Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship
of the Ring
Review by Skinny Minnie
I don't get out much. I freely admit this. I wanted to
see Peter Jackson's movie adaptation of J.R.R. Tolkien's The
Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring in all of its
big-screen glory last year. However, I only broke loose from Four
Fat Chicks magnate Helga's "review it or lose it" headlock
in time to rent the double DVD package this past summer. As it
was, watching so many pointy ears on a small screen had me repetitively
searching for mouse buttons on my remote control ...
I truly wish that the gaming powers that be had immediately opted
for an RPG version of The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship
of the Ring, but unfortunately they did not. Instead, for
our first LOTR excursion we are offered a simplistic and
sleep-inducing (although visually stunning) platform console game.
I actually pity Black Label Games and Vivendi Universal Interactive
when the PC port releases; it will probably occupy confused shelf
space with the likes of high-quality, high-profile action games
Star Wars Jedi Knight II: Jedi Outcast and Max
Payne, much to their chagrin.
There are three playable characters in The Lord of the Rings:
The Fellowship of the Ring. You begin the game as Frodo the
Hobbit, later playing as Aragorn the archer, then as Gandalf the
wizard. The game does follow the original story, even including
characters like Tom Bombadil that didn't make it into the movie
version. The characters here do not resemble the actors from the
movie, but rather have their own looks and voices. Unfortunately,
as far as the actual acting goes, the movie truly blows away anything
the game can offer. Frodo and his friends Sam, Merry and Pippin
all fall flat in their voiceovers, and Aragorn and Legolas sound
as though they've taken one too many sleeping pills. Gandalf is
one of the few to show much range of emotion, but conversations
on the whole in this game are somewhat sterile and uninspiring.
Frodo, like the other two playable characters, has an on-screen
health bar and two slots for weapons and inventory. He also sports
a purity meter showing how much he is corrupted by the dangerous
One Ring he is carrying to its eventual doom. When foes draw near,
Frodo has the option of wearing the ring to disappear and avoid
capture, but every time he does this his purity lessens a little
bit. If his purity meter depletes all the way, the game ends because
he perishes and surrenders the One Ring to the Dark Lord Sauron.
It's a wonder Frodo doesn't just die of boredom, though, with
all of the simplistic barrel smashing, crate pushing, ledge climbing
and maze wandering he is forced to endure!
Frodo also has a stealthy walk, which is invoked by pushing the
gamepad's left joystick forward a little bit. In this mode, a
stealth icon lights up under his health bar that glows green if
surrounding enemies are unaware of him, yellow if they detect
an unknown presence, and red if he's in for it. Even when he is
in for it, which is quite a lot, the fighting is overly simple,
with only the same few weapons and moves available against the
same repetitive enemies; Aragorn suffers this fate as well. Only
Gandalf (who has a mana bar above his health bar) sports more
attack variation with spells like Beam of Light, Staff Strike,
Chain Lightning and Confusion, but even his constant fight scenes
quickly grow older than he is. About the only thing A.I. stands
for in this game is Awfully Irksome, too: Enemies pretty much
just charge at the protagonists, period. The bad guys also tend
to leave behind the same few health-increasing pickups once felled.
This game's purported puzzle and adventure elements do present
themselves here and there, but they boil down to scenes my soon-to-be
8-year-old daughter could handle with ease, even were it her fifth
birthday impending instead of her eighth. Most of the thinking
is already done for you via either vocalized laundry lists of
what items need to be picked up or simple text statements from
the Quest Log. Once you get these articles, cutscenes usually
ensue whereby they are automatically put to use. Most times you
don't even have to figure out how to use them!
Even collecting said items bestows weariness upon the wayfarer.
A lock pick is hidden, shockingly enough, in a cabinet right next
to a locked treasure chest. Finding four herbs for an old man's
tea merely consists of sending Frodo galloping about the countryside
where sparkly, white, glowing herbs lay about in obvious places,
ready to be picked up when he runs over them. Fixing the gate
so he can leave town only requires his turning away from it, entering
the first door of the first building he sees, picking up the sparkly,
white, glowing hinge off of the floor, and bringing it back to
the gate. Then Aragorn later follows the LOTR plot by attempting
to throw the Dark Lord Sauron and his One Ring-lusting Black Riders
off Frodo's scent as Frodo makes his way to safety. As if already
knowing the storyline weren't enough in my case, I also had to
listen to Aragon's blunt musings about what to do and how to do
it beforehand. Then I was not even allowed to put the pieces into
place myself, but was made to watch as a bystander after all items
were collected and a cutscene completely took over.
While playing as one character, you will at times have other
characters along with you. However, about the only things they
are good for are either getting lost as soon as possible (in which
case you must halt your journey to find them) or getting their
butts kicked in fights while you handle everything yourself. Most
of the battles in The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of
the Ring are easy, but occasionally the screen does fill with
swarms of enemies. Help or no help, though, you may save the game
at all but the major boss fight areas, so you can always load
a previous save for another try. (I did have the game freeze a
number of times when reloading saves from certain areas, though,
necessitating my shutting down the Xbox entirely then powering
it back on.)
The background music is tastefully done; it is dramatic, uplifting,
and distinctly Gaelic all at once. Sound effects are good too,
from the clanging of swords to the grunts and roars of enemies,
even offering a metallic sparring sound when games are reloaded.
The graphics are excellent, and although the lip-synching does
not nearly line up with the speech, character renderings and facial
expressions are especially good. The whimsical lands are sometimes
muted, sometimes vibrantly colorful, but always very detailed.
I wish half the imagination that went into the visuals had made
its way into the actual gameplay! Unfortunately, despite an easy,
jump-right-in control scheme and interface, LOTR really
suffers from a nasty case of uninspired gaming doldrums. It is
also overly simplistic, appearing to be geared toward children
except for the reality of the almost endless fighting. Even though
the graphics and sound are splendid, the almost across-the-boards
flat acting and boring enemies along with the used and abused
game play elements combine for one lame game touting more of the
same ... I'm forced to throw cornpoop at it.
Release Date: October 2002
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