By: Armaan Khan
Telltale Games has always been a company that takes risks: they were one of the first to embrace the episodic model of game development; they’ve resurrected dead franchises; and they’re willing to experiment with cutting-edge mechanics pioneered by other franchises. Thus Puzzle Agent embraced Professor Layton’s brain teasers in lieu of the adventure genre’s usual “key-in-lock” puzzles, while Jurassic Park emulated Heavy Rain’s quick-time events. With Law and Order Legacies, Telltale has once again attempted something different, this time by combining a simplified version of L.A. Noire’s conversation mechanic with some of Phoenix Wright’s courtroom drama while throwing in some hidden object shenanigans as well. The result is a curious and entertaining game that old-school point-and-click fans will hate, but casual adventurers should definitely check out.
In The Criminal Justice System
As in the television series, each episode of Law and Order Legacies is broken up into two distinct segments: the investigation and the prosecution. During the investigative portion, you’ll question witnesses and occasionally search crime scenes for evidence. The searches aren’t particularly in-depth and play out like a hidden-object game: you’re given a list of seven or eight things to find and you pick them out of a cluttered scene. The questioning, however, is much more in depth and where the real meat of the investigations lie.
For the most part it’s a fairly standard adventure game conversation mechanic. You’re presented with a list of topics to ask about, and you’ll eventually go through them all during the course of the sequence. What’s different is that the game will frequently interrupt you to ask if you believe the suspect, if what he or she said matches the evidence you have or something else along those lines. Answer this yes/no question correctly, you’ll be asked to justify your answer and maybe get a star; answer incorrectly and you’ll get a strike.
It’s possible to fail the investigation segment by accumulating three strikes. If this happens, you’ll have to redo the entire conversation from the beginning, but it’s highly unlikely you’ll ever experience that. As long as you’re paying attention you’ll get everything correct, and even if you’re not, you can always refer to the comprehensive transcript of all the conversations you’ve had with everyone up to that point to find the right answer. In fact, the only times I ever got anything wrong was when I didn’t understand the wording of the question asked.
The People Are Represented By Two Separate Yet Equally Important Groups
Once the investigation is over, the game jump cuts to the trial-in-progress. The conversation system here remains largely the same, but is made much more interesting by three extra mechanics. The first is that you now also have to listen as the defense questions the witnesses and object at appropriate times in order to discredit the testimony they are eliciting. It’s more thought-provoking than the conversation mechanic because you don’t have to justify why you’re objecting. Instead you need to categorise your objection into one of several available options like “badgering,” “leading,” or “argumentative,” which makes it more challenging that the usual interrogation procedure.
The second mechanic is the necessity to avoid certain questions. Unlike the investigative sequences, you can’t just start at the top of the conversation list and work your way down through everything. You actually have to ignore specific lines of questioning that will hurt your case, which is a really nice twist on typical adventure game conversations.
The final mechanic is a scoring system that replaces the strikes of the investigation phase. This scoring system shows which side the jury is leaning toward—prosecution or defense—and will affect how the trial plays out. If the jury is on your side, you can go all the way to a full conviction, but if they’re against you, you’ll have to bargain with the defense to win the case. There’s no right or wrong outcome here. No matter how the case turns out, the episode will be considered complete and you’ll get a cutscene reflecting how well or poorly you did in trial.
The Police Who Investigate Crime
There is no other gameplay in Law and Order Legacies. You won’t get to walk around crime scenes and choose who to talk to. You won’t get to explore the police precinct and talk directly with the medical examiner to get information or vital clues. Instead, you’ll be shuttled into conversation after conversation with no control over the flow of the action. It sounds like a bad thing, but actually lends the game a unique appeal because it focuses attention squarely on the writing and drama, both of which are wonderfully compelling. I actually found myself much more invested in this game than in most traditional adventures, because there were no frustrating moments when I didn’t know what I was supposed to do next.
However, the game does suffer from the same shortcoming as all games based on real-world logic and attention-to-detail: it is very easy. You’ll have to actively work to fail, but it’s not because the game is bad, just that it is logical. That’s a good thing in my book. The engrossing writing and dialogue more than make up for any lack of challenge.
And The District Attorneys Who Prosecute The Offenders
The biggest criticism I have about Law and Order Legacies is that it feels like a lazy port of an iPad application. The 3D models that make up most of the art are low-poly and the interface consists of big, chunky buttons that were clearly intended to be manipulated by chubby index fingers and not lithe mouse cursors. Additionally, the hidden-object sequences require you to draw a circle with your mouse to indicate an item which is a movement well suited to a tablet but awkward with a mouse. Simple little niceties, like being able to scroll a text box with the mouse wheel, are missing when they shouldn’t be.
Another complaint has to do with the presentation itself. As you can see from the shots accompanying this review, most of your time in-game is spent interacting with dialog boxes that take up the majority of the screen. It’s a system that works, but is clearly designed for a low-resolution tablet screen and doesn’t lend itself to an enthralling and immersive experience.
Conclusion – Is It Worth The Money?
Law and Order Legacies is not going to be everyone’s cup of tea. Fortunately there’s a very easy way to tell if it’s worth your money: if you think Gemini Rue is a great example of the adventure genre, then you’re not going to want to spend your money here. Law and Order Legacies is not your traditional adventure game and lacks any of the gameplay that hardcore point-and-clickers want to experience. If, on the other hand you are more casual in your preferences, then this series is definitely worth the twenty dollar asking price. As of the writing of this review, you’ll get three episodes right away, with four more to come over the next few months.
- Time Played – 4 hours (just over one hour per available episode; played the first episode twice)
- Widescreen Support – No
- 5.1 Audio – No
- DRM – Login to Telltale Account Required
- Control Scheme – Mouse
- System Specs – Intel Core2 Quad @ 2.6 GHz, 4GB RAM, Radeon 4800
- Game Acquisition Method – Review Copy
- Availability – Steam, Telltale Games
- Demo – No
- Bugs – None
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