LOTR: The Two Towers Review
Anyone who spends a little time on the internet or watching TV probably knows just how successful the Lord of the Rings movies are - they have single-handedly revived the fantasy genre, one that has been downtrodden and forgotten in the movie industry. Of course, the fantasy genre has thrived in gaming, and considering that The Two Towers looks like a cash-cow specifically to go with the movie, I figured this game would be terrible.
Well, it seems that at least part of the gaming industry is starting to figure out that a good movie can be converted into a good game, if you stick to a few rules: make it simple, spend the money on the talent, and above all, release it on time. Here, EA has scored big - The Two Towers is an excellent action game with tons of scenes from the movie, and yet they also added in a good amount of new content to play through.
TTT plays very similar to your average beat-em-up, although there are several additions to make just a bit more complicated. There are buttons for quick or fierce attacks, knocking down an opponent, controlling ranged attacks, and for deflecting your enemy's moves. As you complete levels, you can "buy" combos and other abilities with the experience points you have gained. It all adds up to a fairly simplistic fighting system that just about anyone can get into, but will take some practice to really get good at. There is no way to reconfigure the controls, which is a bit annoying, as an essential move that allows you to dodge is bound to the Xbox controller's black button - it would have been better elsewhere, and there is nothing one can do to fix it.
For most of the game, the player has the choice of playing as three of the movies' best combatants: Legolas, Gimli, and Aragorn. Each character progresses separately, and each one has his own set of abilities to gain. When you play these characters, you will notice the differences between them pretty quickly. Legolas is quick and a bit flashy, with a great ranged attack. Gimli is powerful but clumsy, and his ranged attacks, which are throwing axes, are a bit weak. Finally, Aragorn is basically right in the middle; he is a great character for starting out with.
Combos are pretty easy to do, and most of the special attacks you get will only take a bit of practice to get right. Sometimes the wacky camera angles in the game will screw up your control a bit, but it's not really a huge deal.
For this game to be remotely popular, you know it will need some pretty good graphics. EA has mostly delivered here, especially in designing the enemies and environments. The biggest problem comes with the main characters you play as, though; they are animated very well, but they don't really look so hot. Boromir, Aragorn, and to some extent Legolas look fairly decent, but Gandalf, Frodo, and Gimli look sub-par. So what about Sam, Merry, and Pippin, you might ask? Completely gone. Oh well.
Most of the game will have you fighting orcs, although you will get a range of them. There are the bow-firing ones, some Uruk-hai, goblins, and a couple of variations of each. On top of that, you'll fight some trolls, and several of the boss-type characters from the movies. The enemies are usually very well done, with a lot of the movements seen in the movies, although EA has done quite a bit of their own work in coming up with animations as well.
Many of the locales you will traverse are taken right from the movie; since EA didn't get the chance to do a Fellowship of the Ring game, they included a few select scenes from it, and Aragorn sort of flashes back to them while they are waiting for the attack at Helm's Deep. You'll go through the battles at Weathertop, outside Moria, inside Moria at Balin's Tomb, and Amon Hen (which was the end of the first film). Then, the Two Towers levels will have you traversing Fangorn Forest, Rohan through a few levels, and then the big battle at Helm's Deep.
You'll recognize some of the actual spots from the movie, but most of them have been remade to go better with the gameplay. They all look pretty good, though, and while none of the levels are really stunning, they are still better than average - and definitely far better than what you might see in a standard movie game like this.
Most of the game is detailed and well-drawn, although it's basically no better than the PS2 version of the game that was released a couple of months ago. Those who expect Xbox versions to be visually better than the PS2 counterparts will be disappointed here, as it's basically the same with few differences.
One great part of TTT is that it fuses game scenes with clips from the movies, which in theory sounds like a terrible idea - but in this case, it works perfectly. Sure, a few of the jumps between aren't really that smooth, and in a few others, they use FMV footage that has been rendered separately. It works as a bit of a go-between for the game engine graphics and the movie clips.
For those players who are looking for a deep RPG experience with tons of items to get and a year's worth of replayability, well, you're going to be let down. But just remember how bad most movie-to-game conversions are; TTT is definitely a step in the right direction. The gameplay here is pretty simplistic, although you'll still have to learn a few things on how to play each character. Normal difficulty in this game is fairly tough for some levels, which means most players will have to retry a few times. Add all this up, and you get a game that can be beaten in five to eight hours; play through with all of the game's characters, and you're looking at fifteen to twenty.
The game does include a light RPG-style system, where performing combos nicely will gain you better experience. Every kill will get you one of the following ratings: fair, good, excellent, or perfect. The higher the ratings you get, the more you will have to spend on the game's more powerful abilities. It's basically another way to keep you playing, as players are not likely to be able to get all of the cool attacks the first time through the game.
One complaint I have with this game is that it's very linear; of course, most action games like this are this way, but this game's levels just beg for the ability to explore. For the most part, you will only have one path to go on, even if it looks like some other paths can be explored. While the linear nature of the game does keep the player on task, it still could have used a little bit more of a free-form style.
The game does include three difficulty levels you can play at, which help to broaden its appeal quite a bit. Still, even on easy mode, you'll have to know your stuff; the fights are a bit easier, but you can still die fairly quickly if you just mash random buttons.
TTT's main route of replayability comes through beating the game with all three of its characters; it's a pretty different experience with each of them, especially with the abilities you can pick from. It's also generally enjoyable enough to where you will likely want to play through it more than once, which is rare for a game of this type.
EA has included a fairly decent helping of secrets to unlock in the game, as there is a secret level that can be done with each character and some other extras. There are also some pretty well-made clips of behind-the-scenes footage from the movies and the game. It's a bit amusing watching Elijah Wood or John Rhys-Davies actually try to play it.
Overall, this game presents a lot of flash and glitter with great production values and some cool tie-ins with the movies, and while the gameplay isn't exactly deep, it's fun for at least a few runs through. The things I would wish for here are a slightly more complex game, the freedom to explore a bit more, and finally, any form of multiplayer. It would have been nice to do a two-player action game in this style, and I can't imagine how much harder it would really have been for EA to make. If not that, then just a two-player versus mode with a few characters (and maybe throw in a couple of types of orcs) would have been fun as well.
The Two Towers shines when it comes to the sounds and music; to start, the game has plenty of brand new voice acting done by the original actors; there are a few that didn't do any new voice work, like Boromir, but it's still nice to have. The sounds are all crisp, and the bass for several of the scenes is wonderful. Of course, the sound and video in the movie clips is still better than what's in the game, but that is expected; I commend EA for having the boldness to put them together anyway.
As you might expect, most of the game's music is pulled or derived directly from the movie source, and it's generally mixed in pretty well. It's not always perfect, but it does change as you progress through each level, and keeps a decent mood for the game going.
Some of the voice acting, even though it is done by the real characters, does seem a tad like they weren't trying very hard, although it's still difficult to find much fault here. A bored Ian McKellan still sounds far better than anyone else they could have gotten to do Gandalf's voice.
It's hard to believe, but EA has finally done a great job in taking a movie license, converting it to a fun game, and then delivering it to all the major consoles roughly in time for the movie's actual release. The Two Towers isn't going to win any Game of the Year awards, but it is a blast to play for a little while. It will also still be a lot of fun when you pull it out again in anticipation of the third LOTR movie, Return of the King.