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Law & Order 4 - Criminal Intent
ESRB: M = Mature 17+ (Blood, mild violence)
A review by slydos 30th December 2005
Part 4 of the Law&Order game series is no longer based on the original series but on the spin off "Criminal Intent". And that is most appreciated. Because with Vincent D'Onofrio as ingenious Detective Bobby Goren, Criminal Intent belongs to the best crime series at present on the German television screen. A rare example that a spin off series exceeds its 'mother' by far. Compared to the Law&Order original series, which deals with teamwork between police and law, and comes along somewhat boring and frumpy after so many years now, Criminal Intent is enthralling and original especially because of the very opinionated actor worth watching. A fundamental change is the omission of the court scenes and D.A. investigations - Criminal Intent is about the police work and particularly about the psychological background of crimes.
The most important changes
Much has happened since Law&Order 3 - Justice is Served. Criminal Intent 'has gone 3rd-person'. And thus more movement and dynamics enter the game, which has been rather contemplative before. We move Detective Bobby Goren of New York's special Major Case Squad through a multitude of locations and scenes. The game was made totally without his colleague Alexandra, who doesn't even appear in the office. Goren is a solo investigator, i.e. we investigate on our own through Goren. Of course the usual colleagues in the different investigation departments and his boss, Captain James Deakins, support him.
Beside the more than 50 interactive NPCs we still meet another quantity of mute extra actors. They are e.g. visitors in a bar, policemen, who secure the scene, hotel guests, office workers and and and ... Each of them attends to his/her business and moves suitably and independently. If however problems with the game performance occur, we can switch off this additional 3D-animations. Then we also don't see any more rotary fans and even the traffic is diked. No colleagues pass behind glass doors on the corridor and the happy wagging dog remains calm and stiff. This switching on and off is a really good idea, because it can be done at any time during the game, as with all other options, and so at least helps to soothe problems with older computers. Likewise at any time during the game one can select one of the three degrees of difficulty (novice, normal, expert) and possibly get more text hints, if one should be stuck.
A further innovation is Goren's PDA, explicit with the brand name NOKIA. Well, if it helps the developers financially, this sponsoring is alright for me, after all it isn't as annoying as the advertising messages in "Cold Case Files". So this tool helps Goren to take notes and use the integrated map as a navigator. It also contains all information about evidence, witnesses, documents and evaluations. Goren can also use it to phone. The PDA can always be visible mini-sized on the screen or instead pops up by right-click. The main menu can also be reached through this device. One can send evidence directly to the laboratory when taking them up, of course this is still possible later at any time.
Also new is Goren's dialogue style and the indication of his interrogation success. If we have squeezed everything out of a witness, then a progressive ring fills with green color and lights up briefly at the end. It can also happen that we upset the interlocutors or let them become silent by an inadequate question style. A red indicator shows that, by filling up the ring after every mistake we make. We can choose Goren's questioning technique from 5 different face icons. Witnesses can be asked 'empathetic' over 'straightforward', 'flattering' and 'deceptive' up to 'confrontational'. Honestly said, it makes additional fun to hear what can be done all wrong and why the interview partners withdraw themselves.The selection is a quite logical method and you can rely well on your feeling. And if it really happens, that the red indicator fills the ring completely, then we must come back later again to continue the interrogation. There are no dead ends (known to me at least).
Still another innovation is the perpetrator's profile by computer program. On his laptop Detective Goren can automatically evaluate the relevance of evidence through the computer system. After gathering sufficient evidence this program also accomplishes an evaluation of suspects. Does not have to be made, it helps however if you want to see, how far you actually have advanced, because the boss does not give detailed reasons, why one cannot get a search warrant etc. and one gets really fundamental, important hints on the type of culprit by laptop.
2 CDROMs are needed for the installation, but you no longer have to leave one of them in the disk drive. The installation works smoothly. Unfortunately there is only a digital manual, so that you must quit the game to look up something. Both, starting and quitting the game, is a very quick act. Sometimes it however happens that one is quickly back-catapulted to Windows. In this case one should have saved the game not too long ago. Saving the game is problem-free too, since there are unlimited save slots available.
