Friday, 30 March 2018

L.A. Law: The Computer Game – Final Rating

by Alex



Never before have I played a game that felt so much like work. Is this how cops felt when they first fired up Police Quest? Probably not, I’ll wager, reliance on the manual notwithstanding, because Police Quest, for all its faults, is actually a game. It has game-like elements and structure, with puzzles and a player character you can move around and do stuff with, and an actual sense of agency . . . unlike L.A. Law: The Computer Game, which is a glorified Choose Your Own Adventure story, but bad.



Real bad.

I mean, this game was a chore to play. I had to turn the sound off so it wouldn’t freeze every time the phone rang. I had to wait several seconds after every new text box for the hourglass icon to turn into an arrow so I could click “continue” to get to the next big block of text I had to wait for . . . and yes, I spent the bulk of this game reading big blocks of text and trying to piece disparate threads of a case together.

Look, maybe if you don’t do this for a living, it seems like an interesting premise for a game: A lawyer simulation! A chance to be something you’re not! It’s kind of how I liked to play flight simulators when I was a kid—maybe actual pilots wouldn’t want to unwind with something that feels like their actual job. As a lawyer, L.A. Law had none of the wonder and excitement a normal video game would hold for me. Instead it was dreary, dull, and very beige. That is to say, boring.


It’s not a very exciting color, is it?

In short, yes, I have biased you, the reading jury, against L.A. Law: The Computer Game. And so, I shall present my prosecution of this game in the form of the legendary PISSED rating system!

. . . as soon as I get over my crippling depression after suffering through this game.


Me: Artist’s interpretation.

Puzzles and Solvability

L.A. Law: The Computer Game relies on trial and error. It’s as simple as that. The puzzles are not impossible by any stretch, but it does seem like an artificial way to increase the game’s length by making one wrong choice, say a dialogue option that results in a key witness slamming the phone down on your character-of-choice, enough to deep-six your case.

Speaking of cases, the trials are largely useless. As seen from the solutions in the game’s “readme” file, the proper sequence of events usually all occurs on the front-end when you’re preparing for trial. The trials are really pro forma events that are there because, you know, lawyer stuff. The choices made at trial generally have no consequence on the outcome. All of my successfully sustained objections were purely pointless . . .

While we’re at it, what on Earth were the options to request a continuance, move for directed verdict or move for a mistrial doing on the menu? They are never used except to have the judge shoot you down. Which I guess is like real lawyering and all, but still. This is a serious Checkov’s gun problem.

And I would be remiss if I did not mention the utterly ridiculous time limit for each trial. Yes! Let’s give a lawyer a case seven hours before trial and program the game to make each dialogue option eat up about fifteen to twenty minutes. Seriously, what a strange design choice. What player wouldn’t ask every character everything? Oh, too bad, so sad, you’re out of time even though you were looking for information you didn’t know you needed or not. Maybe it was useless after all. Maybe you didn’t talk to the right colleague to unlock some other option, or for the person you logically need to call to actually answer their damn phone. It’s so bad that, despite some clever turns in a few cases, I have to give this a 1.



Interface and Inventory

What interface? What inventory? Oh, you mean clicking on stuff? Well, the interface is a little non-obvious at first, until you learn that your folder and your phone are your best friends. Although the cursor never changes, clicking on the firm’s doors enters those rooms, while clicking the extreme left or right of the screen scrolls. And don’t forget like I did to click the extreme right of the right screen, past the railing, so you can go to the police station to visit your client and speak with the detectives, or go chat with opposing counsel.



So while the interface is generally functional and inoffensive, there is no inventory, save for the case file. And inventories full of interesting objects, along with inventory based puzzles, are a large part of adventure games. In light of this, I can’t give L.A. Law: The Computer Game any higher than a 2.

Story and Setting

This is where L.A. Law earns its points. It’s a lawyer game! Has there been any law-based video game before this? I’m not sure! And it’s also based on a then-hugely popular TV show. And the cases, I have to admit, are interesting, execution aside. I didn’t find that many glaring legal problems with things. Sure, there was the TV stuff like being able to pretend to be someone else’s lawyer and other fun ethical violations, but on the whole, L.A. Law does make the player feel like a lawyer. Now, whether this translated into being a good game is another story. In my estimation, it did not (see the “Puzzles and Solvability" paragraph above”), but that’s a problem of design choice. Conceptually, L.A. Law is pretty solid. And based on past scoring precedent and the super-secret internal TAG reviewing community’s PISSED guide, I am going to give this category a 5.


Note: It doesn’t matter who you play as. The only thing that changes is their picture.

Sound and Graphics

Ugh. It’s digitized stills from the show. As in, one still per character, which results in some funny settings as they’re super-imposed upon the various digitized backgrounds. I mean, Stuart Markowitz, the D.A., and the generic opposing counsel in civil cases all have the same office. And as far as sound and music, well, there’s one annoying track that plays the entire game, and the sound-effects froze the game so I had to make sure to turn them off before each session. This means I played the game in silence. So it’s ugly and silent, in an era where we have gorgeous games like, for example, Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis. Unacceptable. 2.





