Law & Order 1 - Dead on the Money
Release date USA: 09/2002
Release date Germany: 09/2003
Developer: Legacy Interactive
Publisher USA: Vivendi Universal
Publisher Germany: The Adventure Company Europe
Game language tested version: German
USK: 12 years and up
A review by slydos 28th September 2003
Law & Order is a US TV series with the concept, to present crime cases as authentic as possible both in police investigation and afterwards in court. In the USA the series got a large number of TV awards, among them 6 Emmys. As with the likewise highly awarded CSI series, the success story was ported into an adventure game. The US version of the first Law & Order case: "Dead on the Money" has already been published one year ago in the US and found divided reviews.
While they already sally out, to release the 2nd part in the States, German crime-story- and adventurefans could lay their hands on the German located version of the 1st part titled "Mord im Central Park". German localisation means in this case beside German texts on the screen and in the manual, German dubbing too - different from CSI 1.
A park guardian in the New York Central Park finds the corpse of a female jogger, who emerges as top broker. The lady was strangled. Together with Detective Lennie Briscoe, in the series played by Jerry Orbach, you examine the case. May be it's a former lover or a fleeced investor or perhaps nevertheless the 'East Prussian' (in the German version several dialects of the US-version are represented by German dialects) bouncer? They must find the perpetrator within 7 days á 8 hours and gather as much evidence, so that he can be put on trial. In the second part of the game you help D.A. Serena Southerlyn, represented by Elizabeth Roehm in the TV-series, to continue the investigation to finally achieve a verdict of guilty before court.
Course of the game/scoring
The court hearing lasts 3 days. Before and during the breaks you have in each case 2 days time to make your accusation airtight. After the first 7 days, but also after the days of the hearing you can fail (Game Over), if you havn't collected all important and correct evidence and did not ask all witnesses.
It can likewise happen that you reach the finding, but the jurors find the defendant not guilty. To document the quality of your investigations and show how near or far you were from the solution of the case, you get a proportional evaluation after the first 7 days and also later depending upon success. It#S possible, that you get 92% but can't go on with the game, because the case is deprived from you, since the given time is exceeded. The evaluation is only shown ex post, so that you must find out for yourself, what urged the point deduction, e.g. senseless questions or objections during the trial.
Choice of skills
At the beginning of each part one can select 2 from 4 given skills: Questioning, obtaining evidence, teamwork and efficiency. This selection can however be easily misunderstood: here it is not presupposed that one personally possesses this special ability, but exactly the opposite! One selects e.g. "obtaining evidence", then finding evidence is facilitated by change of cursor. If one selects "teamwork", then one gets additional hints e.g. on the telephone or at the board in the police station. With the selection "questioning" a set of irrelevant questions are suppressed from the beginning (they are visible but no longer selectable). Very unclear explained is the ability to act fast. The opposite is the case: if one selects the skill "efficiency", one can let the game actually run more slowly. A pleasant feature, which allows the players, to facilitate certain actions but has no real influence on the story. Who expects to have by the one or other selection more witness questionings or more work with evience, will be disappointed - the course of the game actually remains the same.
Law & Order is mouse-controlled up to the change to the navigation bar at the bottom of the screen by space bar. In 1st-person-perspective we can turn at the scenes 360 degrees and can move upward and down.
Locations are the crime scene, forensic medicine, homes of witnesses, police station, laboratory, court, home of the victim and suspects. You havn't much possibilities to move within the individual scenes - independent moves are rare, and if you can, then it's limited to 2 or 3 clicks on one of the arrows, allowing you to proceed within a scene or enter a new area. If we at the beginning of the game have selected the skill 'evidence', the cursor takes the shape of a magnifying glass, if we can examine objects more closer or talk to someone. In all other cases the cursor remains unchanged, if we drive the mouse over a hotspot.
The navigation bar contains 4 icons: map, case file, cell-phone and main menu. In addition a backward running clock shows the remaining time.
The scrollable map of Manhattan helps to change between locations. Here automatically new places become accessible, depending upon the information we get in writing or conversations.
