|The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers|
|Platforms||GameCube, Xbox, PlayStation 2, GBA|
|MtAMinutes to Action||0|
|Keep Playing?||If you liked the movies|
|Buy from Amazon|
This is the start of a marathon of Lord of the Rings gaming, in which I play the first hour of three games based on the Lord of the Rings movies. Strangely enough the three games are not one for each movie; there was in fact no game made for the Fellowship of the Ring movie. Instead, I'll be playing Lord of the Rings: The Third Age as the third game.
The Lord of the Rings is one of the most beloved series of books ever written, and the movies based on them are some of the best-selling of all time. What I want to find out is if the IP was able to make the jump to video games with the same fidelity.
I read these books some years back, before the movies came out, and they are some of my favorite books. Because of this, I may throw around a few terms that are unfamiliar if you have not read the books or watched the movies. If this is the case I strongly urge you to read the books.
Electronic Arts had the video game rights to the Lord of the Rings films (Sierra had the rights to the books; I'm not really sure how that works), but since the first film came out around the time the console cycle entered the next generation, EA decided to skip Fellowship of the Ring and instead focus on releasing a game that coincided with the premier of The Two Towers. Because of this, the game starts with several scenes from The Fellowship of the Ring.
Which stigma will this game live up to: Lord of the Rings, or movie game? Find out. Here's the first hour of The Lord of the Ring: The Two Towers for the Nintendo GameCube.
(minutes are in bold)
00 - After turning the game on, the beginning of Fellowship of the Ring starts with a movie montage showing the Siege of Barad-dur, which ends up in an in-engine cutscene right before giving me control of Isildur.
01 - I swing Narsil around as Isildur shouts out hints: A for speed attack, Y for a fierce attack. The buttons also flash up in the corner. After I defeat all the enemies in that area a cutscene of battle mayhem plays. Next an orc with a shield appears; I smash his shield with a fierce attack and then slam him to the ground with another. I seem to be invincible; my health meter flashes when I'm hit, but it doesn't go down. That's nice. Whenever I kill an enemy a rating appears: "Fair," "Good," "Excellent." Apparently every time I kill an enemy a meter increases and the higher the meter the better rating I get. It goes down slowly with time and getting hit lowers it significantly.
02 - I knock an enemy to the ground with a fierce attack and use R to perform a killing move; Isildur stabs his sword into the fallen orc who reacts dramatically and dies. All the enemies in this wave have shields; my two-hit fierce attack combo will break the shield and then knock them to the ground. Or, if I break the shield before beginning the combo, he lifts them into the air with his first hit and slams them to the ground with his second, killing them. It looks cool, and very much like something from the movies.
03 - All the enemies are orcs, but they are bigger than the ones on the movies (and described in the books). I kill one with a speed attack combo and he staggers around dying. Props for having more than one death animation. A group of men is following me around, but they aren't doing nearly as much damage as I am. A lava bomb from Orodruin (of which we are at the foot) hits the ground, exploding and killing all the orcs and none of my men. Now that's what I call convenient.
04 - An in-engine cutscene of Sauron knocking back all the elves and men cuts to movie footage of Isildur cutting off four of Sauron's fingers (even though in the book he only cuts off one...) with the hilt-shard of Narsil.
05 - It fades to Aragorn saying "I am Isildur's heir, not Isildur himself." That's the end of the mission. It shows the number of kills I got as well as how many of each rating, and I get experience points too. Apparently the better the rating the more points I get and I can spend them on new moves and such. It asks me to save, which I do.
06 - The loading screen tells me that pressing B will parry enemy moves. I can see that coming in handy. I guess they thought it would be over my head in the tutorial.
07 - The next mission is the battle at Weathertop. I'm fighting the Ringwraiths to protect Frodo. Hitting them with a speed attack will only knock them back; my fierce attack in this case is a torch which I can light from the campfire. (Of course, in the book Aragorn didn't even have a sword at this point) Every hit with the torch causes them to catch on fire; enough fire and they run away.
