New York City, early morning... The morning joggers are already at Central Park. The food stands are open for business; the city is getting ready for another busy day. It has not been long since park worker Charlie Ryan has started his shift. Unfortunately, an unpleasant discovery will disrupt Ryan's morning routine.
Slightly off one of the well-trafficked jogging paths, Ryan discovers a dead body. He immediately alerts his coworkers and the police quickly arrive at the scene. The woman is not carrying any identification. After a quick survey, it is clear that she has been strangled. There are signs indicating she might have tried to run away from the murderer. She was not fast enough however, as the criminal managed to catch up and attacked the victim from behind.
It will be up to you to take the lead on the investigation. Who is the woman that was murdered? Who could be responsible for the crime? Your only clues are the items scattered around the dead body. You will have to sift through the regular park trash and try to find a solid lead. And that is just the beginning...
Thankfully, you will not have to cope with the investigation alone. Seasoned detective Lennie Briscoe will be assisting you as you discover evidence and interview witnesses or suspects. You will also be able to submit your findings for lab analysis or research as you need. Perhaps working with the other officers you will be able to find enough evidence to make an arrest. Then it will be up to the district attorneys to get the criminal convicted...
Legacy Interactive gives adventure gamers a chance to experience the long running and highly popular TV show Law & Order in an interactive way. Following the structure of the show, the game allows players to investigate a murder case as a detective and then participate in a trial as a district attorney. While it does have some problems that hurt the overall experience, Law & Order: Dead on the Money does mostly manage to recreate the essence of the show and delivers a fairly entertaining experience.
Dead on the Money opens with the famous Law & Order theme music from Mike Post. Before you start the actual game, you can take a look at the two tutorials available through the main menu. While they do not go into a great deal of detail about every single aspect of the game, the tutorials will give you an overview of what you will be doing as a detective and a lawyer.
When you start a new game, you will be asked to select two skills. Depending on which version of the game you have, three or four skills might be available to you. In general, the skills are intended to give you various advantages through the course of the investigation. For instance, choosing interview will allow you to eliminate unnecessary questions when you are talking to a witness. It will be easier for you to focus on questions that will provide you important details about the case. If you choose the evidence collection skill, the cursor will turn into a magnifying glass when you bring the mouse over a hotspot. The teamwork skill allows you to receive hints from your supervisor as you carry out the investigation. Finally, if you have the patched version of the game you will have access to the efficiency skill. Since Dead on the Money otherwise imposes a strict time limit on gamers, the efficiency skill is almost indispensable as it considerably slows down the game's clock.
After you choose your detective skills, the game starts as Charlie Ryan discovers the victim's body in Central Park. You arrive at the scene with Lennie Briscoe and immediately start the investigation. Your first task is to survey the site in an attempt to determine the victim's identity. You will be able to add the evidence you find into your case file.
It won't be long before you discover the victim was an investment manager. As you uncover more details about the case, new locations will become accessible. You will be able to interview a number of people that were connected to the victim and look through a series of locations for clues that will eventually lead you to a specific suspect. Dead on the Money may not have a remarkably complex plot, but the game still offers some twists and turns that should keep you guessing as you conduct your investigation. The story gains some depth and becomes more interesting as you delve deeper and get closer to the truth.
Dead on the Money features a simple interface for navigating the game's locations, talking to witnesses, and analyzing the clues you have uncovered. You interact with the game from a first-person perspective. Moving the mouse will allow you to rotate the camera and focus on various objects in the environment. If you can move in an indicated direction, the mouse icon will turn into an arrow. Clicking on hotspots will give you a close-up view. If the item you are examining might be related to the crime, you will be able to put it in your case file.
When you are interviewing another character, questions will be listed on the right side of the screen. You will be able to ask a question with a single click and hear the other character's response. Only three questions will be available at any given time. If you have chosen the interview skill, one of them will disabled, indicating asking the question would not get you any useful information. As you ask the questions, the list will be updated with new entries until you get all the information the other character is able to provide.
Important game functions that allow you to examine clues, travel between locations, or submit lab test requests are all accessible through a list of icons at the bottom of the screen. Before you can use any of these functions, you will have to hit the spacebar to activate the icon list. Choosing the map icon will show you all the available locations on a map of Manhattan. You can travel to any available location with a single click on its name.
The second icon on the list is a briefcase. Clicking on it will let you see all the items you have placed in your case file as important pieces of evidence. If you need more information about a particular piece of evidence or a person, you can use the right side of the case file screen to ask for help. Four tabs are available that give you access to various resources. For instance, evidence can be submitted to the crime lab for testing. They may be able to find fingerprints or other useful information that might help the investigation. You can ask a detective to put one or more suspects under surveillance. Alternatively, you can request a psychological evaluation on various characters or ask the research specialist to dig up information about witnesses or pieces of evidence.
The cell phone icon allows you check your voicemail. When you request lab tests, research, surveillance, or psych evaluations, you will eventually receive voice mail to let you know the results are available. Other characters will also call you periodically with updates on the case or just to share their views. The messages are usually fairly short and listening to them should not take up a significant chunk of your playing time.
