Law & Order: Criminal Intent is the fourth Law & Order game from developer Legacy Interactive, but it’s the first game to be based on the “Law & Order: Criminal Intent” television series. In the game, you control Detective Bobby Goren as he attempts to solve four murder cases. The first three cases, which involve murders to a masseuse, a prosecutor, and a banker, can be solved in any order, and you can even switch between them at any time. Then, after you’ve solved the first three cases, you’re allowed to tackle the fourth case, which ties everything together.
If you’ve played any of the first three Law & Order games, then you can already tell that Legacy Interactive made quite a few changes to the game engine. Some of those changes are minor. For example, instead of working with Lennie Briscoe or Ed Green, you now control Bobby Goren. And instead of viewing the world from a first-person perspective, you now use a third-person perspective. But some of the changes in the game are major. For example, in keeping with the “Criminal Intent” series, there is no longer a prosecutorial segment to the game; you just investigate the case and then make an arrest. And instead of solving one long 10-15 hour case, you split your time between four 4-5 hour cases.
Oddly, despite all of the changes that Legacy Interactive made, most of the game still plays about the same. You still pixel hunt your way through crime scenes looking for clues, you still send those clues off to be analyzed and/or researched, you still interrogate witnesses, and you still solve the occasional puzzle. Most of the puzzles are pretty basic -- one is, in fact, a crossword puzzle -- and so you don’t need to be an adventure game aficionado to make your way through Criminal Intent.
The problem is, you don’t have to be much of anything -- except perhaps a fan of the show -- to make your way through Criminal Intent. There isn’t any way to lose, the game doesn’t calculate a score for you, and you don’t have to do a whole lot to solve the cases. That is, Criminal Intent, like the other Law & Order games (and even their cousins, the CSI games), isn’t much of a game. It’s more an interactive version of the television series.
That’s a fine thing to me. I like the show, and so I could imagine having fun playing my way through a couple episodes. Where Criminal Intent goes awry is that the cases are severely padded (one might say they got the Kirstie Alley treatment). There are extraneous locations, extraneous witnesses, and gathering information is like pulling teeth. It’s good to provide a few red herrings, but Legacy Interactive went way overboard, and the cases just drag on and on. To put this in perspective, I’d say the cases in Criminal Intent are about the same as the ones you’d see on the television series... but would you really want to watch a five-hour episode of “Criminal Intent”? No, there’s a reason why the humdrum parts of an investigation get summarized or ignored.
Criminal Intent has a second major problem, and this one surprised me. The game engine is extremely sloppy. Tooltips appear but then never go away, the background music often drowns out the dialogue, scene transitions are slow, the game takes about five seconds to respond to commands, the pathfinding is horrendous, there are frequent crashes, and more. None of these issues are major, and they could all be solved with a really good patch, but right now they combine to make the game a lot less fun than it would be otherwise.
And so, my recommendation for Criminal Intent is about the same as my recommendations for the other Law & Order games. If you enjoy easy-going, slow-paced games, if you like watching the “Law & Order” television series (or, really, any police procedural series), or if you just have some time to kill, then you might like Criminal Intent well enough. It’s not a great game, but there are worse ones out there.