Telltale Games has been on a roll lately, licensing all sorts of properties to spin into adventure games, some more successfully than others. The stories are almost always interesting, and despite a few game play issues in their last title I played, I enjoyed it. I have to admit I wasn’t expecting a Law & Order title from them at all, and was pleasantly surprised. I’m going to cover what this one launches with, cases 1 through 3, and as more cases come down the pipeline do another review for those later. So can Telltale Games deliver with a property that’s been active since 1990? Let’s take a look.
Law & Order Legacies deals with seven separate cases. Three of these are available at the start, with more coming in later months. They’ve chosen an interesting mix of characters from the show, including Lennie Briscoe, one of the more famous detectives portrayed by the late Jerry Orbach on the original show, Olivia Benson from the spin-off series Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, Rey Curtis a former partner of Lennie Briscoe, Mike Logan, one of the original Law & Order characters who re-appeared later in a TV movie as well as Law & Order: Criminal Intent, Abbie Carmichael, one of the District Attorneys from later in the show’s run, Adam Schiff, the original head District Attorney from the start of the show before a few rotating DA’s went through and Jack McCoy took over, Jack McCoy of course, and his replacement Michael Cutter, and finally Lt. Anita Van Buren, the long time head of the precinct the original show was based out of. Overall it’s an interesting choice and mix of characters, with several fan favorites from nearly every series (three of the series’ were overlooked: Law & Order LA, Law & Order Trial By Jury even though Briscoe was in Trial By Jury for a short time. and Law & Order UK), and while I would have loved to see Detective Goren and Eames from Criminal Intent as well as Munch and Fin Tutuola from Special Victims Unit, that’s just me playing favorites.
One of the things the show has been more about over the years is the ‘ripped from the headlines’ cases themselves, with a few smatterings of character development among the ensemble casts. This kind of happens within the game, with mentions to old cases and a little play back and forth between the characters, which works fine. There’s a particularly touching moment in the first case where Rey is thinking back to a case he and Lennie worked on and we get a flashback to the two of them working together. In the show Lennie had moved on to a short-lived spin-off, but had passed on, much like the actor. It’s a bittersweet scene, and as a long-time Law & Order fan, it was nice to see. While two of the three cases are more or less current, in that they are considered to be happening now, the middle case that’s available is set in 1999 with Briscoe and Curtis. The first uses Curtis and Benson, and the third focuses on Logan. The written dialogue isn’t bad and flows pretty decently and, more importantly, feels like an episode of the show, only the New York snark is a little lessened, which detracts a little bit from the feel, but not much. Overall, though, the cases storylines are interesting and go along well with the chosen characters. Even the trial end of things is fun to play through and you can affect how well you do with the case there.
Visually, Telltale has gone for an almost cartoon style, but without any outer lines. The characters all look like their show counterparts, and the look gives the game that gritty feel the show had. There are a few issues with some weird facial animations and the ever-present mouth not moving along with the dialogue that seems to be plaguing so many games these past few months. For the most part things play out with a fixed camera focusing on who’s talking. When you investigate a scene, you get to move through it looking for clues. This is really the only time the game feels like a 3D game as opposed to a 2D one, and the crime scenes are usually pretty detailed and make you work for your clues. Other than some of the weird facial animations and the mouth sync issues, I didn’t have any other problems. It’s pretty solid in this area.
Audibly there’s a little bit of a disconnect for me. Not one member of any of the Law & Order TV cast does their own voiceovers in the game. Not one. If you’ve never watched a single episode of Law & Order or its spin-offs that might not be a big deal, but I’d question why you haven’t. Now, obviously, they can’t get Jerry Orbach to come in and do a reading, but it would have been nice to have a few of them here. The voice actors that they did get do a passable job. They don’t go so far as to mimic the actual show’s voices, but still try to make the characters play out like they might on the show itself. Some of the scenes and dialogue come off a little flat, especially the “Ëœred herring’ moments that pop up here and there. More importantly, though, the main theme from the show written by Mark Post is here to start off the game as well as “Ëœthe sound’ that pops up whenever a scene card appears on the screen. You know “Ëœthe sound’. You’re hearing it right now in your head. It’s become iconic and every iteration of the show has used it, and I was glad they didn’t skimp on it or the theme like a few other adventure games based off cop shows have done. I’m looking at you CSI: NY.
Controls in the game are pretty simple. Your mouse is going to be doing the work. You use it to scroll in crime scenes, to circle objects you think are clues, to select menu options, and, well, that’s about it. Like I said, simple. The gameplay features an interesting mix. Like the show, the game is divided into two separate but equally supporting sections, the police who investigate crime, and the district attorneys who prosecute the offenders. The detective portion is a mix of interviewing witnesses and investigating crime scenes. When interviewing, you have a series of options, usually with a red herring question thrown in there that has no real bearing on the case, but you get a cute pop-up telling you that you found the herring. As you ask questions and get deeper into the interview or interrogation, it’ll start asking you if you believe the person you’re talking to. If you answer incorrectly it’s a strike against you. The game keeps track of your conversations, like a detectives notebook, and you can open it to go back and see what people have said to you and verify it before you answer. It will then ask you why you don’t believe or do believe them. You have to get so many of these right per interview or interrogation to continue, but there are plenty of responses to get right if you don’t muck it up too badly. If you completely fail out of a conversation you can replay it over again to get a better score. Investigating the scene puts you into a 3D view where you can move the camera back and forth along a rail-style system. You can’t look just anywhere, but you can zoom in and out a bit and move through the crime scene. To pick out a clue you simply circle it with your mouse. You are only given a few of these, though, so if you get it wrong while you’re investigating you can screw things up even more.