On older computers short loading times may occur during scene changes and in some scenes I also noticed movement delays. You can temporarily switch off some additional graphic features in the options menu to bypass these problems. There were many small, but no serious technical problems on my computer. If e.g. my character couldn't be seen any more, restarting the game helped, to make him visible again. It can be only recommended to switch off any background programs, my screenshot program already noticeably influenced the game performance.
When saving and loading games however, it was disturbing to me that the latest savegame always appears at the bottom. And while saving, one cannot overwrite old savegames, but always compiles new ones again and again. After some hours of playing, you've to click through many save game pages already. But the newest savegame is easy to find because it (A) can be found as last one at the very bottom and (B) it can be labelled by the players.
More problems occur when controlling our character. By leftclick Goren should walk to the predetermined point or run there if you doubleclick. But many times Goren got stuck in a scene and couldn't be freed, except you send him to another location using the map function. It was annoying that he frequently was caught in more or less helpless movement loops. This error seemed to multiply, if I had followed special story strands due to the game's non-linearity, which now all waited for the last crucial trigger. Because as soon as the trigger was found, Goren moved fairly normal again in the critical scenes. One even could assume, that a scene was finished for the moment, if Goren got caught in an infinite loop by the first mouse-click when entering.
In this newest Law&Order version interactions are done differently than before. The narrow edge of the cursor, an oval disk, lights up yellow over hotspots. That happens with objects, which can be taken or manipulated and also with interlocutors. Scene exits are marked by arrows. Unfortunately the colour changes are often difficult to identify visually and sometimes not at all. It often happens, that we have to move the mouse over bright surfaces, e.g. documents. One then must move to the edge, to a spot, which lies on top of a dark background, to see whether one can manipulate or take something.
A further innovation is the context menu for hotspots, a semi-circle of 5 action icons: look, use, collect, analyze and talk. In principle an excellent thing. Possible actions appear in normal brightness, the rest is shaded. Unfortunately sometimes the menu doesn't open and one must change Goren's point of view, so that it pops up after a while. A very nice feature here is the analysis tool, which allows you with only one click to simultanously collect evidence and send it to the laboratory, or get witnesses shadowed. The collect icon is actually redundant, except for the few times, when we actually have to use objects as pure tools and would like to spare our colleagues the investigation efforts.
The option menu not only offers to select, whether the PDA can be always seen on screen, it's also possible to position the dialogue windows (now no longer screen-filling) freely somewhere in the scene. Likewise comfortable, that no longer the entire background is covered, as soon as we handle evidence. Unfortunately the PDA is not yet that up-to-date, that it contains the perpetrator profile frorm the laptop too. So we must always get back to the headquarters, where by the way the investigation colleagues can be found. Laboratory and pathology are at different locations, as we know from the past games, and must be visited using the map, where new locations are now flashing.
The new questioning methods by selecting a certain face expression for a certain interrogation style fit the character of our leading actor. For additional details read the paragraph 'dialogues' beneath.
Much was changed regarding controls and handling and I can only say, I like this route of march very much. However there are some few inconsistencies within the complex procedures and the developers could have directly simplified the new functions a bit here and there. Who already played the 3 predecessors, will have no problems with the new style and the new functions, since nearly everything explains from the context. I would however recommend a study of the manual to beginners, since it provides useful information about the fundamental prodedures during investigations. The fact that they abstained from a print version in the North American edition, results in some minus points, because my opinion is, a concrete manual would have been more important than the quite expensive packaging in a flap-cover box, if one has to decide between both for financial reasons.
The graphics are not only changed by the new 3rd-person-style, but overall have improved once again. Main character, NPCs and some other foreground animations are 3D-models on prerendered backgrounds. Especially pleasing is the really large number of different new locations, each containing a whole set of scenes or camera positions - there are well over 200. Be surprised that still complete new ideas of scenes are possible, as for example a switchyard or an accessible humidor in a cigar store. All scenes are designed very detailed. One positively senses the efforts, that were put into it and it really makes fun to explore and examine everything. When we enter a house or apartment, we're not offered only one fixed camera view, as it's common practice in most other similar games. We can look at nearly all rooms from different angles, without actual game-relevant things to examine or observe, as long as the inhabitants allow us to do so. This is very close to Goren's approaches in the TV series, where he examines the knickknackery of suspects during questionings sometimes quite intrusively and commentates it. One can enter rooms just to have a look, e.g. a copying chamber in an office corridor or the toilet in an apartment, even if there is no hotspot at all.
