I'll make the introduction as short as possible – if you've never heard of the TV series Law and Order, chances are you were living under some large rock for a long while or were born about five minutes ago. The famous police-court drama series has been around for a while (currently in its 14th season on NBC, I believe), and has quite a few fans. The move into video games was inevitable, and the first Law and Order game: Dead on the Money
was released last fall. Law and Order 2: Double or Nothing is the next installment in the series – it follows the original formula and even refines it a bit.
For those unfamiliar with the previous game, Law & Order 2 is sort of a Police Quest mixed together with a bit of court drama. The game starts when you, as Lennie Briscoe, are called to investigate a homicide. A man was shot while sitting in his car in front of a hotel, no eyewitnesses, and a large sum of money was left untouched in the car... And now it's obviously up to you to solve the case. As the first part of the game goes by, you're looking for clues in a Myst-like environment, collecting every shred of evidence and interviewing the witnesses and the people the deceased knew.
The controls, just like in Myst, are very simple: point and click with the mouse to activate an item or talk to someone. For the most part the gameplay has still remained the same as in Law & Order 1, but Legacy has actually listened to the fans and decided to remove a time limit on the investigation, and now after you've interrogated a witness and think you still didn't ask the right questions, you can restart the interrogation without having to load the last saved game. While this has definitely benefited the game and removed some of the frustration associated with playing the first one, some might argue that the game became far too easy and simplistic now.
At the beginning of the game you have to choose between different skills, which will aid your investigation according to the skill that you've chosen. For example, if you've chosen the "Interview" skill, the game will omit some of the questions that you shouldn't spend your time on with people you interrogate, while selecting the "Teamwork" skill will allow Lt. Van Burren to help you with your case in the form of cell phone messages or clues on the chalkboard if you're stuck, and so on. You may choose two out of four different skills, and while the differences in gameplay are rather minor, this can easily give you motivation to replay the game with other skills selected and see what the actual difference will be.
Movement in the Detective mode of the game is done via a map of the city where you click on a location you wish to go to, while you get new messages from co-workers in the form of SMS messages on your mobile phone. And as you'll collect more evidence and clues, your co-workers along with you will become the driving force of the investigation – the folks at the records department, surveillance, research lab and medical examiner's office will be an integral part of the investigation, and you'll have to use their skills wisely.
The plot of the game is very well written, and should satisfy even the most hardcore fans of the series. While the game is linear in the sense that you have
to talk to the right people, ask the right questions and collect the right evidence in order to progress, the story itself has quite a few twists, and will keep it all rather entertaining and believable. Even the characters you'll encounter in the game are psychologically well designed, and will behave like most people would in their place. This is definitely one of the strong points of the game.
After you've found the killer in Detective mode, it's up to the prosecutor to convict him. Therefore the second part of the game occupies itself exclusively with the courtroom drama happening around the case. Here you'll play as Serena Southerlyn, and will face a rather tough defense attorney in your bid to convict the defendant. This part is actually more interesting than the rather routine quest that the first part of the game represents – you'll have to cross examine witnesses, object whenever the defense attorney is wrong in his sayings, and generally give them hell. Thankfully this part of the game was simplified too in comparison to the first installment, so you no longer need to be a law student in order to win the case.
Probably the biggest shortfall of the game are the graphics – just like the first part they're still in 640x480, using pre-rendered models for characters. While there's nothing particularly wrong with them, and they've been improved since the first installment, there's nothing particularly right with them either. The textures still look bland, the characters could've looked more life-like and generally speaking the game would need a new engine to look up-to-date. But on the upside lip-sync works much better now and a higher number of polygons was put into models.
The sound is overall well done, with quiet unintrusive music playing in the background, and all the background sounds one might expect in various places you'll visit are there. But the voice acting is where this game really shines – voiced by professionals, it is certainly most pleasing to the ear, just as if you were watching Law and Order on the TV. The only thing that bothered me is that there is some bug that sometimes causes the characters to "skip" the line they were saying, but thankfully it doesn't happen all too often, and the sub-titles help when it does.
Ultimately, Law and Order 2 slightly exceeds its predecessor, mostly due to simplified gameplay. The storyline and voice acting make this a must have for every self-respecting Law and Order fan, while the gameplay should appeal to the casual gamer, although I'm not so sure about all the other people, mostly since the quest / adventure element of the game is so simplified that most "hardcore" adventure gamers will find it to be too easy of a challenge for them. Nevertheless, Law & Order 2: Double or Nothing is a fun little game that will probably be made even better in the next installment... Let's just hope they'll use a better looking engine for that.