08 - I'm trying to keep them away from Frodo. I get an "Excellent" rating every time I set one on fire because they aren't really hitting me. Of course I have to lose this one because of the story: Frodo gets stabbed in the shoulder.
09 - I got a couple of Perfect ratings on the last two, then a cutscene of flaming Ringwraiths running away. This is followed by the movie sequence of Frodo being whisked away to Rivendell, and the fellowship forming. The movie scene turned into a pre-rendered cutscene, but continued to use the same audio track, with the cutscene lip-synced to the movie soundtrack. I wonder why they bothered?
10 - The mission ending screen displays, I got only Excellent and Perfect ratings, with an overall rating of Perfect! I really racked up on the points for only killing a few enemies.
11 - Aragorn leveled up, so now I can purchase some new moves with my points. The possible new moves are demo'd by the model of Aragorn on the side, which is nice.
12 - I buy "Isildur's Swift Terror," which is a combo of two speed attacks followed by a fierce attack that ends in a area-of-effect slam on the ground. I save.
13 - Finally I'm at a level select screen. I've beaten the first two, which earned me five bonuses. These bonuses take the form of interviews with Cast and crew of the movie. I wonder if they are talking about the game or the movie. Anyway, the next level is "The Gates of Moria." I can choose to play as Aragorn, Legolas, or Gimli. It's a tough decision, and one that I deliberate over far too long, but I decide to take Legolas because I've already played as Aragorn.
14 - More movie footage.
15 - Legolas is accompanied by Gimli and is armed with two supposedly-knives. In the book I think he had one long-knife, in the movie he had two long-knives, and here he has two but they are the length of swords. Not as long as Aragorn's sword, but still. Legolas' moves are a lot more showy than Aragorn's: he spins around for his fierce attack and twirls his "knives" in his hands for his killing move before plunging them both into his fallen foe.
16 - A fallen orc leaves behind a red vial, which turns out to heal me. Then I find another vial and some arrows, which I don't need, in a hidden crevasse.
17 - Holding down L causes him to draw his bow, and pressing A fires. The longer A is held down, the more powerful the shot. The game features a cinematic camera (ie, the camera can't be controlled, it's in pre-scripted positions that change as one moves through the level. Supposedly it makes for a more movie-like experience), which I normally despise, but it hasn't been much of a problem yet. Oh, and that "B to parry" thing? Legolas can block arrows with his knives. Yes indeed.
18 - Gimli is actually pretty useful, I can hang back and fire arrows while he goes ahead and takes out orcs. I had to shoot down several enemy archers who were firing flaming arrows at me (I'm pretty sure they are only flaming so I can see them; they don't set me on fire or anything).
19 - I'm beginning to like my little AI companion Gimli ("little" because he's a dwarf; "AI" because he is being controlled by the computer). I'm in the water now: my movement is slowed and orcs are jumping out at me.
20 - You can tell when an enemy is down for good because your rating appears.
21 - I leveled up! I find some health right before I die. The water is making me too slow to avoid the orcs and I'm getting hit a lot. I'm almost dead again when I break open a crate and find a green vial which fully restores my health.
22 - The Watcher in the Water appears, somehow I got separated from Gimli. A health bar appears on the bottom of the screen; this must be the boss. Funny, in the book the Watcher surfaces as they're heading through the door and seals it behind them. In the movie, it grabs Frodo as they're heading through the door and they have to fight it off to save him. Here I have to fight the beast to get to the door.
23 - The fight proceeds thusly: A tentacle comes up from the water and thrashes at me. I parry it (constantly tapping B makes Legolas parry anything that comes at him) and then chop it off. His head comes up, which I shoot with a charged arrow. As the fight proceeds two tentacles come up, then three, each round giving me less time to cut them off. Nevertheless, I kill him in under a minute.