The case file is not only the home of the inventory with objects and witnesses, but it is the central place to examine evidence or people closer with drag&drop, for example in the laboratory, by observation or expert's survey. Here is likewise the place, where we request a search warrant or a warrant of arrest or can take court action.
The scrollable inventory contains 52 slots. We can only take up items and dialogues to our case file, if we click on the file button at the bottom of the screen. If we should have forgotten, we must hop back again and spend valuable time.
We can also add test results to our inventory, but careful, the inventory fills up very quick and then we must select, which object/person/investigation we finally want to delete. Very annoying, if you need an already deleted object. This restriction of inventory items isn't very authentic - I actually cannot imagine, that one throws away once taken up evidence in reality or already knows at the beginning, which objects are really important and which are not. Don't they have rooms where court exhibits are kept?
If we don't notice during a conversation, that the inventory is full, and want to save the heard, we first must leave the dialogue without saving, delete an object and visit the questioning location again.
In rare cases we can use objects from our case file at the screen, this happens automatically when clicking on the correct object.
The cell phone lights up occasionally, when tests are finished, the boss wants to give some hints or a witness wants to talk with us. One click on it plays all received messages automatically. We cannot make any phone calls ourselves.
The main menu can be reached by a disk icon. Under options the graphics quality can be set. If you don't have a 3D-accelerator-card, it's recommended to reduce the graphics quality, in order to improve the movements in the 360-degrees-view. Besides we can turn on/off music and sound. From the main menu one reaches also the two short on-line turorials for policemen and D.A.s and can load and save games. There are altogether 15 save slots, which can be named by our own text inputs. That is hardly enough, since already the manual recommends to save before each questioning.
As a policeman one must seize pieces of evidence at the scene and other places, ask witnesses and if necessary negotiate a deal with them, in order to get their evidence. Beyond that one must examine evidence and can observe and psychologically test witnesses/suspects. House searches can be requested with founded evidence.
Before one gets involved in the role of the D.A., one should at least browse through the PC information about the American juridical system. If one isn't trained already enough by Perry Mason, one can find here references about irrelevant or suggestive questions and can with this knowledge defy the defence counsel with more or less successful objections or avoid objections of the opposite side by correct questions. You can object, when a raised hand shows up at the bottom of the screen. Quick reaction is needed here, because the hand disappears immediately, when the question is ended.
Even if our law systems differ strongly - it is not understandable, why a murder case must be in court after 7 days. What has that to do with the much-vaunted authenticity? That doesn't reflect so much the qualified detailed work of the investigators and their assistants, but more separates the inexorable time pressure of the design of TV series that are limited to 45 minutes.
In order to make it clear - one will often have to repeat certain sequences to see, how to save time best - and it's not so much about the presentation of your murder case but rather about logistic problems such as "Which location to visit first to get objects, which must be examined as fast as possible?". On the other hand no time passes, when I stay at a scene and take a snooze lasting several hours. One must act very specifically, separate the important from the useless and during examinations ask the correct questions and don't make small talk.
The crucial point in the first part of the game is to find and use a well hidden (by the developers) object. (In reality this object would surely immediately fall into the hands even of the most inattentive investigator.) Before and after that the game plays quite softly, only the artificial time pressure was soul-destroying.
The conversations with the experts, e.g. in the laboratory always run off in the same way: after a short greeting phrase we can select a topic from a list of objects or witnesses, and the specialist tells us something about it. If it is something relevant for the solution of the case, we shouldn't forget to click on the case file, so that the statement is taken up there too. It is not marked in the list, what we already have asked. This can lead to repeated questions and the answers unfortunately can't be skipped. Every detective would make small checkmarks on his to-do-list, or not?
The puzzles are easy. One always knows nearly immediately, what is to be done next. The game's degree of difficulty increases however by the time limit, the bounded inventory and the small number of savegames. One can hardly make mistakes during the questioning of witnesses, since the relevant questions appear again and again and the unimportant questions are noticeable immediately as such (without having selected the ability 'questioning' at the beginning).
