Law & Order: Criminal Intent Review
By Michael Richter |
Some of our happiest gaming memories come from adventure games. The Secret of Monkey Island, Leisure Suit Larry, King's Quest
ah, those were the days. Those were also the days of broken keyboards when I got frustrated for being stuck, but I digress.
The modern adventure game has tended to get away from the fantasy worlds of Monkey Island, instead trying to be a little more realistic. What better format than an adventure game for the slow, plodding, suspenseful pace of murder mysteries? And with the licenses available, from CSI to Law & Order, adventure games should always give a different kind of adrenaline rush than a first-person shooter.
Notice we said, "should." Law & Order: Criminal Intent, the newest game from the tiny Legacy Interactive, tries darn hard to be a good adventure game. Unfortunately, you'll still be destroying your keyboard out of frustration. Not because of the puzzles, but because of the bugs.
The game from top to bottom is pretty much a give-and-take. For every plus, there is one negative. It cannot be better expressed than through the graphics.
The world itself is nicely created. Art and incidental animations are on par with other adventure games. The environments looked "lived in," such as the graffiti on the wall of a power station, the debris and trash down by the river bank, and the piles of empty pizza boxes in a dingy apartment. Background animations, such as a couple walking guys or the slow wash of the river against the far banks, helps immerse you in the given location you stand in.
These incidentals help confuse you, which in a game like this is a plus. It's usually fairly obvious what you need to click and what you don't (especially since the cursor helps you out, although we'll go over that more in a second). Sometimes when an area is loaded with things, however, you won't be sure what's important and what's not at first. No area seems too overloaded with junk, however.
In stark contrast to the environments are the character sprites. Okay, they're not horrible, and we've seen worse but everyone has large shoulders and small heads, looking like they're wearing football padding under their suits. This is especially true of our star, Robert Goren; he looks like he should be in Pittsburgh trying to get the Steelers to a Super Bowl win, not in New York investigating crimes.
Making it worse are the "jaggies," the jagged lines along the edges of the sprites. They almost scream at you at first, just because the backgrounds are so well done. The textures on the characters' clothes aren't bad, but I guess clothing textures should be pretty easy to produce.
Taking a few more points off the score are the incessant bugs that will haunt your characters. Goren will go through pop animations (cycling from one animation to another without a smooth transition) almost every time you change areas and give him a walk order. There will also be a high number of graphical artifacts in some areas, and Goren will outright disappear in others. It's highly distracting and extremely annoying, very bad for an adventure game that's supposed to be all about immersion and mood.
Like the graphics, the gameplay is a mixed bag. It's generally very good, although the overall method of getting things done is tried and true.
If you've never played an adventure game before, allow us to describe it. Basically, you are in one area, and you look for things to click to manipulate. The cursor changes color to indicate that it's hovering over something that can, indeed, be interacted with. You add items to your inventory this way. For this game, you use the items you collect to figure out who committed a crime and his motives, then you arrest him.
There are three murder cases (plus a bonus one when you clear all three) that you must solve. Along the way there will be puzzles. The puzzles theoretically don't make sense (who moves sliding tiles around to lock and unlock a box?), but it's an adventure game convention that is acceptable. The puzzles themselves are fun, logical, and never entirely inane, so they make for a good distraction from running around and clicking items.
The game even comes with three difficulty levels, and the puzzles are one of two things they actually affect. Easier difficulties will make Goren give more hints on certain puzzles, so the rookie adventure gamer (or those who just plain suck, like me) can figure things out a little quicker. For example, there's this one memorable puzzle involving sliding tiles, and all the tiles seem to have a nonsensical pattern on them. If you're playing on Novice difficulty (the easiest), Goren will say "I wonder what this spells?" If you're playing on Standard, Goren will simply say "What's this?" The simple hint of knowing that it's a word, instead of some random picture, really narrows down the possibilities.
Another semi-puzzle is the interrogation process. Part of detective work, both on the show and in reality, is knowing how to work your witness or suspect to get them to talk. This is neatly simulated in L&OCI: whenever you interrogate anyone, you'll have options on the tone of the question. This ranges from empathetic ("I know it must have been hard for you to discover the body, but ") to confrontational ("Did he scream as you dragged him here?")
Improperly manipulating the conversation will make them shut up, either out of fear or spite. When this happens, you have to exit the area and come back (simulating the passing of time), and try again.
Your progress with your subject is represented by two rings, a green one and a red one. As you choose the wrong mood for the conversation, the red ring fills. As you proceed, the green ring fills and more questions may open. If the red ring gets totally full, the subject will clam up. If the green ring totally fills, you have received all the information that subject will give you.