Friday, 23 March 2018

L.A. Law: The Computer Game – Case #7: The Revenge of the Milquetoast

by Alex



This game is terrible.

It’s a chore to play, not just because of the delay every time dialogue pops up keeping you from rapidly clicking through text you’ve already read. Its unpleasantness comes from game design choices:
  • An unfairly short time limit
  • A reliance on trial-and-error
  • A set path to success that is impossible to intuit
  • An inability to make logical decisions
You see, even in the most moon-logic laden Roberta Williams-designed Sierra game, the player has choices: Bereft of options that make sense, you can at least try to throw the custard pie at the man-eating yeti. You can at least try to empty the sack of peas on the ground in front of the weird blue creature chasing after you. You can at least try to drop the moldy cheese in the ancient machine.

In L.A. Law: The Computer Game, you can’t even successfully argue for your client. Oh, I suppose you could, if you’d discovered just the right dialogue trees and uncovered just the right piece of information. Otherwise, you’re strong-armed into making a terrible settlement for your client, even when you have MORE than ample evidence to create reasonable doubt in a jury’s mind at trial.

This is such a poorly designed game it boggles my mind how it was ever released. I suppose I should save a lot of this for the PISSED rating (and boy, will I be PISSED) and instead get to the case, for what it’s worth.

Nothing. It’s worth nothing.


“But I made partner—“

Shaddap.

The Case



Rebecca Stevens, Victor’s client from Case #4, is accused of murdering her husband. As her legal adviser, I’d tell her it serves her right for reconciling with her secretive, verbally abusive, controlling, emotionally distant husband with the sketchy source of money and the drug-running, jihadist friends. But this game is so dumb so who cares?



The cops are certain Mrs. Stevens did it. Detective Saleno is confident that Mrs. Stevens did it.



The D.A. is so confident Mrs. Stevens did it that she isn’t even in her office when I swing by.



Whatever.

The pertinent facts are these:
  • Neighbors heard a gunshot and called the police.
  • The police found Mrs. Stevens standing over John Stevens’s dead body. There was a .22 caliber on the floor with Mrs. Stevens’s fingerprints on it.
  • The police questioned witnesses who saw no one suspicious in the neighborhood or coming to the Stevens’s home.


The authorities then impute motive onto Mrs. Stevens because her husband has a good insurance policy or whatever.

But the cops never lie, right?

Mrs. Stevens maintains her innocence. She claims she was also awaken by the gunshots, found her husband, picked up the gun in shock before dropping it, and then screamed. That was when the cops came in.

There also were no other prints on the gun, even though it belonged to John Stevens. When Victor confronts Detective Saleno about this fact, he’s not too bothered.



My first thought is, “I hate this game.” My second thought is, “The cops did a shoddy job.”

Time to make phone calls and/or go visit people! This is such a good video game!

Trial Prep

Mrs. Stevens didn’t hear anything that night before the gunshot. She also tells Victor that: John had reverted to being a secretive, mean bastard; he continued to see his shady business associates, though none came to the house; and that they received several weird, prank phone calls that John always answered and which he claimed were “kids” just breathing into the receiver for three to five seconds.

Saleno, of course, doesn’t care about this.


Bang-up detective work there.

Back at the office, I pick up Victor’s files from the previous case with Mrs. Stevens at the law library and proceed to make several phone calls.

First is the neighbor who called the police when the gunshots rang out at the Stevens house: Robert Donner.


I apologize for all the screenshots of telephones in
these posts, but that’s pretty much this entire game.

It turns out Robert’s wife is the one who heard everything. She tells Victor that:
  • The paperboy, Michael Torrance, was in the yard at the time.
  • There was a red Porsche with a cracked left rear view mirror and a license plate beginning with a “B” or a “P” parked behind a neighbor’s house . . . and it wasn’t the neighbor’s car.
  • The red Porsche left when the cops were in the kitchen questioning Robert. 
  • The police never questioned her.
  • Rebecca Stevens wouldn’t “hurt a fly.”
So we’ve got another potential witness, a vehicle that this game give me NO WAY of tracking, and confirmation that the police did a terrible job investigating this matter.

I call a Margaret Torrance who is listed in the directory. She puts me on the phone with her son. He didn’t see anything, but heard a gunshot and then Mrs. Stevens’s scream “a few minutes later.”

A few minutes later? It makes no logical sense for someone to shoot someone else, stand there like a dummy, and then scream. I know there’s shock and all that, but if this can’t cast reasonable doubt, I’ll eat my hat.


Luckily, this is my hat.

Also, the cops never talked to Michael. What is this, amateur hour? Isn’t the LAPD supposed to be one of the best-trained forces in this great land of ours, full of officers with nothing but the utmost integrity and—

Okay, I’ll stop making fun of California policemen before he who must not be named parks himself in my front door and makes me play awful games . . .

Anyway, this discussion of prank calls reminds me of Marcia Kelly, the firm’s contact at the telephone company. She traces the calls using her magic science voodoo and comes back with the information that the calls came from a place called Millhouse Investments. I call the number Marcia provided and get nothing.

Hm.

Following up on the rest of my leads, I call the officer who arrived on the scene the night of John Stevens’s murder, but he’s not there. How convenient. Next, I call John Stevens’s accountant, Mr. Averel Harrision. Remember that slimeball?



