Release Date: January 24, 2012
Platform: PC, Mac, iPad, iPhone (reviewed on PC)
Rated: No Rating
Is it heretical for me to suggest that the explosion in the popularity of casual games in recent years has been a boon to the adventure genre? Well, if it is, then tie me to the stake, friends, because I just said it.
Because games are so driven by technology, all genres evolve rapidly. The astonishing rise of casual and social-network gaming has taken the industry by surprise. I was haughty and resistant to the trend at first, until I had my "aha!" moment: This new market has given game creators the opportunity to reinvent the adventure game.
Telltale Games has been on quite a roll recently with their successful and high-quality library of episodic adventures, and this effort continues with their latest franchise, Law & Order: Legacies.
Before I continue, in the interest of full disclosure, I should remind you that I was on the creative team for two previousLaw & Order games: 2004's Law & Order: Justice is Served and 2005's Law & Order: Criminal Intent. So there.
Anyway, a big thing I like about casual adventures is that the people who create them have to figure out how to deliver the adventure experience in a very compact package. They have to ask themselves: How do we strip away everything but the fun?
Once again, Telltale has found a way to do that. These Law & Order episodes are lean and mean, and yet still deliver what feels like an authentic L&O experience.
Episode 1: Revenge starts just like an episode of the television series, with the now-legendary title screen and narration, and then the discovery of the murder victim.
This time the murder victim is a hotel maid. A colleague discovers her body in a linen closet and the detectives swoop in.
The game consists of three basic elements: Searching a crime scene for clues, interviewing witnesses, and navigating through the trial.
The crime scene investigation is, no big surprise, a much more limited affair than in earlier L&O games. You have a little bit of information to go on, so you have an idea of what things you are looking for. The interface is clean and effective.
Interviewing witnesses is actually quite fun, because you get to attempt to be the canniest detective you can possibly be; knowing when a witness is lying or telling the truth (and why!) is the key to getting a good score. You can get extra points for rooting out red herrings.
In the trial phase, you have to carefully interview your witnesses, and then know when and how to object when the defense is running the show.
Throughout all of these steps, the game is quite generous in giving you feedback on your performance, as well as inviting you to try again when you think you can get a better score after a particular sequence is done.
Production-wise, the game is modest, which is not surprising. The character models look reasonably like the characters in the show, but aren't of superior quality. The detectives in the first case are Rey Curtis and, in a nice surprise, SVU's Olivia Benson. (They don't really get my girlfriend Mariska Hargitay's nose right.)
Episode 2: Home to Roost is a bit more straightforward than Episode 1. A young husband is found bleeding to death outside his apartment, covered in... bird blood? Yep, that's the mystery to be solved as you delve into the victim's secret activities.
As in the first episode, you interview witnesses and suspects, comb over suspicious places for clues, and then navigate through the subsequent trial.
Episode 3: Killer Smart
Classic L&O setup: A dead hooker is found in an alley. Once again, detectives Curtis and Benson to the rescue. But this time they get a bit of help from Detective Mike Logan. What at first appears to be a routine run-in with a violent John turns into a sordid tale of privilege and violence.
The writing was a tad sloppy in the third episode, as the game keeps referring to a person from Pakistan as being "of Arab descent." Even worse, the character himself says he's from "Southeast Asia." He needs to look at a globe. Pakistan is South Asia, not Southeast Asia. Anyway, by the third episode the player should be in the swing of the formula: interview witnesses and suspects, investigate a crime area, then on to trial.
At first I was concerned by how short the episodes are. Even with repeating sequences to improve my score, I finished each one in less than two hours. So I went to the Telltale website to check out pricing and was pleased to see that it costs $19.95 for a "season pass", meaning all seven episodes. (Episodes 1-3 are available now; the next ones are coming soon). To me, at least, that price seemed reasonable.
Law & Order: Legacies is such a stripped-down iteration of the classic adventure game that it might be a bit toominimalistic for some seasoned players. There's no map to navigate, there's very little exploration, and the experience is quite short. It could be described as merely an interactive version of the television show.
I enjoyed Episodes 1-3 very much. But just as reviewer bias could make a review skew more negative than it should, reviewer bias can make a reviewer skew more positive than some people might think it should. I like the Law & Ordermodel; I like casual adventures.
These are not hardcore, classic adventure games. These are pleasant, very minimalistic, interactive pastiches of a classic television series. If that sounds fun to you, you'll enjoy Law & Order: Legacies. Those interested only in meatier games should probably pass.
I judge every game by one overriding consideration: Is it fun? And for me at least, the answer is yes. I thought the writing was solid and the stories compelling. I'm looking forward to the next four episodes.
Oh, and one more thing. Tell Tale has promised that all seven episodes will be connected by an over-arching story, which is another thing I find appealing.
It's a casual game. It'll run on your PC just fine.
If you liked Law & Order: Legacies
...play, oh, I don't know, how about Law & Order: Justice is Served and Law & Order: Criminal Intent?
...see ...duh, do I have to say it?
...read anything by Michael Connelly.