Law & Order II: Double or Nothing

Review by Old Rooster
November 2003

It's deja vu, all over again. There is no greater fan of the Law & Order series, its two spin-offs, and these wonderful games than this Old Rooster. Indeed, I even wondered if another team member should have done this review, in that my bias is so positive going in. So I'll try my best to be objective and even critical, if called for; but be forewarned, I believe this second effort from Legacy is even better than the first and goes right to my special shelf of favorite games!

"I'm Detective Briscoe; My Partner and I Have a Few Questions" —Lennie

Much like the T.V. series, the Law & Order games consist of two parts: (1) working with Lennie (voiced nicely in the game by Jerry Orbach) to collect clues from the crime scene, interview witnesses and those who knew the victim, submit evidence for analysis, engage in searches, and, finally, submit an arrest warrant; then (2) teaming with ADA Serena Southerlyn (acted by Elisabeth Rohm) to try the case, which involves more research, further evidence analysis, and the actual drama of the courtroom, leading to, hopefully, a jury conviction.

For more detailed elaborations of these and other features, which essentially are the same from Game I to Game II, please see my review of the first Law & Order game.

Double or Nothing installs easily, taking a little over 600 MB of hard drive space. Although screen resolution is 640×480, not up to contemporary standards by any means, the resulting images seem very satisfactory. There is an option for "slower machines." The entire game is played with mouse and space key, which brings up the navigation bar. This very effective device includes the following.

  • Video cell phone, which blinks when a new message arrives, such as those from Lt. Van Buren (voiced by S. Epatha Merkerson, from the T.V. show).
  • A map of all locations you need to visit, increasing in number as new suspects and interview needs open up ("travel time" is instantaneous).
  • Case file—your basic investigative organizing tool, and a great one at that! This includes the inventory (storing up to 84 items) and a series of requests you can make regarding items and suspects. These include lab tests, research and surveillance requests, and search and arrest warrants. Subpoena requests are also optional for the trial part of your experience.
  • Case log—this exhaustively complete record lets you review all you've done.

"This Job Ever Make You Feel like a Scavenger?" —Lennie

Double or Nothing uses 360-degree panning of static scenes, which number in the hundreds. Although this may seem limiting to those of us increasingly used to third-person navigation of 3D worlds, I found this implementation appropriate and successful. The "hot cursor" allows you to pick up, examine, sometimes store objects of interest. It also enables conversations, clearly one of the highlights of the game. The scripts are well and professionally written, with acting of a high standard. Dick Wolf, the creator of the T.V. series, once said that he tries to pack much more in the way of content into his one hour show than typically is seen. In other words, there are more interviews and other stops along the way to final arrest and conviction. This theme carries over to the game, where there are a large number of memorable characters, some not very nice. New this year is very effective lip-synching, which, together with other facial expressions and eye contact, gives even more personality to the many folks you'll meet along the way.

When you have an object to be examined in the lab, Paul Kim, the technician, needs a bit of time for the process. This occasionally leads to the realistic event of not getting an immediate response, but having to bide time a bit for the outcome. He'll let you know, on the cell phone, when he's ready!

"This Job Isn't a Popularity Contest; You Gotta Ask the Tough Questions." —Lennie

Working as Lennie's sidekick is a real hoot. He has a lot of observations (some rather off-color compared with the first game) and is there to nudge and sometimes direct you, his rookie partner. At the outset of the game, you are allowed to select two of four skills:

  • Interview skill—witnesses will be more direct and not beat around the bush as much;
  • Teamwork—you'll receive more supervision hints than usual, both as detective and A.D.A.;
  • Case organization—more hints and help in securing search and arrest warrants;
  • Evidence collection—cursor changes to magnifying glass over relevant "hot spots."

Two fine tutorials, one for each game aspect, are also available and highly recommended.

Once the two skill areas are selected, there is no "unselecting" unless you begin a new game. You may, however, choose different areas for the two portions of Double or Nothing—Detective and Prosecutor. Presumably, choosing different skills in different games may offer some replay value, but since you now know the identity of the culprit, that exercise would be of intellectual interest only.

"Somebody Sure Was Pissed Off" —Lennie

I warned you there was some change to more adult language. This may bother a few. However, all other changes in the game, although subtle, are very positive. I find nothing to get "pissed off" about. Indeed, the story/plot is even more intriguing and complex; the game seems larger, with more locations to visit; the script is more "mature;" the save/load time is faster; redoing interviews is now an option; the graphics are improved, as evidenced by the required 16 MB 3D card, compared to 8 MB for Dead on the Money; and the dreaded time clock has been removed.

Some may criticize the linearity of the game. That's a tough one for the developers to handle, I'm sure, and I think they've struck a good balance. Basically, a new location to visit, for example, doesn't open up on the map until you've completed the steps that would logically lead you to want to make that next interview or search. You can't wander off the track too much, although some meandering is possible. I would rather have that approach than a complete open-endedness where extensive backtracking is often required.

"So, Who Wanted Him Dead?" —Lennie

Dead on the Money joins Double or Nothing on my shelf of Top Games. I simply can't understand some of the critical and negative reviews I've seen. Admittedly, as revealed up front, I'm a fan of the series and have become a fan of the games. Both Dead on the Money and Double or Nothing are much better as police procedural games than C.S.I.: Crime Scene Investigation, for example. They remind me of Activision's Spycraft, which is a very good thing. Although linear, there are dead ends and red herrings, along with puzzles, that can lead you to be stuck. Some may find Double or Nothing rather easy, given the skill selections you make (mine were evidence collection and case organization). If really stuck, though, Len Green has developed a fine walkthrough, which can be found here.

With music and actors from the show creating a realistic crime solving and prosecuting atmosphere, coupled with a tight and satisfying script, involving and smooth gameplay, and a very effective interface, I am pleased to award Double or Nothing a Gold Star. What nits there are to pick are minor (graphics some may call dated, sometimes difficult searching, the static screen approach, relative linearity) and do not detract from an excellent production. Legacy Interactive is to be praised for listening and responding to the few criticisms of Dead on the Money and creating for us one of the very best police procedural adventure games. Let's hope these productions become an annual event. If you love the T.V. show and/or have any interest in this kind of detective game, Law & Order: Dead on the Money is a must-purchase. The End

The Verdict

The Lowdown

Developer: Legacy Interactive
Publisher: Legacy Interactive
Release Date: September 2003

Available for: Windows

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System Requirements

Windows 98/200/ME/XP
PIII 500
96 MB RAM
12x CD-ROM drive
16 MB video card
650 MB free hard disk space

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