Law & Order 2: Double or Nothing Review

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Publisher: Legacy Interactive
Developer: Legacy Interactive

Platform: PC
Reviewed on PC
Windows System Requirements: Pentium III 500 MHz, 96 MB RAM, DirectX 7 compatible video card and QuickTime 6

Legacy delivers its second installment of the Law & Order television series brought to interactive life. Like its predecessor and the TV show, Double or Nothing rips its story from the headlines. You'll investigate the murder of a doctor involved in cutting edge biological research – the kind not everyone supports. Partner with Lenny Briscoe to untangle the mystery and arrest the murderer. But your job isn't finished there – after all, in the criminal justice system, the people are represented by two separate but equally important parties. Follow your investigation by teaming up with ADA Serena Sutherlyn to try the case in court against a determined defense attorney. You want the truth? You can't handle the truth!

Rob de los Reyes

Although its game mechanics are thoroughly... oh, let's call it... retro, Law & Order II: Double or Nothing has a few things going for it that are liable to have you enjoying the game almost in spite of yourself. The license to the Law & Order series is a strong draw, but fandom isn't required here. At its core, Double or Nothing earns its bona fides through engaging storytelling, quality voice acting and the novelty of legal investigation and prosecution. If you played the first Law & Order game in spite of its flaws, you're going to appreciate the upgrades Legacy Interactive has made in response to your criticisms. The Law & Order game would have to make major changes to leap to the upper level of adventure game artistry (perhaps by using a true 3D engine), but Double or Nothing delivers where it counts. Keep your expectations in check just as you would for any pulp fiction novel (which you might pick up for a few nights of low-effort entertainment), and you're bound to finish with a grin.

Double or Nothing exploits the Law & Order license in two ways. First, you get three of the television series regulars – S. Epatha Merkerson, Jerry Orbach and Elisabeth Röhm – each of whom voices his or her role with same crisp delivery and sardonic wit that characterize the venerable Law & Order show. It's a shame that Sam Waterston, who plays Jack McCoy on the show, still isn't involved with the game series. But with quality work from the big three plus across-the-board good work from the rest of the large cast, Waterston's absence is more of an "aw, shucks" than a real criticism.

The second (and more substantial) way in which Double or Nothing uses its license is through a two-part story structure. Like the TV show, you'll spend the first half of the game as a police detective investigating a murder. You sweep the crime scene for clues, interview witnesses, tail suspects, and gather the evidence you'll need for search warrants. All this activity culminates in an arrest warrant. Once you've nabbed your bad guy, you hang up the gold shield in favor of a business suit. You'll work as an assistant district attorney organizing your case, questioning witnesses in court, making trial objections, and handling follow-up investigations as necessary. To a certain extent, all adventure games are about "investigation," but the constraints and practices of real-life crime and punishment bring genuine novelty here. Double or Nothing certainly has its contrivances – it's OK to pry open a truck lock but not a file cabinet when you have a warrant? – but, like the Law & Order show, the story and gameplay are well-grounded in actual law and practice.

All that was true for the first Law & Order game, as well. In addition to the obvious graphical upgrades, you'll notice that you spend significantly less time saving and reloading than you did on the first go round. Much of what made the first game difficult and frustrating was the imposition of a time limit on your activities. Traveling to interview witnesses or to visit the crime lab took time off the clock. If you approached your investigation in the wrong order or simply failed to be efficient when using the labs, you could find yourself chewing up the clock to get your answers, then reloading an old game so that you'd have enough clock left to do something with those answers. That clock is gone now. As a result, Double or Nothing is not only significantly easier than its predecessor, but it also does a better job keeping you in the story. That story packs a good number of entertaining twists. Now that you're not constantly chopping up the flow to reload, those twists are easier to follow and appreciate.

The removal of the clock and the addition of a handful of other features (like the ability to redo interviews and pause in court during defense questioning) designed to ease gameplay are not without cost. You're now looking at perhaps ten hours of play, maybe less. It goes without saying that there's no replay value to be had from a whodunit. While it is far, far better to produce a fun, short game in lieu of a game irritatingly lengthened by reloads, it would be better still to produce a fun, longer game.

Perhaps that, along with a greater number and variety of puzzles, will come as the series matures. In light of Legacy's well-executed responses to fan criticisms of the first game when making this one, there's every reason to believe the series can grow in sophistication while remaining accessible to the casual market that is surely part of the target audience. In the meantime, Double or Nothing offers a pleasantly convoluted mystery, solid acting, and puzzles that deliver the kind of pleasant, light challenge you find on an airplane magazine brain-teaser page. Let the guy in the seat next to you slog through Finnegans Wake. You've got a cryptogram to solve.

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This page contains a single entry by Editor published on October 13, 2003 5:35 PM.

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