Beyond that I was fascinated by the completely different NPCs, lolling in lounge chairs, chatting or smoking a Havanna. Sometimes we meet a twin brother of another NPC, but that is not really serious in view of the large number of characters. Because for each individual character they conceived the suitable clothes, hair-style or perhaps some glass eye, so that the resemblance is nevertheless not so remarkable. So many details, so many characters, so much action, they must have abandoned something! Yes, unfortunately there's no anti-aliasing - you can't have it all.
By the way we can have an outdoor walk between locations for the first time in the series. The various outside scenes spoil the eye just as well as the interiors and exhibit it all, suitable soundscapes, traffic noises and even clouds-, birds- and water movements. All TVs, are they in apartments, bars or offices, show different, real television material accompanied by original sound. Soundeffects and music can be switched off separately, the remaining soundscape is however only adjusted with an single controller. A hotel lobby sounds like a hotel lobby and a waterside scenery like a waterside scenery. You hear Goren's steps first on capot, then on gravel or parquet floor. Not bad! Even if once steps on stone were mixed up with the gravel noise, you can get over that. All accompanied by the unmistakable, expressive music of Law&Order, which maybe a bit nerving after 3 hours of repetition, but also can be switched off entirely.
The not-speaking NPCs are roaming everywhere and not only isolated. They are joined by a quantity of witnesses, with whom we can communicate. Their movements and facial expressions are appropriate and get completed by the original voices of Goren and his boss, and a good speaker crew for the supporting characters. Our alter ego, Bobby Goren, however did not succeed so striking similar as perhaps desired. There is always only a split of a second, in which a real resemblance is noticeable. Furthermore he still looks too soldierly with a rigid basic attitude, from which her turns too late into pause movements after my fancy. But those are already the finer points. Walking, running and gesturing correspond to the character of the TV series, however could have been as well more exalted.
In the few relatively blurred film scenes, the resemblance of the actors, sometimes also their gesturing, is well captured. But up to perfection another whole piece is still missing. The overall impression of the game graphics are very much pleasing, because of their aliveness and the many varied and original scenes.
When we start the game, the captain presents three cases, which we can handle in arbitrary order. As soon as we've selected a case (each with a short introduction to watch), the intro starts. Afterwards we can begin to examine the scene or the victim, collect evidence and question witnesses. It's always important not only collect but also let analyze all necessary evidence (who got stuck, will have exactly missed that in most of the cases). Witnesses must be heard in the correct way and conclusions must be drawn from that. The point is to find new locations and witnesses and gather as many evidence for search warranties or examinations. Questionings and the arrest of the suspect are initiated automatically after collecting all necessary evidence. No more assigning the correct evidence/witness to an arrest warrant. Thus the investigation became definitely more exciting but also more simple. There is less boring trying out of evidence, but more interesting investigative work and exploration of the locations.
Apart from the questionings based in matter's nature, we find a large number of object/inventory puzzles, sliding puzzles, jig-saw puzzles, anagrams, decoding puzzles and even a crossword puzzle. The puzzles are generally not overwhelming and new, but you're offered much variety and some surprises still turn up. Often scenes or whole areas are simply implemented as beautiful extra without puzzle relevance. They are walkable and examinable of course, or a set of objects are clickable and examinable, but don't carry on with the case. One can change the degree of difficulty at any time during the game and then gets more or less hints through Goren.
Overall the degree of difficulty moves between easy and medium. One must always check back, whether there is new information, perhaps you've missed a new telephone number or a new location in your PDA. You will be able to play a long time without getting stuck, because the game is, within the base cases at least, very nonlinear. Unfortunately there's a serious logic bug in three of the four cases, which I don't want to conceal: If you click on a visible arrow in the upper right corner of the New York map, then all locations appear that belong to the case, even if one hasn't still got any information about their existence. You can also visit them and talk with witnesses. This leads to really strange results and confusion! Maybe, this 'feature' isn't even noticed by the one or other gamer at all immediately, who may only be surprised, when and where they could have get access to the knowledge of an address.
