Miami Law


Review by · October 13, 2009

I hate no-win situations in point-and-click adventure games. Be they of the Game Over screen variety like those seen in Miami Law or the kinds of puzzles seen in the King’s Quest games, I’m not a fan of there not being a solution to a title. Still, it makes much more sense in Miami Law: you control a team of a police detective and an FBI agent; the wrong decision can and will get you killed. I wasn’t expecting much out of Miami Law, especially since I found my review copy in the bargain bin at Fry’s a few short months after release, but it’s really not that bad of an adventure title. There’s a good story, decent graphics, and a lot of intrigue. Still, the developers could have taken a lot of tips from other developers like Telltale and LucasArts when putting the game together, as there’s a lot left to be desired in the gameplay itself.

Miami Law follows the intertwining stories of Miami PD Detective Law Martin and FBI Agent Sara Starling as they unravel a drug cartel in the Miami area. Law is a fly-off-the-handle lone wolf, while Sara plays things by the book. It’s a fairly standard good cop/bad cop dynamic, but it works well enough, especially since the original story is actually entertaining and Hudson put quite a bit of effort into the localization. The title was localized by Victor Ireland’s Gaijinworks, and the former Working Designs guru put quite the stamp on all of the characters. Unlike the games in the Phoenix Wright series, there are no lingering Japanese-sounding sentences or expressions like “Let’s all do our best!” The story expands quite a bit beyond the basics of the two characters, and there are more twists than in an episode of Law and Order. All in all it works well, and that’s what matters at the base of an adventure title. Still, the rest of the game doesn’t support the story particularly well.

The basics of the point-and-click genre are all here – you talk to people, make choices, and go to different places. One thing that is distinctly missing from Miami Law is an inventory system, so there’s no keeping track of obscure pieces of evidence, and it plays out much closer to a visual novel in that regard. The game is also incredibly linear when it comes to the correct path. Take the wrong choice, and you’ll be headed for a Game Over screen almost immediately, sending you to restart the scene. I wish that there were multiple paths to the right solution in Miami Law because I saw many more Game Over screens than I would ever like to see in an adventure game. One of the choices that does matter to the game – and breaks up the linearity – is when the player chooses between the two characters.

Every so often, the player can choose between controlling Law or Sterling, and while the end will always be the same in the story, there are very different sides to what’s going on. When controlling Law, players will be out on the streets searching for people, getting into car chases, and shooting up everyone around them. His story focuses on his dead partner’s sister, who he has taken responsibility for protecting. All of his segments tie to that, and it’s his driving goal. Sara’s story is much more focused on analyzing things, playing behind the scenes, and her story is focused around her ties to her family and her father, who is a very powerful political figure. Both sides of the story contain the basics of the adventure genres, both will talk to people and explore, but both also feature action or strategy oriented minigames, which, can be great thing if executed correctly, but fall flat in Miami Law. None of the shootouts or puzzles are remotely difficult, and the goofy control schemes in the car chase games kills a great deal of the fun. Instead of dragging the car left or right or using the D-pad, players control the cars with a left and right arrow on the touchscreen. It really doesn’t matter in the scheme of things, since at the end of every chase scene, I still had a good thirty seconds left on my timer.

On top of the odd controls for the minigames, there are problems with the basic controls, as well. Miami Law uses the touch screen for the entirety of the game, but it seems like there are too many extraneous options when it comes to where to move or explore. Players have basic options – talk, search, cell phone, and the like. Everything is neatly set up in menu form, so searching isn’t about finding something in the artwork of the room like it is in the Phoenix Wright games, it’s about selecting an option from a list – something that becomes tedious rather than fun. At the very least, there’s no chance that a piece of evidence gets left behind, perhaps more similarly to a digital novel than an adventure title. Advancing the story may also be about talking to someone rather than moving somewhere, and the game has trouble differentiating between people in the same room and people in another location. There’s both a cellular phone and talk option, but there were times when, out in the field with Law, I would use the talk option to speak with Sara back at the FBI headquarters. It was more than a little frustrating.

That’s not the only downside to Miami Law. The game is incredibly short for an adventure title. With no previous knowledge of the game, I was able to conquer it in one playthrough with the playclock just over three hours. To put that in perspective, when I played the remake of the Secret of Monkey Island, a game where I already knew the answer to every puzzle and the location of every item, I still spent a good six hours with the game. True, Miami Law is meant to be played more than once to see both sides of the story, but I had little desire to conquer the game a second time. I suppose that’s really where the gameplay fails Miami Law, as my desire not to play the title again had nothing to do with the characters and story, but everything to do with avoiding the gameplay again. The un-fun minigames and tedious controls ruin what would be an otherwise decent adventure game.

Not all is doom and gloom in regards to the title, as, graphically, Miami Law is quite good for an adventure game. The character portraits are not quite as emotionally charged as those in other adventure games, but Miami Law uses still artwork to great effect. When someone is shot, the character shows up in a piece of artwork as shot, and there is quite a bit of variation for emotions. The sound is quite good as well, with sound effects sounding right, and the music in the game is good, as well. Neither struck me as above average enough to go through the BGM listing or order a soundtrack, but they do their job admirably. Both the sound and graphics are effective, but I’m sure I won’t be remembering either even a week from now.

What it comes down to with Miami Law is this: if you are a fan of the adventure genre, you will enjoy Miami Law, especially if you can find it in the bargain bin like I did. I’d be skeptical buying this game at full price, and honestly couldn’t recommend anyone – except hardcore fans of both cop drama and adventure titles – doing so. Still, Miami Law is far from incompetent in the script and aesthetics departments, it’s just the basics of the gameplay that escape it. I honestly enjoyed playing Miami Law, and I’d like to play a sequel if there were improvements. It’s fun, but incredibly flawed. As long as it’s taken as such, fans of the adventure genre will probably have fun playing it like I did.

Overall Score 66
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John McCarroll

John McCarroll

A Nevada native now in the Midwest, John started at RPGFan in 2002 reviewing games. In the following years, he gradually took on more responsibility, writing features, news, taking point on E3 and event coverage, and ultimately, became owner and Editor-in-Chief until finally hanging up his Emerald Cloak of Leadership +1 in 2019.