Just at the beginning of the game one is confronted with characters, who speak with American accent. But not only that, under them are also speakers who master further accents and mix them also with the German-American - with broad Austrian accent sounding like Billy Wilder, with indefinable acted voice for the role of the Indian/Pakistani attorney or broken German speaking Rastaman. I felt at home with the park attendant/+laboratory employee+defence counsel from the Ruhr area. The speakers must embody a whole lot of characters with changed voice. It becomes particularly confusing, when (later in court) the dubbing voice of our police colleague in addition must likewise act as a dark chracter - it doesn't help, if he tries a mismatching East-Prussian dialect.
Unfortunately the dubbing is often poor at stressing sentences. But since the text translation was rather bad, one can't blame the speakers. Before court the dubbing actors must act superhuman - or let's better say 'our ears' must act superhuman: To reel off the text through in the very much limited time of the film scenes, they simply ran the game faster, so that it is hard to understand in some scenes!
In the US version there are the well-known voices of the original actors - here unfortunately only 3rd quality. Should one be grateful that a German dubbing was done at all? On the one hand - yes, since the quantity of simultaneous text and verbal information would have feasibly been done and also elusive in the form of sub-titles - on the other hand the game works unintentionally amusing and does correspond no longer to the original. The US version is by far better dubbed - but can only be recommended to the small target group, which is able to understand the fast running dialogues with many technical terms.
What could have been done better? Just about everything: first a translation into correct German - "Es gibt Tage, man sollte besser im Bett bleiben!" (There are days you should better stay in bed) Detective Lennie Briscoe says just at beginning and one would like to agree with this sentence, simply taken from the English with the wrong German sentence construction. Further one should have made a program adaption to the German speech and not the other way round. It's almost absurd, if one must listen to the court scenes in fast-forward!
In the US version there were 26 different speakers, in the German according to my estimation only 5! If then a speaker in a dialogue scene must take over interrogator's part as well as the person asked, one can imagine that even a Joerg Knoerr (German well known imitator of celebrities) would despair after some time.
One even cannot ignore the terrible dubbing after some minutes - it simply hurts - the whole time! Just like the large number of grammar mistakes in text and speech.
The graphics both in the cutscenes and in the panorama view are blurred without fine, highly detailed background. On the other hand the very true-to-life and expressive mimic of the leading actors can reconcile a bit. However only great importence is attached to facial expression, while the rest of the body shows no realistic proportions and movements.
The camera work in the film scenes as well as the music and the New York sounds give a bit of an impression of the life, which one misses during the otherwise rigid takes. Here and in the intro with the original music one can smell the pulsating, exciting city.
Primary source of friction in Law & Order: Dead on the Money is the fact that you can't get into the essentials, can't get really involved with the case, but is always detracted by strategic considerations. The murder case and the search for the murderer - thus the actual story - are pushed into the background, the central task becomes to create a strategy to bring your actions into a temporal and capacitive optimal order.
Very bad localization, mediocre graphics help to cruble this basically exciting strong story. A story, in which one doesn't have any knowledge of the culprit, is led on wrong trails and finds the truth piece for piece.
There were various of game crashes, which partly required a system restart. So enthusiasm hardly arises. For nearly 50 Euros you can and should expect more. A complete solution for a simple walkthrough comes with the 2 CDs, but one wishes that this money would have been spent for the game.
Total rating: 40%
Adventure-Archiv rating system:
- 80% - 100% excellent game, very recommendable
- 70% - 79% good game, recommendable
- 60% - 69% satisfactory, restricted recommendable
- 50% - 59% sufficient (not very recommendable)
- 40% - 49% rather deficient (not to be recommended - for hardcore-adventure-freaks and collectors only)
- 0% - 39% worst (don't put your fingers on it)
- Windows 95/98/2000/ME/XP
- PII 400
- 96 MB RAM
- 8 MB video card
- 12x CDROM-drive
- Sound card
- 700 MB on hard drive
- Keyboard and mouse
- Windows XP
- P IV 1,6 GHz
- 512 MB RAM
- 16x DVD-ROM (Artec WRA-A40)
- nVidia GeForce 2MX400 64 MB graphic card
- Sound card DirectX-compatible
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