Miami Law


posted 8/31/2009 by Cyril Lachel
other articles by Cyril Lachel
One Page Platforms: DS
I have a major problem with the way the narrative plays out.  There are elements of the story telling that should take a lot of time and research to resolve, but are explained away in short order.  For example, early in the game you are tasked with confiscating a large quantity of Columbian cocaine.  According to one of the supporting characters, this is a case that he's been trying to crack for years.  Yet Law and his partner are miraculously able to solve the case in mere minutes.  All they needed to do was go to the beach, use a gun, get a small piece of paper and then match it with a special computer.  That's all there is to it?  If that's the case, then either the rest of the police force is brain dead morons or they were purposely not solving the case.  Either way, the idea that this years-old investigation could be solved so easily took me right out of the experience.

What makes all this worse is that these detectives are wildly inconsistent when it comes to how savvy they are at their job.  At one point Law meets up with a woman who claims to be undercover for the DEA.  Instead of quizzing her and making sure she is who she says she is, Law simply accepts her claims and goes on with his business.  Really?  The guy with enough police know-how to take down one of the biggest drug cartels in Miami is willing to just accept who she says she is, even announcing his real name and where he works.  With instincts like that, I have no idea how Law Martin has lived this long.

After spending so much time complaining about the game's ludicrous story, I'm sure there are Nintendo DS owners shouting at their computer monitors that this is just a game.  Usually I would agree, but I can't when it comes to Miami Law.  So much of this game plays out like an interactive novel, which means that in order for it to work the storyline has to be good.  While it definitely starts with a bang, I couldn't help but feel cheated by the story's inconsistent characters and plot holes you can drive a semi truck through.  Instead of feeling like a one of those long-running CBS dramas, Miami Law ends up feeling more like a low-budget direct-to-DVD buddy cop movie starring Lorenzo Lamas.

I would also like to add that the "gameplay over story" argument doesn't hold up when most of your actions involve you pushing the "A" button to advance the dialogue.  When you're not in the middle of a conversation, you're using a row of icons to talk to people, look around the room, move to a new location, call your partner and so on.  Fans of games like Shadowgate and Myst will likely feel at home with this type of interaction, since all you're really doing is looking at a still image and trying to get to the next lengthy conversation.

The good news is that from time to time the story is broken up with a few mini-games.  The good news is that some of the mini-games are a lot of fun and make sense in the context of the police universe.  The game will have you cracking codes, matching items, testing your memorization skills, watching over security cameras and the like.  All of these mini-games (like everything else here) are controlled by the system's touch screen.  For example, at one point you may need to upload a fake criminal record for Law, so what you will have to do is select the right information using your stylus before the time runs out.  In another game you'll have to count security guards, which is about as exciting as it sounds.

When you're not doing mindless busy work with Sara, you're getting into all sorts of trouble with Law.  As you would expect, Law's mini-games are more action oriented.  One game type that Miami Law comes back to repeatedly is the annoying first-person sections.  Like Time Crisis or any other classic light gun game, you will find yourself forced to take down a bunch of bad guys by tapping the screen.  If you need to reload or duck for cover, you can do that by pushing the buttons on the bottom of the screen.  Outside of that you're just looking to avoid their fire and get as many headshots as you can.  This mode is definitely a nice change of pace at first, but I lost interest quickly.

The truth is it didn't take long before I completely lost interest in the whole experience.  While I appreciated that the characters end up changing over the course of the game, I didn't find either of them especially likable.  Most of the bad guys are nothing more than lame stereotypes and try as I might I couldn't get past the glaring problems with the narrative.  This interactive novel sub-genre (if you can even call it that) has proven that it can make for a great game, just look at Snatcher and the criminally ignored Hotel Dusk.  But those games have incredible storylines and puzzles that pulled me in; both of which are missing from Miami Law.  What you're left with is a game full of potential, weighed down by terrible pacing and half-assed mini-games.  Not even Martial Law can talk his way out of this average adventure game.

Miami Law could have been an edge-of-your-seat adventure game, a mash-up of 24 and Hotel Dusk. Unfortunately it takes too long getting to the point and is rarely fun along the way. Worst of all, once you finally solve the cases you're left having to justify enormous plot holes and lame twists. Even the game's most exciting elements are an utter snooze. Miami Law may appeal to fans of schlocky cop dramas, but I didn't find much here worth investigating.

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