Of all the shows on TV, Dick Wolf's Law & Order seems like one of the least likely to inspire a successful game franchise. However, that's just what the weekly crime drama has been turned into. With two point-and-click adventure games bearing the Law & Order name already on the market, the series continues to prove that it can bring quality criminal investigation to any medium. Law & Order: Justice Is Served is the third entry in the PC game series, and it continues along the same path of quality as its predecessors, featuring a unique storyline akin to the TV show and some fun but somewhat unremarkable investigation- and puzzle-based gameplay. This isn't really a game for diehard adventure fans, but for enthusiasts of the Law & Order franchise, it's quality fan service.
The story of Justice Is Served concerns a young and beautiful Ukrainian tennis starlet who is found dead in her locker room on the eve of the US Open. Enter detectives Lennie Briscoe and Ed Green (voiced by Jerry Orbach and Jesse L. Martin, respectively), who, along with you, the office-chair detective, must investigate the circumstances of her death and find out whether it was the result of foul play.
You'll begin by collecting evidence and interviewing witnesses. Evidence can be sent to a research lab or a crime lab, depending on what sort of information needs to be gleaned from it. When interviewing suspects and witnesses, you'll have a few different questions to choose from. Your goal is to pick the questions that are most relevant to the case. Of course, you won't be punished for asking the wrong questions, as the line of dialogue with your current suspect or witness won't end until you've asked all the required ones. Once you have enough evidence and testimony to build a case, you can then apply for search warrants, and eventually an arrest warrant.
After you put a suspect in cuffs, the game shifts its focus to the second stage of law enforcement, putting you in control of the prosecution for the case. The bulk of your work here will simply be making sure your trial case is rock solid by accumulating evidence and witnesses as you go. Once you're ready to go to trial, you'll subpoena your witnesses and submit your evidence. During the trial, you'll have to examine witnesses using the same interview mechanics employed in the criminal-investigation portion of the game, though now, if you ask an incorrect question, the defense will object and you'll be scolded by the judge. Similarly, if the defense steps out of line during its line of questioning, it's up to you to object. There are certain bits of legal mumbo jumbo that it helps to be familiar with for certain situations in court, but for the most part, all you really need to know is when or when not to object, and the in-game legal manual pretty much takes care of the rest.
For the most part, this is really all there is to Justice Is Served's gameplay. At times during your investigation, the game will present you with some decent puzzles, mostly consisting of simple situations where you must find the right combination of numbers or letters to unlock a safe or a box or something to that effect. These are almost always based on reasonably obvious visual clues, and they should be easy for anybody to solve. The only other notable type of puzzle you'll encounter is a mazelike puzzle where you have to navigate Briscoe through a room filled with boxes by moving the boxes around (not nearly as easy as it sounds, mind you). However, apart from the few somewhat challenging puzzles, Law & Order is mostly just about you experiencing the story, without much difficulty to get in your way. And, in that sense, the game works just fine.
One big difference between Justice Is Served and the last Law & Order title is that your characters no longer have specific abilities to help them through the game. For example, in the last game, you could choose a teamwork ability at the beginning of the game that allowed you to get hints from your superiors about what direction your investigation should be headed in, or an interview skill that eliminated unnecessary questions from the list when you're interviewing people. The only annoying thing about this is that Justice Is Served doesn't always tell you what you need to know. For instance, your lieutenant will let you know if you have enough evidence for a search warrant, but she won't actually tell you which suspect you should be getting the warrant for. To be fair, it's usually pretty obvious who you're after, but it can be a little confusing at times.
Like the last two Law & Order games, Justice Is Served gets by largely because its story and plot twists are highly enjoyable. The game provides you with more than enough colorful characters to interview, including a male tennis star who had a previous relationship with the victim, a horrifically overbearing mother who ran the girl's life up until her death, a shady sports agent who may or may not have been more than just a simple father figure in the girl's life, and a crazed stalker who had made a number of unnerving threats before the girl's death. The only problem with the story is that periodically you will find yourself getting ahead of the plot if you haven't collected every single piece of evidence. Sometimes you'll have most every piece you need except for the one that explains a key plot point, but the story and dialogue will continue on, describing that plot point without you having any idea what they're talking about. This doesn't happen frequently enough to be a big deal, but it's annoying when it does pop up.
Graphically, Justice is Served is definitely the best-looking game in the series, despite featuring basically the same look as its predecessors. The style of presentation is exactly the same, in fact, but the character models and surrounding environments are much more realistically rendered, and the characters move more realistically too. Furthermore, pieces of evidence and other investigable items blend much better into the background now, rather than standing out from the other items. This can occasionally cause frustration, since it's easier to miss a piece of key evidence now, but it's not really that big of a deal.
The game's roster of voice talent features several key actors from the show, including Jerry Orbach, Jesse L. Martin, Elizabeth Rohm, and even a guest appearance by tennis personality Patrick McEnroe. What's interesting, though, is that none of the celebrity voice talent is really all that good. Some of the line delivery is downright labored at times, and in most instances, the secondary characters generally come across as more believable than the main ones. Also, since you will be contending with a fair number of Ukrainian characters, you'll also have to contend with a number of cheesy foreign accents.
Like the Law & Order games before it, Justice Is Served is ultimately geared toward fans of the TV series, and it works just fine in that regard. It's a short and generally simple game with only a few difficult sections, but it emulates the show's style of criminal investigation almost perfectly, and you can't really ask for much more than that from a game called Law & Order.