An intriguing CD-ROM courtroom adventure, In The 1st Degree casts you in a role of a District Attorney in San Francisco who must build a case against James Tobin, a well-known painter, who stands accused of murdering Zachary Barnes, co-owner (with Tobin) of a hip art gallery. Your goal is to secure a first-degree murder conviction (with a grand theft thrown in for a good measure)--anything less would be considered a defeat. But, as you may guess, this is no simple task, for the shooting can easily be made to look like an act of self-defense, and the witnesses are either not very cooperative or not very reliable. MacGamer's Ledge sums up the pros and cons of the game very nicely: |
"The game is divided into two sections: during the first, pre-trial phase, you will examine the evidence from the murder scene, review the police interrogations of the defendant and the witnesses, and conduct your own witness interviews, hoping to cajole or force out of them any helpful testimony. You will gradually discover a fairly complex web of relations among the main characters in the drama, plenty of possible motives, and at least a few plausible crime scenarios. Furthermore, you will never be completely sure just who is telling the whole truth: Tobin's girlfriend, who also had a brief fling with the victim? the victim's wife, who seems almost too cooperative? Tobin's assistant, who appears to know much more than he admits? Of course, your job is not to solve the mystery but to convince the jury beyond any reasonable doubt; still, with so many variables, making a convincing case will be a formidable task. Can you make it stick? You will find out during the second phase of the game, the actual trial, where you must elicit the appropriate testimony from the witnesses (praying that they won't change their stories) and undermine the strategies of the cunning defense lawyer, all under the watchful eye of the local media, whose members will not spare you withering criticism in case you blunder.
The game has 'replay' written all over it: one would have to be extremely lucky to achieve the first-degree murder conviction after playing the game just once. Indeed, failing becomes invaluable, because it teaches you how to proceed the next time. You will quickly learn how crucial it is to ask the right questions (even during the pre-trial phase): select a wrong approach, and the witness will clam up, depriving you of a chance to get some helpful information. You will no doubt be replaying the interview sessions over and over again, trying out various questioning options in an effort to chart out the right path. The pre-trial phase allows you to jump back and forth among the interviews and other materials, so that by the end you have a clearly worked out courtroom strategy. Similarly, your experiences during the trial teach you which strategies you should adopt and which ones you should avoid. All this means that the entire game is a bit like a long learning curve that can be mastered only after several replays. Still, I have to admit I felt perverse glee when I entered the trial stage for the first time, without any clue as to what my case should be. "I have absolutely no case," I concluded, "but what the hell! Let's get humiliated!"
But just how long does the fun last? The game certainly boasts crisp, attractive photography and video; the acting is solid (which, in CD-ROM game terms, means 'on par with your average daytime soap'); and piecing together a viable courtroom strategy proves sufficiently challenging to keep a patient gamer interested. But playing it over and over again takes its toll, mostly because no matter how much you may enjoy making new, cunning adjustments in your dealings with the witnesses and the defendant, you are still just clicking on different dialogue options and confronting the same set of talking heads. And they talk. And talk. And talk some more, so that any 'interactivity' on your part is limited to clicking the mouse and watching the verbal response. In addition, I found it very difficult to feel sympathy for any of the characters and ultimately couldn't care less whether the defendant would get the sentence he deserves or not. Under such circumstances, replaying the same segments of the game gradually becomes tedious or simply mind-numbing: unless you are a very patient and committed strategist, you will find all this repetition about as exciting as preparing for bar exams. Perhaps the game would have succeeded better if its designers had abandoned any aspirations toward entertainment and instead had opted to create an educational tool for budding prosecutors." Recommended, with reservations.
Reviewed by: Underdogs