When the source material is a procedural drama, it stands to reason that the game would follow a predictable formula. The first three episodes of Law & Order: Legacies echo the familiar rhythms of the long-running series, but the experience rings hollow. Questioning suspects, searching crime scenes, and examining witnesses offer precious few vicarious pleasures, and you'll likely end up yearning for a syndicated TV episode to get a refreshing dose of the real thing.
Law & Order: Legacies is the latest episodic adventure offering from Telltale Games, though there are no environments to explore or inventory items to nab here. Each episode of the game is like an interactive episode of the TV show. Or rather, TV shows. Law & Order characters Mike Logan, Jack McCoy, and Abbie Carmichael work alongside Olivia Benson from Law & Order: SVU, and the likenesses are easily recognizable. The quasirealistic comic aesthetic does look quite handsome at times, but at other times, the shading doesn't coalesce well and faces begin to look like painted masks. These virtual incarnations serve their purposes well enough, but the lack of celebrity voice actors is a disappointing shortcoming.
Each episode begins with, what else, a grisly death. It's up to you to guide the various protagonists through their roles to determine if there was foul play involved (there was) and how much jail time the offenders should receive. This predictable road begins with questioning witnesses. A few options pop up onscreen to describe general areas of questioning, like "Victim" or "See Anything Earlier?" As you guide the conversation, you must keep an ear out for salient details. Regular questions test your knowledge of the facts as well as your ability to draw reasonable conclusions from said facts, and your answers determine your score for the encounter.
But what does your score mean? Does adept investigation lead to stronger prosecution? Does it help to find red herrings? The answers to those questions are: not much, not really, and not clear, respectively. You earn stars for correct answers to factual questions and bonus stars for correctly answering the deduction question that follows. These are generalizations, however; it's rare that you need to do more than simply remember what you heard earlier. The few logical leaps are more like baby steps, giving you the feeling that you're being gently shepherded along by a game that doesn't put much faith in your abilities.
At a certain point in your investigation, you are called upon to examine a crime scene. The backgrounds during other phases of the game are little more than minimal sketches, but crime scenes are more detailed and full of objects to ogle. Even they don't look particularly good--some elements are difficult to identify even with the clues (a container of zip ties is particularly abstract). You are given a list of pertinent items and silhouettes of their general shapes to help your search (though a few items are question marks that leave you to draw on your knowledge of the case to find relevant clues). There are usually some painfully obvious blood stains and an assortment of clearly notable items, though some bits can be tricky to spot given the lackluster design. Fortunately, failure isn't an option, only loss of potential bonus points. Crime scene investigation provides a decent change of pace from conversation, and circling items with your cursor has a sportscaster-esque appeal to it.
Things get a little livelier in the courtroom segments. Using your knowledge from previous interrogations, you must successfully examine and cross-examine the various witnesses in the case. A rudimentary "Scales of Justice" meter tracks how well you are doing by giving you points when the jury buys your side of the story and takes points away when you miss an opportunity to press your advantage. In addition to losing jury favor, you can fail an examination if you choose three incorrect answers, though this merely forces you to restart the segment. You must also be on guard during opposing counsel's examinations, but you don't have to worry about actively objecting to their questionable tactics. At a few specific points, you will be asked if you want to object, and the answer is usually yes. Choosing the type of objection (badgering, no expert knowledge, and the like) can be mildly amusing, but this feels like a missed opportunity for increased player agency.
But Law & Order: Legacies is not about making you the detective or the prosecutor. It's about making you the most basic trainee; the one who sits in a small room watching recordings of professionals at work and answering rudimentary viewing comprehension questions. There is some vicarious pleasure in being carried along on a wave of correct answers, but seeing that wave continue undeterred despite your missteps is a disheartening reminder that you are an insignificant part of the proceedings. A longer story arc remains to be concluded as of this review, and it's a safe bet that the seven-episode package ($19.99) will deliver a decent amount of content. It's just too bad that you have to spend the entire time in the enervating limbo between viewer and participant.