Law & Order: Dead on the Money

Publisher: Legacy Interactive
Developer: Legacy Interactive
Year: 2002
Platform: Windows; Mac

In the criminal justice system, the people are represented by two, yet equally important, groups: the police who investigate crime, and the district attorneys who prosecute the offenders.  These are their stories.

This premise for a one-hour television show has produced countless episodes, many Emmy awards, and two spin-offs. It was only a matter of time before it was transported to the PC. The flow of each episode is fairly linear (i.e. almost never is there a subplot) and is divided into concise chunks of time with few locations, thus making a port fairly simple, as opposed to, say, L.A. Law.

The game’s easiest goal, and the largest success, is the atmosphere. Three actors from the show (Jerry Orbach, Elisabeth Rohm, and S. Epatha Merkerson) reprise their characters and do a fine job of acting.  Even their 3D rendered selves are done fairly well. Moreover, the plot moves along as though it would on the television, with the lawyers getting involved late in the investigation and ending the game on their turf. Lastly, the music and sound effects, few as they appear, are replicated and interspersed appropriately. There’s no doubt you’re playing Law & Order.

Law & Order: Dead on the Money Windows The trademark transition screen with accompanying trademark orchestra hit, just like in the TV show

However, atmosphere does not a game make. Game design is paramount. Everything else, while important, is ancillary. And game design is where this game suffers the most. For starters, there exists a fairly stringent time limit, and merely looking at a candy bar wrapper can take up to fifteen minutes. While enforcing a time limit surely creates a sense of realism, the player is left restarting the game several times after playing some guess and check with the evidence. Thankfully, there is a patch available on the web to slow down the game’s timer.

Interrogating witnesses is insultingly easy. You are provided several things you can say, and the correct choice is usually obvious. But even if you screw up your interrogation, you are told as such and can simply restore back and try again.

Finally, there exists two maddening puzzles that should not had even be sniffing the minds of the designers. One involves a locked safe, and one involves a computer password. What would the real NYPD do? They would get specialists to crack the codes. But apparently desperate to appeal to prototypical adventure gamers, the powers that be make you figure them out by searching for clues about the owners that may indicate their passwords. Since when do the police worry about locks?

On the flip side, I believe the designers did comparatively an excellent job with the courtroom scenes. It seems that the gaming world has largely stayed clear of the courtroom drama, despite its massive appeal, due to the inherent difficulty in replicating a situation that is intensely driven by conversation with NPC’s (non-playing characters), the hardest thing in the world to program. This game attacks the problem in a unique way that appealed to my tastes.

The conversation aspect becomes much more difficult than it had been for the detectives, with many good questions that the defense attorney will correctly have an objection to, either because they’re leading, assume facts not in evidence, etc. Yes, you can restore your game (any time prior to that witness being called), but the brevity of this section, despite the numerous witnesses called, encourages the player to go all out to see if they can still convince the jury despite any mistakes. The best part comes when the defense attorney is in cross-examination.  He shoots off rapid fire questions and if they are objectionable, you must call out to the judge immediately, just as you would in court. Fairly clear tutorials come with the game to help you sort through the legalese. A concrete understanding of what types of questions are allowed or not allowed is necessary and can be a fun experiment for the player in learning the law.

Law & Order: Dead on the Money Windows Interviewing the person who first reported the body

The game design has its glaring faults, but does hold up enough to allow the player to enjoy the game. As stated before, the atmosphere is wonderful. The wild card here is the plot, which involves insider training, family disputes, a love affair, and a dog. Personally, I did not find it all that interesting, but you may very well feel differently. At least the acting is sufficient enough to carry whatever lapses in story there may be.

If you like the show, and can forgive the two lock-and-key puzzles, you’ll probably enjoy Dead On The Money.

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