Apparently he remembers Victor. Like a dope, I pick the first dialogue option, and Harrison clams up and hangs up. I try calling again, but get no answer.

I debate reloading on the spot, but figure I’ll roll with this and see if I can still win the trial.

Heh heh. “Trial,” I say, as though I expect there to be one. More on this later.

I call Birelli next, another of Mr. Stevens’s shady associates, but again get no answer. I then call good old Joe Spanozi, who was unavailable earlier, and have him look into Millhouse Investments as well as the number Marcia found, but just as this is getting good, time runs out and I am called to the D.A.’s office to talk . . .

The Trial





Trial? We don’t need no stinkin’ trial! Not in this case!

Here’s where the game strong-arms you into making an unnecessarily terrible decision. See, D.A. Zoe Clemmons boasts that it’s an open and shut case and there’s no way Victor will win. She offers 2nd degree instead (heat of the moment instead of premeditated). If she’s so confident she’d win at trial, why offer a settlement of a lesser offense? I know, I know, bluffing and all that. It’s part of the game. But there’s no way Victor’s gonna just give in, right? Right?

So Victor gives in.




Well, kind of. The only option I get to pick is to counter with negligent homicide, which is basically saying that Mrs. Stevens didn’t intend to kill her husband, but through her negligence (i.e., acting stupidly or, in many jurisdictions, with “wanton recklessness) it happened. This carries a five-year sentence.

Zoe is very happy about this. Mrs. Stevens is not.





Neither is Leland McKenzie.




Screw you game. Screw. You.

I am not happy with this either. I reload and call Joe immediately after calling Marcia Kelly. And Joe delivers the goods.

  • Millhouse Investments is a shell corporation created by—drumroll, please—John Stevens.
  • The number for Millhouse Investments traces back to an apartment owned by—drumroll, please—Ms. Julie Anderson, the woman Stevens was revealed to be having an affair with in the previous case. Remember: John Stevens pays for her apartment.

Weird, right?

I call Averel Harrison and choose the “Jerk” option. And it gets me RESULTS. There’s a life-lesson here somewhere.




Victor is able to force Harrison to reveal some interesting information about the unsavory characters John Stevens was associated with:

  • One Carlos Mendoza, head of an East L.A. drug cartel, had worked with Mr. Stevens before. Harrision wouldn’t be surprised if something went wrong between them and Mendoza wanted Stevens dead.
  • There’s also Birelli and Birelli’s boss, a shadowy figure known as Rahbeza, who calls himself Ibn Saud when in L.A.

Weird and weirder. I’d sure like to get more information about these people, but the time limit runs out and . . .




. . . all I get the option to tell the D.A. about is the prank phone calls?




I can’t talk about the other people who might want John Stevens dead? Or the police’s sloppy detective work? Or Michael Torrance’s testimony that he heard Mrs. Stevens scream minutes after the gunshot? Or Saleno’s own admission that there are oddities in this case? Or the strange Porsche hanging out near the crime scene?

The end result is the same here: Rebecca Stevens is mad, Leland McKenzie is mad, and I’m mad.

I hate this game. Oh my goodness, do I hate this game.

Only one more case to go, I think. And then I can move on to something good . . .


My goodness, does Tarna look like an attractive vacation spot right about now.


Session Time: 40 minutes
Total Play Time: 5 hours, 15 minutes
Record: 5-2

15 comments:

  1. Wow. It's starting to sound like a choose your own adventure type game, or Dragon's Lair. Pick the correct arbitrary sequence of decisions to win! Assuming it's not a no-win scenario, which would at least lend some realistic depth.

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    1. Yes! Exactly like a "Choose Your Own Adventure" story, except not fun.

      Honestly I doubt it's a no-win scenario, for reasons I'll get to later in the final rating post. Bear with me!

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  2. Wow. At least there are some recurring characters and this does explain the strange choices made in the previous case. This seems to be a more interesting game to read about than to play.

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    Replies
    1. I certainly hope everyone is finding it interesting to read about. It sure isn't interesting to play.

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    2. You are managing to make the read quite entertaining even though it is quite clear the game must be beyond terrible. Good work!! Keep suffering for us (for just a little) :)

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  3. Perhaps no fun to play (certainly not from the sounds of things) but the change of pace is well appreciated, you bring good insights and humour into its failings. (Despite dropping the ball in regards to the plotting and scripting, the actual writing seems to work as intended... this is a game I would rate as an "interesting failure" for trying new things but of course it's not me playing it!)

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    Replies
    1. Thanks Rowan. Reading comments like these makes it easier to fire up this game. It’s such an un-fun slog.

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  4. Now I know just how they feel when people comment on my blog, "I'm sorry you have to play such an awful game, but I'm having a great time reading about it!"

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    Replies
    1. It’s the only thing that can keep you going sometimes, isn’t it?

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    2. Hey, I may be bad in the comments here, but at least I'm not throwing the likes of Braminar and Girlfriend Construction Set in their path 8)

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  6. Like others have said, reading about the game IS fun, despite the playing being a chore. Nice work

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  7. I warned you about Capstone games, bro! I warned you!

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    Replies
    1. You did! And I took it seriously yet still had my duty to do...

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