|The new computer game based on television's popular Law & Order program gives PC owners the chance to play both detective and prosecuting attorney in the case of a murdered investment adviser. |
Law & Order: Dead on the Money ($30, Windows) unfolds like an original episode of the hit TV show, with interesting characters, sharp dialogue and some nice twists and turns -- some of which involve insider trading on Wall Street.
Legacy Interactive has created the mystery story and courtroom drama using features typically found in an adventure game, such as video clips, scenes to explore and plenty of personal interaction with the characters.
The "puzzles" involve finding a password to a computer, the combination to a safe, and the right pieces of evidence to get people to spill their guts.
The story opens with the discovery of a woman's body in New York's Central Park. Detective Lennie Briscoe is called to investigate and players assume the role of Briscoe's partner.
The game uses virtual characters, sometimes known as cyberpuppets. But the computer-generated humans have a convincing array of expressions: you can see the perps twitch nervously when Briscoe and his partner ask the right questions.
And there's nothing virtual about the voices. Jerry Orbach, who plays Briscoe on the show, does the voice-over for his character, as do the actors who play Briscoe's supervisor and the assistant district attorney.
The first half of the game focuses on the police investigation. At the murder scene, the player must scour the area, looking for clues to the identity of the victim. You'll need a good computer monitor to see some of the tiny pieces of paper that must be picked up. Items that seem significant must be stored in a case file, where they can be sent to the crime lab or the research department to get more information.
When someone needs to be interviewed, the player selects from three questions -- an aspect of the game that isn't particularly challenging. Many of the questions are obviously not relevant to the investigation, and if you miss the opportunity to ask a key question the first time, the game gives you other chances.
The controls for the game are very easy to use. To send things to the lab, just click on the casebook to open it, find the lab form, drag a picture of the evidence into a box and click "submit." Your cell phone rings when the results are ready. If you need to go somewhere, click on the map icon and select the location -- but be careful because some locales are below the screen and you need to scroll down.
If you identify the perpetrator and include all the key evidence into your arrest warrant, you'll move on to the trial part of the game and assume the role of prosecuting attorney.
You'll also have to do some gumshoe work because the judge has thrown out a key piece of evidence, so you must snoop around for additional information.
At trial time, you select the order in which the prosecution witnesses are presented and the questions to be asked. You can also object to a defense question if it's out of line, although the game gives you only a few seconds to do so -- something that is unlike in a real-life trial.
Players unfamiliar with court procedure can do a little research in the assistant D.A.'s office to find explanations of the different reasons for objecting as well as other rules. Those are important to know. Near the end of the game, the defense tries to exclude a piece of testimony. If you don't select the correct counter-argument (you have a 1 in 3 chance of being right if you simply guess), you lose the case and the bad guy goes free.
Fortunately, you can save the game at any point and try a different path.
Aside from the need to object almost immediately if the defense lawyer asks a bad question, I have a few other objections to the game's design.
You can't dawdle in your investigations. For reasons that are not explained, Law & Order gives you a time limit for finding all the right clues and zeroing in on the suspect. In real life, the statute of limitations for murder is a lot longer than one week.
There are times when the cursor takes on a life of its own, rapidly skimming past the point on the screen where you're trying to click. It's the most maddening element of the game.
Ultimately, with its twists and timing geared to the fast pace of TV drama, Law and Order: Dead on the Money is guilty of simulating a television drama better than a real-life murder mystery. But fans of the show and people who like whodunit games will find that this CD-ROM acquits itself well.