "L&O2" and watching NBC on Wednesday night.
"Law & Order II: Double or Nothing" (PC)
Buy this product at Amazon.com