Perhaps one of the most popular series on television, Law & Order is the 2nd longest running drama series in the history of television as noted on the NBC website. After a successful run with the original Law & Order, Dick Wolf created two more additions in Special Victims Unit and Criminal Intent. Although linked together by first name, each series is unique in their approach and have dedicated following of faithful fans. For their fourth game in the popular Law & Order series, Legacy Interactive has decided to change things up and bring us their take on the Law & Order: Criminal Intent television series. Detective Robert Goren of Major Case is well known for his ability to step inside the mind of a criminal and successfully work every angle in order to flush out information and confessions.
Law & Order: Criminal Intent begins with a briefing from Captain Deakins. Apparently it has been pretty busy in the murder department as Goren has three brand new cases ripe for the investigation.
Case 1: Prosecutor Martin Castillo is discovered floating in the East River.
Case 2: Fashion Designer Lisa Stokes supposedly committed suicide in a high class hotel room.
Case 3: Bank Executive James Warren is found beaten to death in his home.
The cases can be played in any order. Upon completion of the first 3 cases, a 4th case will be available which ties the first 3 cases together for a final conclusion.
Playing as Detective Goren, your first initiative will be to scour the crime scenes for evidence possibly left behind by our unknown killers. After examination, evidence can be submitted for analysis. Unlike the previous Law & Order games, you do not have the choice of submitting evidence specifically to the lab, surveillance or research. Therefore, prepare to hear each department frequently tell you another department would have more information on certain items. This includes suspects as well. You may just want some background information and not necessarily want a witness tailed by surveillance. Nevertheless, you will get reports from both departments.
Like the detectives in the previous Law & Order games, Goren also has his trusty PDA to organize evidence, access voicemail, navigate to locations and load/save games. The PDA appears at the top of the game screen and can be accessed at any time by clicking on it. Beware of the green arrow that will appear in the top right hand corner. Clicking on it will cause all locations available in the game to appear on the map regardless of whether or not you have a reason to visit the location yet. Whether this is intended or a just a glitch in the game is unclear. The save game feature leaves a little to be desired. Upon saving, you are automatically given a blank slot to fill. It would have been nice to have the choice of overwriting a saved game. This way you’re not rifling through 40 slots in order to load a game.
The psychiatrist in previous games has been removed for Criminal Intent. The replacement is a Criminal Profiling program accessed on Goren’s desktop. The criminal profiler allows you to input the evidence you’ve collected. The profiler will analyze the evidence and place it in 3 different categories: Criminal Characteristics, Personality and Motives. As you add more evidence correctly, the profile strength will change. Profile strengths can be weak, moderate, strong and very strong. Once you have achieved a profile strength of "very strong", you can submit a suspect who you think matches the profile. If you choose the correct suspect, you will be able to get an arrest warrant from Captain Deakins.
Perhaps the most important aspect of Criminal Intent is the interviewing of suspects. Goren is famous for his interviewing technique. In order to conform more to Goren’s style, the dialog module has been changed for this game. In previous Law & Order games, you would be given 3 to 4 possible questions or statements you could make. Asking the correct question was the key to a higher score at the end of the game. In Criminal Intent, you are give topics to discuss with a witness or suspect. Your job is to determine what psychological approach you will apply to that topic. You have five options: Straight Forward, Sympathetic, Deceptive, Flattering and Confrontational. Each witness or suspect you interview has a tolerance level depicted by a circle that can be completed with either red or green. Asking with the correct approach will get your circle flowing with green and provide more details. Ask with the incorrect approach and red will slowly fill the circle. Ask with the incorrect approach too many times and your suspect/witness will cease to answer you. This can only be corrected by leaving the location long enough to have time pass in the game. You can then return and resume your questioning. So, in essence, there really is no penalty for incorrect choices. A lack of penalty is a good thing as what seems to be the obvious tactic is rarely the correct one.
The puzzles in Law & Order: Criminal Intent are mainly logic and inventory based. It is important to check the options at the main menu. There are 3 difficulty levels to choose from: Novice, Standard and Expert. For some reason, my game came preset at the expert level which I did not realize until well into the game. While this was fine for the majority of puzzles and game play, there are a couple of puzzles that you may want to lower the difficulty level for. One is an extremely intricate flower slider puzzle based on a painting on the victim’s wall. You can reference the painting on the wall, but you will have to exit out of the puzzle to do so. Lowering the difficulty level will provide you with some white borders.
Another memorable puzzle was a tile puzzle in the floor of another victim’s apartment. Clicking on one tile would move other tiles similar to lock picking. At the expert level, this puzzle was darned near impossible. While most of the puzzles are entertaining, some of them seem out of place in this game and perhaps more suited to a classic adventure game. A maze near the end of the game seemed truly unnecessary and only added to make Goren run back and forth repeatedly. An example of one of the easier puzzles is putting a baseball bat (the murder weapon) that has been fractured at one of the crime scenes.
The game boasts over 60 detailed environments. Each 2-D location is wonderfully detailed with a ton of hotspots to explore. As always, you get a glimpse inside the homes of victims and suspects alike. A waterfront crime scene riddled with trash, a 5-star hotel complete with concierge and classy bar, a rather dubious cigar club and a power plant are just some of the locations that can be explored.
The characters could stand some improvement. At times the characters and the environment seemed a bit grainy and pixilated. Vincent D’Onofrio, who plays Detective Goren; and Jamey Sheridan who plays Captain Deakins on television lend their voices to the game for a much more realistic portrayal. While this is appreciated, D’Onofrio’s personality and voice seemed a bit flat in the game and does not fully reflect the brilliance with which he portrays the character on television. But, perhaps this is asking for a bit too much.
While Law & Order: Criminal Intent has all the makings of a great game, an endless amount to bugs and glitches severely affect the game’s performance. There are quite a few to mention. There are considerable delays when activating some hot spots. Sometimes you will have to do it more than once. While exploring some locations, pop-up descriptions of an item in inventory will appear on the screen despite the fact that you have not accessed that item. In some cases, the description would remain in place despite visiting an entirely different location. Also, while examining items in inventory, the descriptions would at times be out of order. Worse still is when Detective Goren gets stuck facing a wall or corner at a location. No amount of mouse clicking will release him from his prison and will only result in weird flailing arms reaching up to the ceiling. You can try going to another location and returning, but this will not always work. The clear fix is to save, exit the game completely, and restart. As frequently as this happened, it became a major annoyance almost to the point of scrapping the game altogether. The game was played on a 3 year old PC and a month old laptop all having the latest and greatest in speed and graphics. The problem occurred on both systems. The game also crashed a few times during game play. This happened one time just by accessing the main menu from within the game. Clearly, something went awry during the testing phase for this to occur. As of this review, there is still no patch available from Legacy Interactive to correct the problems.
While the storyline (perhaps the best to date) and basic premise of the game was intriguing and enjoyable, Law & Order: Criminal Intent was a technical disappointment. The bugs just could not be ignored by this reviewer. If you’re hooked on the Law & Order series of games (as this reviewer is) and just can’t get enough of them, then go ahead and add it to your collection. But be warned, patience is the ultimate virtue when playing this game. It might be better to wait until a patch is released and then buy the game on sale. The hope is still out there that the next game will be home run instead of a foul ball.