The final icon gives you access to the game's main menu. This is where you can save and load your game, set your preferences, or view the game's credits. It is worth noting that Dead on the Money does have a limited number of save slots. However, given the structure and length of the game, the slots available will probably be more than enough for most players.
There are certain elements that set the investigation part of Dead on the Money apart from many other adventure games. First of all, the original version of the game has a very strict time restriction. When you start the game, you have seven eight-hour days to complete your investigation and arrest the murderer. Every action you perform in the game takes time. Minutes will rapidly go by as you examine locations or talk to witnesses trying to understand all the important details. The game's clock runs pretty fast and you can easily run out of time before you uncover all the clues.
While it might add to the excitement of the investigation, playing the game with the time restriction can be rather challenging. Especially the first time you start the game, not knowing which clues you should submit for research and not knowing which questions will get you the most out of each interview, you can use up the available time very easily. The game seems to be deliberately designed so players would have to play through it several times before successfully completing the investigation phase.
Fortunately, if you happen to have the original version of the game, Legacy Interactive was quick to release a patch that resolves the time restriction problem. If you install the patch and choose the efficiency skill, the game's clock will run significantly slower and the time restriction will be effectively eliminated. If you get Dead on the Money as an extra bonus to the third chapter in the series, you will have the patched version and will not need to look for an update online.
One downside of removing the time restriction is that you will lose some of the game's sense of realism. When you submit items for lab tests and research and the game's clock is running at its regular speed, you can see that it takes a noticeable amount of time to get back the results. With the efficiency skill turned on, it will still take a while before you can get the report, but time in the game's world will not have advanced much. This feels especially odd when you ask for surveillance. The detective who conducted the surveillance will give you the report for a full day while clock only indicates a few minutes have passed. Thankfully, while it does feel awkward, this is not a problem that should significantly detract from the experience.
Another distinct aspect of the investigation portion of Dead on the Money is the restriction imposed on the number of items you can carry in your case file. Initially, there might appear to be plenty of slots open for items, but as you start finding additional clues, you might quickly run out of space. You simply do not have enough room to store every single thing you will find. As such, you may need to refrain from picking up items that do not seem very important. You may also have to discard items that you do not think you will need in the later stages of the game. Of course, when you do not know all the facts about the crime and what you might uncover next, it will be difficult decide which items you should discard and which items you should not pick up in the first place. Saving your game before discarding a number of items from your case file might be a good idea just in case you end up needing to present them as evidence during the trial portion.
As you proceed through the case, you have the ability to request search warrants and arrest warrants. If you find a lot of evidence that seems to incriminate one of the suspects, you might want to get a warrant to search their residence. This is done by submitting the suspect's name and the pieces of evidence that give you reason extend your search. If you are able to provide enough evidence to convince the judge, you will be issued a warrant and gain access to a new location.
Similarly, towards the end of the detective segment of the game, you should be ready to have one of the suspects arrested. You will once again be asked to provide the suspect's name and supporting evidence. If what you have is enough to convince the judge, you will arrest a suspect and the game will proceed to the trial phase.
When you move onto the trial segment of the game, you will work with Serena Southerlyn. You will have to come up with a list of people to question during the trial along with pieces of evidence you will want to present to the jury. The trial itself consists of several different stages. After the prosecution's witnesses are questioned by both sides, the defense will call upon additional witnesses. Finally, the prosecution will present the rebuttal witnesses and evidence. Between each stage of the trial, you will have some time to continue your investigation and uncover more clues.
The ultimate outcome of the case will depend on the strength of your evidence as well as your skills during the trial. You will have to make sure you ask the right questions and object to improper questions asked by the defense attorney. If you are not familiar with how a trial should be conducted, the game does offer documentation to help you through the process.
Arguably, the trial is the more entertaining portion of Dead on the Money. You will get to delve deeper into the mystery and gain a better understanding of the murder. You may also feel as though you have a greater influence on the outcome as it will be important for you to ask the right questions and object to the defense attorney from time to time.
The separation of the investigation and trial sections in Dead on the Money is consistent with the format of the show. In addition, fans of the show will undoubtedly notice that the developers have captured the likeness of Law & Order characters for the game. The main characters Lennie Briscoe, Serena Southerlyn, and Lieutenant Anita Van Buren certainly look like the actors who bring them to life on TV. You will also get to hear the voices of the shows cast as you go through the game. Hearing Jerry Orbach, Elisabeth Rohm, or Epatha Merkerson definitely helps the game feel more authentic.
Law & Order: Dead on the Money certainly has its share of problems. The time restriction can get frustrating and managing the case file can become tedious. The game is also relatively short. However, despite its issues, the game still has a lot to offer. The murder case is not extremely complicated, but it is interesting enough to keep you searching for clues and trying to unravel the truth. Finding all the important clues and presenting them effectively during the trial makes for a distinct gaming experience that you will not find in many other titles. If you are a fan of Law & Order or similar legal dramas, Dead on the Money is most certainly worth a look. The game may not be very challenging for seasoned adventurers, but even those with a casual interest in Law & Order and its spin-offs should find something to enjoy in Dead on the Money.