The past few years have played witness to a deluge of CSI games, which
turned out to be moderately entertaining point-and-click affairs. The Law and Order
TV series has inevitably dished up some competition, by commissioning Legacy Interactive to make the accompanying games. Criminal Intent
is the fourth installment, and has the most content so far. I was honestly expecting a cookie-cutter “who done it” clone, but Criminal Intent
holds some pleasant surprises and satisfying murder mystery gameplay.
What really caught my attention were the impressive production values.
Vincent D’Onfrio, the star of the show, is the title playable
character, so his voice and personality are totally authentic. The
gameplay is traditional point-and-click, but the puzzles along the way
add variety and there are two distinct elements that make Law and Order
unique among forensic games.
The first surprise is how you questions witnesses and suspects. Rather
than choosing from a list of scripted questions and responses, you pick
the topic of conversation (the victim’s personal life, job, car etc.)
and then choose how to ask the questions. Depending on the person, you
can approach them with honesty, deception, flattery or even
If you say the wrong thing a red bar fills up, and if you hack off the
suspect too much they’ll stop talking to you. Conversely, asking the
right questions in the proper tone fills a green bar, prompting the
suspect to provide you with crucial information like phone numbers. At
one point I was able to corner a suspect with logic, and they had no
alternative but to confess to the murder. This kind of conversational
dueling is quite satisfying when you handle yourself like a hardened
The game isn’t all talk, thankfully. While you’ll spend plenty of time
grilling witnesses, you’ll do an equal amount of snooping. Gathering
evidence from crime scenes takes a strong eye and keen mind, and some
of the juicier bits are blocked by puzzles. Once you gain enough
evidence, be it documents, personal possessions or photographs, you can
enter all your data into a specialized computer program. This program
builds a profile of the criminal, giving you hints to the personality
and capabilities of the killer. It’s a big help, and keeps you from
running in the infamous logic circle that plagues so many mystery games.
gameplay is a healthy mix of interrogation and investigation, and feels
nicely balanced against the visual style of the game. The perspective
is third person; Detective Goren (played by D’Onfrio) and the NPC’s are
all rendered in-game, while the backgrounds, environments and brief
cutscenes are pre-rendered. Thus, most of the objects and scenes have a
smooth, static appearance, although there was a river location that
displayed impressive water effects.
Most of the game’s sound
is subdued and at times bland, but D’Onfrio does an admirable job
voicing Goren. The detective is suitably deadpan but alters his voice
to appeal to (or threaten) suspects. Goren’s subtle, grim sense of
humor shines through as well, often when he’s commenting to himself
about evidence or suspects. Music is atmospheric and changes according
to location, but repeats a little too much.
The only noticeable flaw in Criminal Intent
is its rather numerous bugs. It tends to skip and stutter at times,
which is perplexing considering how many pre-rendered elements there
are in the game. Also, on more than once occasion, Goren got stuck on a
wall or object in the world, and there was no way to remedy the problem
short of rebooting the game. These problems are not terribly common,
but are enough of an irritation to hamper the overall experience.
Despite these downfalls, however, Law and Order: Criminal Intent
shapes up as a competent crime investigation simulator. Goren gets
three cases to crack as well as final fourth murder, so this one will
keep you playing for at least ten hours. Fans of the show will find a
lot to like here, and casual gumshoes might get a charge out of it too.
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