Publisher: Vivendi Universal Games

Publisher 2: Legacy Interactive

Developer: Studios USA

Category: Adventure

Release Dates

Intl - 06/06/2003

N Amer - 09/24/2002

Official Game Website

Law & Order: Dead on the Money Review

After questioning a Central Park employee about a murder victim found in the park, Detective Briscoe muses, "So, a Wall Street hotshot, huh? Wish she'd told me me to put my money under the mattress", in reference to money and his ex-wife, a butt of many of his snide comments. Thus starts the interactive game Law & Order: Dead on the Money, based on the TV police procedural show Law & Order.

Jenny Russ had been a reputable broker at a big firm, but a few weeks prior to her murder she was fired over a questionable IPO stock collapse. According to her lawyer, she was in the process of working out some kind of deal with the Feds, but it had not been finalized yet. It's up to Detective Briscoe to track down all the available evidence and pinpoint a suspect, then Assistant District Attorney Anita Southerlyn takes over the case as it heads to trial. You, of course, are their silent partner.

It's a race against the clock to gather all the relevant information before Lieutenant Van Buren takes the case away. Detective Briscoe has to interview witnesses and search for evidence, then submit them for research, lab testing and surveillance. Each visit to a different location takes minutes off the clock, so choose the order of destinations wisely. The inventory is limited, so care is needed here as well about what evidence to collect, and then keep. Questioning witnesses is a skill, and these people are tricky! Make sure to ask only relevant questions, as once they stop talking, there's no way to start them up again until new evidence is uncovered.

The game is divided into two main parts: Criminal Investigation and Criminal Trial. In the beginning of the game, Detective Briscoe has only a few days to present his case to the Assistant District Attorney, who will then work on getting enough information for a subpoena to take to trial. The actors who portray Van Buren, Southerlyn and Briscoe on TV lend their voices to their animated counterparts, who look amazingly like them. The dialogue and action is faithful to the TV program, which is not surprising, as the storyline was written by a writer from the show. This story is very apropos for today, too, as it deals with money hi-jinks in brokerage houses. Players are immersed in the different aspects of the drama, as they have to choose which questions to ask the witnesses, whether to collect an item for evidence, what tests to run on the evidence and whether to keep the evidence or not.

The interface is simple and easy to learn, especially with the handy course offered in detective and prosecutorial procedures. The game did, however, crash repeatedly on my system, which did exceed the system requirements, but not by much. There are options available at the beginning of the game to make the game easier, as in slowing down the clock, having Van Buren give hints to Briscoe, making the cursor a looking glass for clues and editing the non-essential witness questions. The sound and graphics can also be tweaked. The characters are drawn in 3D, and look very much like people in the faces, although their bodies are rather stiff-appearing. Movement is also jerky and stiff.

I have to say up-front that I'm a fan of Law & Order. I love mystery novels, especially police procedurals, and have always liked Law & Order's method of dramatizing cases. (Yes, I also used to watch Perry Mason and Ironsides years ago.) So, I do have a slight bias. That said, I really enjoyed playing this game, despite some annoying gameplay issues.

The time limit for this game is too short. I consider myself a veteran adventure player, but I had to restart three times because my time was running out, mostly because I spent too much time collecting evidence. The first time through, it's hard to tell what is needed and even when I knew what things were wanted, it somewhat went against the grain not to collect things that I knew actual detectives would grab and bag (collecting any and everything is one of the fun things about playing adventure games.) Another annoying issue is that age-old adventure game problem, "dying". Although the character doesn't die physically, in essence he does because if important questions are missed, there's no going back. Neither can evidence be retrieved if dumped earlier in the game from the inventory due to overcrowding problems, although items can be collected later from crime scenes if left alone and not put in the inventory. The third time I played through, I congratulated myself on reaching the subpoena in the second part of the game, only to realize I was missing a needed piece of evidence because I had dumped it from my inventory!

Despite these frustrations, however, I became engrossed each time I sat down with Law & Order and felt compelled to keep playing. Pretending to be a detective is fun! I was reminded strongly of an old detective game, The Dame was Loaded, a Sam Spade era game that had many of the same features, a phone that rang with messages, a time limit (mercifully, one that was much longer) and a crime that needed to be solved. It's obvious that much care was taken to stick as close as possible to the TV show, and the result is enjoyable. The same humorous comments are present, and also the personalities. I recommend this game to any adventure fan, with a few suggestions: save often, especially before choosing a witness from the map, and don't collect every item from each scene - leave some things behind, you can always go back and get them later. Also, even die-hard fanatics may want to choose the "time" option in the beginning, to help with the timer issue.

Gameplay: 7.5
While the game does keep attention and is engaging, the timer and lack of the ability to back-track from mistakes can frustrate.

Graphics: 7.3 
The characters' faces are drawn beautifully, but the rest of their bodies are stiff and the backgrounds are choppy.

Sound: 7
Average sound, although the distinct sounds from the show are a nice touch.

Difficulty: Medium
This game is average in difficulty, not too easy, but not very hard, either.

Concept: 8 
Patterning a game exactly like a popular show is a good idea, but often it doesn't work as intended; this one does.

Overall: 7.9
A fun detective adventure game, albeit one with a few gameplay problems. The game itself is not terribly long, either, so the longevity may be questionable.

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Look, Ma! I'm a real detective!

Reviewer: Anise Hollingshead

Review Date: 10/06/2002

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