When you first load up Lord of the Rings, The Two Towers on your Playstation 2, you will be treated to the first battle scene from the movie, recreated using the PS2’s DVD capabilities. Suddenly, the movie will fade into the game and just that quickly, you will become part of Tolkien’s world, or at least the Hollywood adaptation.
You actually have to kick yourself to start moving and fighting, because the game is so good looking you will want to just watch things unfold. Thankfully all the original actors from the movie have come along to voice their roles in the game. They will usher you on if that orc with the huge sword bearing down on you doesn’t.
The technique of starting a scene with movie footage and then fading into the playable game is often repeated, and done quite well. Had the game screens not looked as good as they do, this might have been a recipe for disaster. But the game is so beautifully rendered, there are times when you won’t even notice and when you do, you won’t mind. As a bonus for true fans, not only do you get to play scenes from the first movie, but also from The Two Towers, which is due out in December. This is the first time to my knowledge that you can see footage from the upcoming movie in great detail.
At its heart, this game is about combat. You are pretty much in combat from the moment you set foot in the game till the final, fatal blow against your enemies. Thankfully, the controls are incredibly easy to master. To fight you can use basic moves like pressing "X" for a quick swing or "triangle" for a powerful one. Then there are special moves that you can purchase as your characters gain levels. None of them are very complicated, though knowing which ones to use against different opponents becomes a key to success. Quickly swinging won’t do any good against an opponent holding a shield because they will block you all day. So you need to do a powerful swing to break the shield first. Little things like that will save your life time and time again.
There are three playable characters in the game. You can be Aragorn, Legolas or Gimli. Each has strengths and weaknesses. Aragorn for example does a lot of damage with his sword, but his bow shots are anemic compared to Legolas.
Each character has his melee weapon and also something of a ranged weapon. Even Gimli can throw axes, which was not something he did in the movie. But to defeat some bosses you need to use ranged weapons, so I guess they figured they better give everyone something. I was impressed at how easy it was to target opponents. You simply hold down the "Left 1" button and face an opponent. A small light will appear over their head to let you know which target you are going after. Then press "X" to fire or release the "Left 1" button if you changed your mind. Legolas is particularly fun to use ranged weapons with, since he carries more ammo than everyone else, does the most damage and has a rate of fire fairly close to your average machine gun. Mowing down orcs with Logolas is my favorite part of the game.
You are given experience points for each kill you make during a level, and the computer rates each kill based on how quickly you dispatch an opponent, if the opponent was able to hit you or not, whether you used special moves and apparently a few other factors. A good kill gives more experience points than a fair one, and a perfect kill nets quite a lot. When you are in the middle of a room fighting 10 or more bad guys at the same time, you probably won’t be able to tell which enemy struck you and which ones you dispatched first. But a note at the bottom of the screen following each kill will let you know when you deliver a killing blow, thankfully. This is good because sometimes enemies will get back up, though you can stop them by delivering a killing move and driving your sword into their helpless bodies, but only if you know they are still alive.
You go up levels with the character you are playing and can then use the experience earned to purchase more health, new moves or even new weapons. So you can plow through the game with one character and ignore the others if you choose.
You can however go back and try to beat completed stages with the other characters, which is smart because you can then have all your heroes earn experience equally. Plus, each character has a series of secret missions that only they can go on, but first they have to reach a certain level of experience and beat certain stages of the game. Eventually these secret missions, in addition to solving the main plot line, will lead to the unlocking of a fourth playable character. We won’t give away the big secret, but its well worth getting the fourth person along, since they probably should have been included in the original set anyway.
There are a lot of commentaries with the game from the various actors and director Peter Jackson. Some of the commentaries and artwork are locked until you beat certain parts of the game, to act as a sort of reward.
There are two things that might hamper your enjoyment of this game. The first is that it is fairly short. If you are a wiz at combat games – unlike myself – it has been said that it can be beaten in just five hours. For me, it was more like 12, though that is still a bit short for most PlayStation 2 games.
The other thing is that some of the stages, especially the bosses at the end of some levels, are close to impossible. You won’t get eaten alive in one hit like with the bad guys in the Buffy game, but sometimes two or three blows and you are gone. The trick is that every enemy in the game has some sort of weakness, whether it is blocking their blows with a parry and then countering, hiding behind something and then jumping out to fire or simply jumping back when they are about to hit you. Once you figure out the way to beat them, it won’t be too difficult. But it is frustrating that almost nothing else other than using their weakness against them will do much good in most cases.
Finally, it would have been a lot more fun if the game could be played by two people at the same time. In a lot of missions you have a computer-controlled hero along with you helping out, so it would not have been much of a stretch to just let the humans control them.
In the endgame, if you want to experience what being a character from the movie would have been like, this is about as close as you can get. It will tide you over till the next movie is out, and may help you to actually enjoy the new movie a bit better. I can just see a PS2 gamer sitting in the theater. "Oh, the gates of Helm’s Deep are being attacked? I remember that. I died there at least 10 times."
Even if you are not a fan or have not seen the movie – do yourself a big, big favor and see it – the action and adventure in the game will be appealing. This title, like the One Ring the series follows, has the power to bind everyone in its spell.