After some short automatic greeting, we must always decide, how to address a witness. Depending upon situation, relationship to other characters and degree of involvement, we must find the right tone, so that the interlocutor becomes or remains willing to talk. This varies from very empathetic and caring up to threatening. We can also lie or try to outsmart our counterpart. If we make many mistakes, or our vis-à-vis is so shrewd that he/she checks out our method, then they will eventually break off the conversation. We can try again later. Useful to the evaluation of the witnesses of course also the background informations, which we get from our colleagues of the monitoring department. As soon as we applied the analyzing tool to a witness, they procure all available material.
Even if the conversations are conducted wrongly, they are worth while hearing/reading (sub-titles can be switched on/off). Experience Goren 'at his best' from slimy-servile over neutral or wily to brute-confrontational. The individual questions and answers are rather brief, if we go wrong, but can become very detailed, if we touch the right nerve. If we go right, our pool of question topics uses to grow: The dialogues are presented in a Syberia-style dialogue window. We thus don't know before, how much we are owed by a certain interlocutor. So sometimes our negative account is already at the limit, what makes this kind of dialogue control still more exciting to the end. The developers set high value on psychological background and stories of all witnesses. I was continously surprised, how much efforts were put in relatively unimportant NPCs, from which you get to know a lot of details from hobbies, family status, career, financial situation up to superficial or profound issues. If we keep one of these rather unimportant characters under surveillance, then we receive meticulous information, where they like to go shopping, how long they needed for the way home with which means of transport and with which friend they spent the night. Respect - that's a lot of stuff describing over 50 characters - but you're free to read or listen to this information or not.
If one has solved all three cases, a fourth case is activated and so the play time is around 20 hours in medium difficulty mode. Players are free to visit locations and witnesses and collect evidence in different order, depending upon case. However a logical error came up (beside the logic bug already described) in one of the three first cases: the parents of a dead woman can be seen at two different locations at the same time: the morgue and at home. If you keep them under surveillance, the file says that they left the morgue for home. Such logic errors not only make no good impression but confuse the players, who should rightly trust in a finally coherent network, to draw their conclusions from.
The cases take place in very different environments, two of them are very complex, you need approx. 6 hours for each to complete, while another case can be solved in 2-3 hours.
The fourth case is connected with the first murders and again increases suspense. I must admit that I hardly could get away from the screen. And I can adjourne myself nowadays very well! But every time, I wanted to satisfy my curiosity at a certain location, Goren interrupts with a cutscene, driving me to different actions, notabene spoilt for choice.
Law&Order - Criminal Intent converts the TV series audiovisually well. Maybe cases in the TV series appear to me still a whiff more intricate and nerve-racking and our hero Goren still a bit more clever and arrogant, than became visible in this adventure game. And of course the game couldn't transport the Sherlock Holmes/Watson constellation, which Goren typifies with his partner Alexandra Eames, as they outsmart and prove the suspects guilty by this method. Nevertheless I really enjoyed the game (as a declared fan of Criminal Intent) and I had the feeling to experience a bodacious story. I appreciated the courage to put so many changes into effect and the predominantly well mastered result. It's indeed more exciting and more interesting than the ealier installments of L&O and exceeds this time even my favourite series CSI. I'm already on the edge for part 5, which is based on another Law&Order spin off series: Special Victim's Unit. Criminal Intent is not only recommendable for fans of the series but all hobby criminologists and will probably find its way next year into German shops. I cross my fingers that Goren will keep his German original dubbing voice, that the bugs will be eliminated and a manual is attached too.
My total rating: 82%
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 2000/XP Pentium III 800 MHz 128 MB RAM 2 GB free space on hard disk 12x CD-ROM-drive 64 MB DirectX-compatible graphic card DirectX 9b or higher Sound card, keyboard, mouse Played on:
- Windows XP
- P IV 1,6 GHz
- 512 MB RAM
- 16x DVD-ROM (Artec WRA-A40)
- nVidia GeForce 2MX400 64 MB graphic card
- Soundcard DirectX-compatible
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