After a few screw-ups I decided I wasn’t cut out to be a detective as I kept forgetting details and didn’t check my notebook first, but I do make a good prosecutor. The trial plays out a bit similarly to the detective section as far as conversations go while you’re doing the examining on the stand. Going after the right questions and the witness for the right reasons wins you points with the jury. When the defendant’s attorney is active you have another system in place: Objections! In almost any Law & Order series, the attorneys representing the defendant’s are almost always over-reaching or trying to pull underhanded tricks, and they’ve put that into this section of the game. After they ask questions, the game asks you if you want to object to something and why you’re objecting. If you’re objecting to something factual you lose points, if you’re objecting but got the reasoning wrong and you should have objected you don’t really gain or lose, and if you object with the right reason you gain more points with the jury. If you’re doing terrible in the case, you can try to plea bargain it out, but you’re going to have issues getting real justice. If you’re slaughtering them in the courtroom you can reach a plea deal with all the cards in your favor, or you could let the jury decide. I thought this whole mechanic was brilliant, and depending on how bad you did investigating and how bad you did in the courtroom it can really end badly for you, or you could salvage it with your prosecution. I was actually more on edge in the courtroom scenes than I was during the detective portion and I loved every minute of it.
You do get scored as you go along, so if you’re not very good, there’s always room for improvement, or if you’d totally blown the case you can go back in and redo it to try and get the “Ëœgood’ ending. This is probably one of the first TellTale Games where I’d go back and replay it expecting to get a different result. In Puzzle Agent 2 you could replay the puzzles, but the other games all had the same result; here you can get varying results as you play, which is great, as it reflects the show. McCoy never won all the cases and the detectives didn’t always manage to find all the evidence.
The notebook can feel a little like cheating, so if you want more of a challenge, you could try going off memory like I did at first, then go back to the notebook when you’ve completely forgotten most of the little details. Being able to redo interviews and interrogations can kind of kill the challenge a bit, but again, that’s more player choice and how easy or hard you want to make the game for yourself. For a fan of the show who doesn’t play games all that much, the difficulty level is perfect. There will be 7 cases in all, and each of the cases played through lasted between an hour and a half to two hours my first time through. They’re offering the season pass for around $20 right now, and it’s an excellent value for what you’re getting here. I’d have gladly paid a little more for some of the actual show’s talent in the voice cast, but for the price it’s pitch perfect.
While I don’t remember every case they’ve ever done on the shows, these don’t feel like rehashes of episodes at all. From the info they have out there the seven cases should all be tied in together in some way as well, which you didn’t get much of in the shows. Sure you had a few crossover cases, maybe some recurring “Ëœvillains’ on a few seasons, but never 7 cases that were all linked somehow. The mixing of the cast hasn’t been done quite like this either. While Benson has popped over for a guest shot before, as well as Briscoe and Logan, they’d almost always been a quick in and out, and never for a whole case. So they’ve mixed things up a bit while still keeping to the show’s feel. The courtroom mechanics are interesting as well and a lot of fun to play through.
When I first started playing the game, I had Law & Order on in the background while my wife was playing her game. By the time I’d gotten to the trial, the show was on pause and my wife was watching over my shoulder to see how it’d play out. Also, the time flew while I was playing the game. It was very easy to get lost in the cases and just play through them. It was a fun and quick diversion and I couldn’t stop playing it. I think the price tag will help this series as well as having so many different members from the various Law & Order shows represented here. Lots of fans will like being able to revisit with Briscoe in a new case and actually getting involved in the cases as well. The game is simple enough that anyone can play it, so its easily accessible that way, but there’s also enough going on that people looking for a bit of a challenge can give themselves one as well. That and it runs smoothly. I didn’t have any issues with the mouse and aside from the weird animations the game was fantastic to play.
Graphics: Very Good
Control and Gameplay: Good
Originality: Above Average
Appeal Factor: Good
FINAL SCORE: GOOD GAME
Short Attention Span Summary
While I have a few nitpicks with not using any of the actual actors from the shows themselves as the voice cast, the unique visuals coupled with an interesting courtroom game mechanic, as well as interviewing beforehand give Law & Order Legacies a definite gritty cop show feel. You do feel like you’ve taken over and are playing through one of the episodes as you go, and each episode is a pretty decent length. If you royally screw up a case or interview you can do those sections over, and the varying ways the actual courtroom scenes play out adds to the tension of trying to get it just right. This is a solid showing from TellTale and if you’re a Law & Order fan, a courtroom or investigative fan or even just an adventure fan, worth a look.