24 - The level is over, I got an overall Good rating. Legolas leveled up so he can now go shopping. He can buy basically the same moves as Aragorn, except the animations are different. I have enough to get him a permanent health increase, which I do, and save.
26 - I can go back and play the previous levels as the other characters and earn experience. I'm enjoying it so far, it's a bit "hack-n-slash" for my liking, but not as bad as some. The next level is Balin's Tomb, so I choose Gimli, both so he can avenge his fallen uncle, and because I haven't played with him yet.
27 - These are definitely "early-GameCube-graphics," a term I've heard used disparagingly against a Wii game or two. So Gimli is basically the tank, able to fell an orc with a single speed attack.
28 - Gimli's swinging that axe like there's no tomorrow. His biggest problem is that he's not fast enough to catch the orcs who are fleeing in terror. It still takes a fierce attack to break a shield, but even the biggest orcs can be laid low with a speed attack.
29 - All the rest of the Fellowship are in the room with me; thank goodness I don't have to protect anyone. I also have throwing axes.
30 - Here comes the cave troll, staring off in a cutscene. Oh, I just got owned by his mace! It didn't kill me though. I throw an axe at him but it barely made a dent in his health meter. I follow up with a couple of fierce attacks, which has a more noticable effect, but he hits me with his mace before I can get out of the way.
31 - I kill some more orcs to get some health and renew my assault. I'm the only one attacking the troll, and he's also focusing mostly on me. That's how life is. Ooh, he killed me as I was running toward a health vial.
32 - I have to replay the whole mission. I have a strategy this time: Z makes my character jump back, a move which I haven't used before now, and I think that's the key to bringing down this fell beast.
33 - Gimli's killing move for downed enemies is cutting off their head. Except their head doesn't actually come off, but remember, it's 2002.
35 - I'm back to the cave troll. He chases me down and hammers me, but I find I can hit him with two fierce attacks and then jump back and his attack will miss me. That makes him pretty easy, and in no time I trigger a cutscene. The troll's mace breaks, so he starts swinging his chain. Gimli jumps onto a ledge out of his reach.
36 - I now have to hide behind pillars to avoid the chain, then step out and throw axes at him. He doesn't give me much time between chainings to get the axe in. After about four attacks the pillar breaks and I have to move to the next one.
37 - Every time I get hit by the chain an orc runs out along the ledge, and I get health when I kill him. It doesn't take long to slay the troll. Of course in the book they don't kill the troll; it seems to leave them alone after Frodo stabs it in the foot.
38 - End of the level, I got mostly Fair this time. I choose to buy Gimli the health increase because all the other options are combos, and Gimli was having no trouble cleaving his foes with a single swipe of his axe. Gimli can actually increase his health twice at this level, though I can only afford one.
39 - I actually have enough points for another move, so I buy the charge attack, which seems dwarf-like. After saving my game, I see I unlocked another special feature.
40 - Next level is Amon Hen. I pick Aragorn since I've cycled through all the characters. If only I could remember what move I bought him.... This level has me fighting Uruk-hai, which are bigger and stronger than the orcs I've fought so far.
41 - I can access a list of upgrades I've purchased from the pause menu. My move is Isildur's Swift Terror, which is two speed attacks followed by a fierce attack and results in a shockwave that can damage multiple enemies. After practicing with it a few times, it comes pretty easily.
43 - One of the Uruk-hai was hiding behind a distant pillar lobbing incendiary bombs at me, which were setting patches of the ground on fire to make my life miserable. However he threw one that bounced off the very pillar behind which he stood, hit the ground beneath him, caught him on fired and he died, thereby achieving the opposite of his goal.
44 - These Uruk's are tough, surviving even my new combo (although it does knock them to the ground, making them vulnerable to my killing move). I'm about to die, but a fallen Uruk drops a green vial, which fully restores my health. It's one of those games.
