The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring Review
publisher: Vivendi Games
developer: Surreal Software
genre: Action Adventure
PII-300, 32MB RAM, 500MB HDD, 3D accelerator
|ESRB rating: T
release date: Oct 22, 02 (released)
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During the great upsurge of Tolkien's Lord of the Rings and Peter Jackson's bold and successful attempt to recapture its glory on the big-screen, we finally get a chance to see the story come to life on the PC. Well, after reading the books for about five times over, and after seeing Peter Jackson's movie, I was very enthusiastic to see what the development team has done with the story. Interpreting such a huge masterpiece and condensing all of its beauty into a single video game must've been one helluva challenge.
I think that people who have read the books will be pleased to see some famous characters that were left out in the movie (and were sorely missed mind you) make their appearance in the game. To begin with, cheerful ol' Tom Bombadil will be there to get the Hobbits out of hot water - first from Old Man Willow and after that from the clutches of the perilous Barrow Wights. The events that took place at Bree, Weathertop, and Amon Hen, have been slightly modified. But in a good way. Many such changes have proven to be a suitable addition to the gameplay. However, the game has some unexplainable gaps in the storyline, which leave several scenes in the game without a fair account of what actually went on in the book. Well, we'll put that one aside for a moment.
At the start of Frodo's journey the player is presented with a number of simple quests just to get in the spirit of things. During the time spent in Shire you will have enough time to familiarize yourself with character's movement and control scheme. All the basic moves and actions are very easy to learn, so it may be a matter of minutes before you start swinging your dagger and sword like a true soldier of Gondor. Your inventory includes all the items that are essential to your survival in the lands of Middle Earth. Most of the time, you'll find that obtaining stacks of lembas, mushrooms, and crams, will be your number one priority. Throughout many parts of the game, acquiring these items won't be too hard. They are usually scattered around the level, or can be gained from defeated enemies (hm, I seem to remember orcs detesting the very sight of lembas, so it's kind of hard to imagine them carrying bunches of such elvish snacks in their pockets... right, right, I forgot no, nitpicking). Perhaps this aspect is one of the reasons why combat remains such a simple challenge. There's a virtually endless amount of lembas concealed in the Middle Earth shrubbery, which means you can easily heal your wounds. And, giving you a choice of a few combat moves, there really isn't anything truly exciting about fighting duels. Also, I think that the aspect of sub-quests should've been enhanced a bit more. Granted, it would be hard to develop some kind of quest for the player without deviating from the books too much, but it would've been worth a shot.
While journeying through Middle Earth your characters are gonna be fending off huge spiders from the Old Forest, the ill-tempered orcs, enormous trolls, deadly wolves, and many other weird and foul beings. It's also nice to see that the design team used their own pattern for shaping the creatures of Middle Earth, such as orcs, goblins, trolls, etc. And I have to admit that they all look pretty real and scary. But, some of them are not "scary" enough as it turns out. Of course, I'm referring to the AI, which can be surprisingly easy to deal with at times.
Generally, the AI is OK and you will have your hands full once the orcs start to pour out of their caverns and pits. As Tolkien expressed in his books, orcs are a bit panicky and not very bright when you catch 'em off guard. Especially when they're singled out, they can become an easy target. But, when they mass in groups they can be quite dangerous. This is exactly the way they behave in the game. But, there's one thing that happens quite frequently and it makes the whole game look really puny. During battles some of your enemies won't budge until you approach them and whack them on the head with your sword. They do become lively after that, but by then there's simply no chance for them to save their hide! Hey, what gives? The programmers probably ran out of caffeine while they were adjusting this portion of the AI code. Which is a shame because otherwise the AI responds quite well.
Hm, the graphics... Ah yes. When 2lions and I first sat down and begun to play the Xbox version, we were amazed with the amount of details that was incorporated into the surroundings. The character models were furnished with abundant polys and were excellently animated. Luckily, things look much the same in the PC version as well. However, the Xbox version did have stuff like rain, juicy reflections, various additional details in the scenery, cool shadow and light effects, and above all, the highly-detailed textures. It even looked as though they overdid it bit, since the frame-rate was occasionally sluggish on the Xbox. But, we've always agreed that a slightly slower frame-rate is a far better solution than crappy visuals with a perfectly smooth frame-rate. Now, after we saw this visual delicacy at work on the Xbox, we were pretty much convinced that the game would rule on the PC, since you get to beef up the resolution and all. But alas, we got discouraged. It's a shame that this game should loose all of its visual finery just because it was unsuccessfully ported from the Xbox. All of those nifty visual treats that made the game rock on the Xbox were just gone, which came as an overall disappointment. There is an option to turn on detailed textures in the PC version, but it just wouldn't work on my rig - and I played FOTR v1.0 on an Athlon XP 2000+ and a GeForce 3 card. Another bad thing is the poor camera angling, which proved to be a great drawback in some battle situations; especially when you have to aim you arrows at opponents on higher ground. If it's of any consolation, you have the look-around (first-person) mode that can slightly ease your aiming.
One other irritating thing about the PC version of FOTR is the fact that you'll simply have to have Win XP with a SP1 installed, or the game won't run at all. In addition, playing with 40.x detonator drivers will "kill" all the texturing in the game, and make all the models flicker.
The sound on the other hand is one of the strongest and most praiseworthy aspects of the game. Everything is in place, from ambient sounds, weapon clashes, and the sound of arrows hissing through the air, to the marvelous soundtrack that swells in the background. Although, a few of the characters could've used more professional voiceovers (oh hell yeah - the rural Brit accents of the Hobbits are just terrible - 2Lions), but that's about all there is to it.
Anyway, despite some weird story changes, Fellowship of the Ring represents a brave attempt to evoke the moments from the books. On top of that, this game shows an accurate depiction of Tolkien's legends and the world he called Middle Earth and that's largely due to splendid character artwork and excellent outdoor level designing. Another thing I really liked is that the PC has slightly different levels then the ones included in the Xbox version (the Barrow Downs for example).
But, if you're the type of person who's not smitten by the mere mention of the Lord of the Rings, and are looking for some genuine gameplay depth, then I guess you won't enjoy some of the slip-ups that were made in this game. In terms of game design, I think that the developers got a bit confused on what they wanted to achieve with this game. Namely, all of the adventure elements such as puzzles and quests are relatively sporadic and are usually overshadowed by sheer action, which is not that good to begin with.
One thing's for certain though; if you're crazy about the books and the movies, you're going to disregard everything I said and head straight for your local software dealer. However, I do advise you to brace yourself for some not-so-thrilling gaming moments. Don't say I didn't warn ya...
Beautiful sceneries and level design. The character artwork certainly paid off. The tunes are pleasant and original. Character models have a lot of polys on them and they look great. Altogether a true portrayal of the Middle Earth and its inhabitants.
The PC version has punier visuals than the Xbox. A few plotline flaws here and there. The gameplay simply lacks more depth, making the quest a bit tedious at times.
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