Environment and Atmosphere

There’s not much to go on here. The settings are: a law firm, the D.A.’s office, a courtroom, a police station, and a transition scene of the Los Angeles skyline. L.A. could make a cool setting, but a law firm in L.A.? Not so much. I suppose it serves its purpose, though, and does add to the feeling of actually being a lawyer. So this gets a 3.



Dialog and Acting

You know, the writing is actually pretty good in this game. Sure, there are some inconsistencies that give this game the feeling of being sloppy, rushed, and not-quite fully play-tested, but that’s not the dialogue-writers’ fault. Each character has a unique manner of speaking, and it generally works. There’s not much else to say, so this gets a 5.

Add it up now! 1 + 2 + 5 + 2 + 3 + 5 = 18.

18/.6 = 30.



30! This is higher than I expected. I supposed it fits, placing L.A. Law: The Computer Game slightly above Mortville Manor and Captain Blood, but below such luminaries as Chamber of the Sci-Mutant Priestesses and Les Manley: Lost in L.A. Speaking of Les, L.A. Law got the same rating as the first Les Manley game!

Yeah, that seems appropriate. If you recall, a puzzle in that game had you shoveling elephant dung. If that’s not an appropriate metaphor for the practice of law, I don’t know what is.

Contemporary reviews of this game were not kind. The one English review I found is from 2009 at Just Games Retro, and it has many of the same complaints I did . . . but praised the story and puzzle solving a whole lot more than I did, ultimately giving L.A. Law a rating of three stars out of five. Me, I think that’s about one-and-a-half stars too many, but to each his own, right? Anyway, Wikipedia has the single best sentence about this game ever: “Critics didn't like the boring gameplay and terrible sound, but the graphics were quite realistic for the time.”

Y’see kids? Graphics are all that matters! Forget gameplay. Graphics.

I am very glad to be done with this. On to better things! Thanks for sticking with me, and I hope you enjoyed the ride. I sure didn’t.

Not on account of you fine people. On account of the game.


Bye guys! Wish I could say I’ll miss you, but . . . nah.

CAP Distribution

100 CAPs for Alex
  • Blogger Award - 100 CAPs - For suffering through L.A. Law the Computer Game for our pleasure
150 CAPs for Joe Pranevich
  • Classic Blogger Award - 50 CAPs - For playing through and blogging about Seastalker for our pleasure
  • Classic Blogger Award - 50 CAPs - For playing through and blogging about Infocom's Tutorial Game for our pleasure
  • Classic Blogger Award - 50 CAPs - For playing through and blogging about Cuthroats for our pleasure
50 CAPs for Ilmari
  • Classic Blogger Award - 50 CAPs - For playing and blogging Erik the Viking for our pleasure
35 CAPs for Alex Romanov
  • Steam Award - 5 CAPs - For a correct answer in Ilmari's sauna contest
  • Psychic Prediction Award - 10 CAPs - For guessing closest the score for Eric the Viking
  • What's Your Story Award - 20 CAPs - For sending us his What's Your Story answers
20 CAPs for Smartgenes
  • What's Your Story Award - 20 CAPs - For sending us his What's Your Story answers
10 CAPs for Laertes
  • Psychic Prediction Award - 10 CAPs - For guessing the exactly correct score for L.A. Law the Computer Game
10 CAPs for Laukku
  • Psychic Prediction Award - 10 CAPs - For guessing the exactly correct score for Seastalker
10 CAPs for Reiko
  • Psychic Prediction Award - 10 CAPs - For guessing closest the score for Cutthroats
10 CAPs for Rowan Lipkovits
  • Steam Award - 10 CAPs - For two correct answers in Ilmari's sauna game contest
8 CAPs for TBD
  • Steam Award - 5 CAPs - For a correct answer in Ilmari's sauna contest
  • Leather Goddesses Award - 3 CAPs - For noting something from our own Youtube channel to Joe 
5 CAPs for Niklas
  • Steam Award - 5 CAPs - For a correct answer in Ilmari's sauna contest
5 CAPs for Trickster
  • Steam Award - 5 CAPs - For a correct answer in Ilmari's sauna contest
3 CAPs for Lugh
  • Crimes Against Entertainment Award - 3 CAPs - For figuring out a line for Alex to steal
3 CAPs for Kirinn
  • Choose Your Own Award - 3 CAPs - For pointing out the resemblance of L.A. Law the Computer Game to Choose Your Own Adventure games

11 comments:

  1. That contemporary Swedish review is hilarious.

    "It's time for the verdict: Guilty on all charges. The sentence is immediate deletion from all known hard drives in the country. All floppies are then to be placed in black plastic bags and buried at a safe distance from all human activity. Court dismissed. Rating: 20"

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  2. Interesting game to read about at least, even if that was mostly because of the comparisons to actually practicing law.

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  3. yeah, this is one of those games that have to be played for 20 minutes tops, know the garbage, laugh at it, and continue.

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    Replies
    1. Yes, laugh at, move on, and be glad you’re not playing it for a retro-gaming blog...

      Delete
  4. I'll give this awful game one thing, it kind of makes me want to watch LA Law.

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    Replies
    1. The show is pretty good, at least the few episodes I watched on YouTube.

      Delete
  5. There is actually a decent 'lawyer' simulator out there : In the 1st Degree, a Broderbund game from 1995.

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    Replies
    1. Huh! Good to know. I suppose it'll be assigned to me as well . . .

      Delete