45 - I end up dying anyway as I try to grab the next vial. Everybody has abandoned me and I'm all by myself. :(
46 - Ah, I have to kill a certain number of enemies before moving on. How do I know this? Because there's a handy meter in the top-right corner that tells me how many I have left.
48 - I got some Perfect ratings! I improvise a cover mechanic by running behind a wall, then running out and shooting an arrow. That's how we did it in the old days, kids!
50 - My way is blocked with flames until I kill a few Uruk archers. As soon as they die, the flames die down. A little silly, but whatever.
51 - I cut down some vines to reveal a hidden area which shelters a chest that holds... nothing? Ok? I'm about to die, but again find a full health vial.
52 - I meet up with Legolas and Gimli. Never around when I need you! I get a cutscene now, looks like the end of the level.... Clip from the movie of Boromir dying.
53 - Now I have to fight the leader of the Uruk-hai. This mimics the one-on-one fight between Aragorn and Lurtz in the movie, but again in the book there was no such battle. Although Legolas and Gimli recount their killing of many orcs, Aragorn fights none. I guess if I had picked one of the other two characters it would have made more sense.
54 - The fight: The Uruk chieftan stands on one end of a glen and shoots arrows at me. I can hide behind statues to avoid them and step out to fire my own. After I do a bit of damage he throws his bow down and draws a large sword. He then chases after me and wow he's fast! There are also other orcs with which to contend, and it is one of these who brings about my destruction. I'd better not have to start this level over!
55 - Good, just the boss battle. Thank you! This time two fully-charged arrows make him drop his bow, and I find that I can lure him into getting his sword stuck in the statues, leaving an opening for me to bring the pain.
56 - Once I figure this out, he goes down quickly. All the bosses were similar in that respect.
57 - Mission ending; I got 17 Perfect ratings which gives me an overall Perfect rating! This also gives me a ton of points to spend, and though I made it to level 3, I don't unlock any new moves until level 4. I choose to increase my health, because I was flirting with death a lot, and use the remainder to purchase the Rising Attack, which allows him to stand up with a swing of his sword after being knocked to the ground. I really could have used that this last mission.
58 - The next level is Fangorn Forest, but since I only have two minutes I decide to view some of the extra content. Here's an interview with the director and the producer of the movies, they are talking about making the movies.
59 - The producer says something along the lines of: A lot of work went into the movies, I guess probably into the game too. Nice.
60 - And the hour ends on a boring note. Blah.
Minutes to Action: 0
Favorite Thing: The game really captures the feel of the movies.
Least Favorite Thing: Clunky character models, I guess.
Design: The environments look pretty good but the character models are clunky. However, the animations are great. Although I usually despise cinematic cameras in action games, this is the least-bad instance I have come across. The music is straight from the movies, which has a great score, so that's good.
Story: The story is told mainly through clips from the movies. I'm pretty sure it's assumed that you already know the story.
Fun: I enjoyed it.
Keep Playing: I will probably stick it in from time to time when I feel like slaying orcs.
You will like this game if: You loveloveloved the Lord of the Rings movies.
Other Thoughts: This game did a really good job of capturing the feel of the movies. The moves look like the fight choreography from the films, the set pieces are the same, the music is used well. This is a really good game-to-movie adapation. The only weak point is the book-to-movie adaptation that preceded it....
The pacing of the first hour was spot-on. It launched me straight into the game without having to choose a bunch of options first (although it didn't have the impact that 007: Everything or Nothing had), gave me an action-packed tutorial level, followed by another short but exciting level before I even got to the level select screen. The point system seemed to be tailored just right, I was usually able to buy one move after each level.
The boss fights all seemed nearly impossible until I figured out the trick, after which they were really easy. Some people might not like this; I find it nice to have bosses that require thinking in the middle of an action game like this.
In all, this is one of the best movie games I've played. If Lord of the Rings was never a book series, I would really like this game; as it is, my appreciation is somewhat diminished.