I’m not a standing fan of Law and Order or any of its spinoffs. Its long history and familiar premise has never really clicked with me. In fact, I resorted to Wikipedia research to gain enough insight on the characters and setup to prepare myself for the experience.
That said, the experience itself wasn’t half bad. I feel like I haven’t been giving the franchise enough credit. Telltale’s expertise in modifying series for new audiences continues to shine through its tried-and-true design, though there are cracks in the presentation that seek to undo their progress.
First and foremost, the factor that could make or break a product. The game’s layout is, at first glance, a stripped down version of traditional point ‘n click conventions: options or objects appear on screen, you click to interact with them. It’s nothing revolutionary.
So, Telltale decided to use Law & Order‘s premise to freshen up their approach. For most of the episode, you will follow Detectives Benson and Curtis around as they try to investigate a murder. This will involve one classic point ‘n click moment to gain evidence, and several interviews/interrogations that involves the player choosing what questions to ask, based on several topics laid out in a simple, yet functional menu of sorts.
During the interview, there will be several points where you will have to determine whether the interviewee is being truthful and then back up your claim with past statements that are recorded in a handy notebook in the top left corner of the screen. Details are the key: remember one person’s side remark, and you’ll advance further.
The last 30-40 minutes of the episode (bringing play time to about 3-4 hours) are definitely the most different from genre tropes, as you take the role of attorneys Carmichael and Cutter as they attempt to close the case. This was, admittedly, the more entertaining part, as you can object in a number of ways to people’s claims and can manipulate the jury into siding with you.
The whole system is governed by stars (or jury support), which you earn by successfully confirming or disproving a statement or by finding “red herring” topics strewn throughout the interviews. It’s a good incentive to go back and retry certain interviews if you didn’t get the result you wanted.
Overall, I found the changes and removed features refreshing. This game was focused on one thing: telling an interesting story. It wasn’t saddled with unneeded controls or gameplay mechanics and it profited from being so refined.
Since the focus is storytelling in this endeavor, there has to be something said about a game that provides the perspectives of both detective and prosecutor. It’s a typical murder investigation, filled with the appropriate amounts of intrigue and conspiracy, but it manages to fit the mould set by its peers and its namesake.
The setup is simple: a maid is killed under mysterious circumstances. Connections to a media conglomerate, an anarchist hacker youth, and a Russian businessman lead to some interesting plot twists, some of which are expected, some come out of left field, but all manage to fit into the overarching plot.
There’s also plenty of references to old characters and events, including one that leaves the episode on a bit of a cliffhanger, for long-standing fans of the series. I may not get the references, but I appreciate them: it shows that this series has its own lore, its own universe and history.
Here is where I’m on the fence. On one hand, the simplified nature of the graphics, to the point where backgrounds are flat and character models are simple, does have that familiar “Telltale style” (thanks to the continuing use of their in-house engine) and it does sort of fit with that “refined” angle. However, looking at the glass half-empty, the technical design does not do the franchise justice.
To be honest, it’s a matter of perspective. I found that the character models were a bit hard to interpret during investigations, the locations felt surreal and almost painting-like and there isn’t a whole lot of graphical flair. It wasn’t necessarily horrible, just not outstanding.
Credit has to be given to sound design, though. The familiar Law & Order theme plays during the opening and ending credits, and the voice actors play their roles excellently. I can’t say for certain if the actors from the series voice their in-game counterparts, but regardless the actors involved gave a believable performance.
Taken as a new chapter in the L&O universe, it works well both as fan service and as an introduction to new followers. Its gameplay is the most refined that the experts at Telltale could make it, its voice actors are some of the most impressive I’ve heard and the investigation keeps you guessing.
It’s got rough edges, and it’s probably not winning any beauty contests, but if you’re looking for a truly worthwhile mystery, Telltale has you covered.