Law & Order: Criminal Intent is an interactive version of the TV show. It’s one step closer to reality but it also illustrates just how different things can be when taken out of their element. by Darwin Chance
March 7, 2006 – Law & Order makes a great show. It would even be better to play detective in real life but things don’t always work out like they do on TV. Just try to get a parking spot in front of a law court complex during the day and you’ll know what I mean. It would also be nice if we could just scan an area with a cursor and have it highlight all of the valuable clues for us as the videogame does.
Law & Order: Criminal Intent is a point-and-click adventure game. You enter into a scene which is filled with potential clues where you wave the cursor around like a metal detector. When it detects a clue it will change color whereupon you have the option to click on the item, investigate it and include it in your inventory if you think it’s important. The clues can be notes with names and numbers on them, bullet casings, potential weapons, blood and other stains, hair samples, carpet fibres and just about anything that would hold a fingerprint. All of these clues will be processed later in the hopes of bringing the perpetrator to justice. The downside to this is that you’re not the one doing the processing. You might as well bring along the coffee and donuts as well Joe boy.
An overview of the gameplay goes something like this: You are assigned to investigate a murder. Upon arrival at the scene you begin to look for clues. During this time you will also interview witnesses and obtain their names and phone numbers should you need to contact them later. More detailed analysis of clues with the help of the Medical Examiner and the Crime Lab will help narrow down your list of suspects which you will be able to call in for interrogation. If you can get them to talk you will further narrow your list down or even get the perp to make a confession. At this point your case is about as airtight as possible and you make your arrest. It may all seem so simple, and in this case it is.
In an effort to keep the player challenged and also to keep the game from appearing too straightforward, there are various obstacles such as puzzles and some mini-games that are thrown in to obstruct justice. We all know that puzzles are part of the point-and-click genre but in this case they don’t always relate to the matter at hand. There is just no good excuse for a tile-sliding puzzle in a murder investigation – unless it’s Batman trying to solve a clue left by the Riddler.
Another bothersome aspect of the game is the travelling to and from the various crime units, labs and law departments to hear their opinions and what they have discovered from the clues. Once you drop off some clues you have to return to find out what the team has learned. You do have a phone but the developers thought it would be better if you visited these places in person – via your avatar. Some players might be disappointed to learn that that the level of interaction is rather shallow. I would have liked to have a hand in examining the clues instead of trying to solve some arbitrary code puzzle.
In one case, a body washes up in the East River. Another case involves a banker that is found bludgeoned to death. A masseuse is the focus of the third case. She’s got some secrets to reveal so don’t rub her the wrong way. The fourth case will be unlocked after you’ve solved the first three, which can be tackled in any order. A cast of characters are involved in all three cases and for the most part it’s not that difficult to identify the culprit, but you still have to go through all of the procedures.
One of the procedures is interrogation. You ask the witness or suspect a series of questions. You can project different emotional states to get more cooperation out of the interviewee. You can be sympathetic, condescending, complimentary or aggressive. If you manage to pick the wrong mood, the witness or suspect will shut up and you won’t get another word out of him or her. There are two circles that appear at the beginning of the interrogation. If you pick the wrong mood the red circle will begin to fill and conversely if you pick the right mood the green circle will fill. If the red circle fills up first the interrogation is over. As the green circle fills, more questions will be presented until you finally fill the meter thus successfully ending the interrogation. Too bad there’s nothing that includes rubber hoses and phone books.
There are three difficulty levels. They vary in the hints that you are given to help solve the puzzles and process the clues. There are some gameplay mechanics that also conspire against you to make the game more challenging but these are largely unintentional. I experienced crashes as well as the disappearance of some of the items in my inventory.
There is also a problem with the animation, clipping, collision detection and slowdown. The animation is terrible. The transition animations of Detective Goran are missing. He moves abruptly from one position to the next, sometimes getting caught in the environment where he relentlessly marches behind a couch or doorway until you can get him in the proper position. He will also get in the way of the cursor when you’re looking for clues. But not only is Detective Goran touchy, he’s ugly. Compared to the environments that are realistic looking, the sprites are aliased, distorted and poorly animated. Goran’s face is recognizable but his head is too small for his body. All of the characters suffer from this phenomenon which is even made more macabre by the animations which makes them look like zombies fighting off the effects of rigor mortis.
The environments do contain a lot of items but a lot of these are incidental things such as furnishings and garbage. There are a lot of seedy areas where you have to search for clues among the trash. Sometimes the shade of the cursor can be difficult to detect in the dim lit areas. The labs and offices are sterile but realistic looking, in sharp contrast to the murder scenes. The music captures the perfect mood especially when investigating a dark location where a crazed murderer could jump out at you at anytime.
The PDA interface is your main link to the game. Here you can store you clues and the list of witnesses. It will also access your phone and the map. It will be confusing to use at first since there are no specific instructions indicating exactly what the PDA does and how to access it. You’ll just have to experiment with it for a few minutes. It’s all in there but it’s really inconvenient to have to guess where everything is.
Obviously there are some oversights with Criminal Intent. Even if all the bugs were fixed it would still not be a very deep and engrossing game. It’s nothing more than an interactive version of the TV show, and possibly even less exciting. At least there are no commercials, but with the long load times, I would have killed for a commercial or two to watch.
By Darwin Chance
CCC Freelance Writer