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The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King Review
developer: EA Studios
PIII 700, 128MB RAM, 32MB Video Card, 2GB HD
|ESRB rating: T
release date: Nov 03, 03 (released)
|» All About The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King on ActionTrip|
No one can deny that the Lord of the Rings is a literary work that has enjoyed a rebirth. Though never truly gone from sight, the entire saga has a much more modern feel, due mostly to the masterpiece films by Peter Jackson. Tolkein's tale of fantasy is retold with fantastic performances by Viggo Mortensen, Sir Ian McKellan, and a host of other extremely fine actors, and has reopened the eyes of the world to a story that has no peer. EA accepted the task of adapting the film series into the video game genre, thus allowing gaming fans a chance to feel like they are a part of the film.
Oookay, bring 'em on! One by one!
Maybe the huge bugger is house-trained...
As some of you are already aware, EA's previous LotR game, The Two Towers, saw its release on the consoles only. Sadly, we PC freaks had to suck it up, swallow our pride and pick up a gamepad to play the game. (Ed. - Objectivity!) As saddened as I was by this fact, I still did it, as the idea of interacting with the characters from Peter Jackson's movie was too tantalizing to pass up. I wasn't disappointed. The Two Towers was one of the rare movie tie-ins that actually worked. And boy did it ever! EA programmers managed to successfully fuse the gripping cinematics from the trilogy with the excellently designed game settings and non-stop, challenging action sequences. The end result was at times very restricted and short but extremely entertaining game that received accolades from both fans and press alike. The Two Towers managed to successfully convey the atmosphere from the movies while at the same time giving players the chance to engage in some severe orc slaying.
In many ways, The Return of the King is a logical extension to this game. It is much bigger, prettier and even more intense - the way a final chapter to an epic tale should be. RotK continues where TTT left off. The plot ties to the events that take place at the end of the second movie and makes a successful transition to the events from the third. The designers have done a fantastic job of retelling some of the key points from the story, while managing not to reveal too many details of the final chapter due out in theatres this December. Once again, the in-game action blends with the cinematics and the transition between the two are as natural as it could possibly be. Naturally, this effect does wonders for the overall ambience, but is only a fraction of the full package.
This full package includes a THX certified sound engine, which is absolutely stunning, and compliments it with some of the prettiest visuals I've ever seen. The graphics and audio effects are just massive. The programmers used everything modern technology can provide to create some of the most spectacular scenes I've seen on my PC. Ents stomp on orcs with their huge wooden roots. Caves tumble around Aragorn as he makes his escape from the Path of the Dead. Frodo and Sam work their way through the ruins of Osgiliath while orcs and brave soldiers of Gondor engage in deadly combat, while being chased mercilessly by the Ringwraiths. By the way, if I didn't already mention the Ringwraiths, I should have, they are amazing in this one. No detail has been forgotten in this movie-to-game evolution, and I'm sure most will agree with me when I say that the game version of Return of the King is to gaming what the trilogy has been to modern film. Naturally, these incredible sound effects and visuals are accompanied by a fantastic musical score and voice acting by the actual movie cast. (Ed. - Really? Holy Shit, I'm impressed.) I don't even have to comment on the professionalism of the voicing, given the fact that Sir Ian McKellen lends his talent to the computer incarnation of Gandalf, and so on.
Furthermore, this incredible technology behind the game is shaped and directed in such a way that each new scene is as spellbinding as action scenes get in games. There is always just the right amount of charging orcs, trolls and other servants of Sauron to keep your gaze fixed on the screen. As far as the core gameplay is concerned, the developers have managed to strike just the right balance of difficulty that makes the game very challenging and just a tad bit frustrating. Enough to make you want to play until you get to the next chapter. Make no mistake about it, RotK is a true and true action arcade, and as such, it relies heavily on simplistic combat and scores of enemies coming at ya. Even though many will call this a sure sign of console gaming, such gameplay isn't exactly atypical on the PC either. One only needs to understand what action RPG's are all about. If you're into arcade combat and like your games larger than life and immersive, then, Return of the King will be right up your alley. Compared to the previous game, RotK offers more freedom of movement, bigger levels in every way, with more locations and enemies, and a true and unadulterated rush of having to slay orcs in an epic setting worthy of the Lord of the Rings tale. The designers have obviously done their homework. They knew exactly what it takes to make an arcade fighter like this one addictive. The difficulty balance is so good on the normal level of difficulty that you will have a hard time letting go of the mouse once the action commences.
Hey, hey! Watch the hair!
This doesn't look good.
Unfortunately, there are certain aspects of RotK that will repel the more demanding PC gamers out there. (Ed. - I refer to these people as 'punk bitches', but 'demanding' is a good enough term for them.) The fact that the game is linear and relatively restricted is not one of them however. As opposed to TTT, in RotK you get to move around and interact with the environment a lot more. There are even faint traces of non-linearity in the game. One good example of this is the mission with Aragorn, Legolas or Gimli that takes place at the southern gate of Gondor. A huge troll will block your path through the gate. The trick here is that there are several ways you can get rid of him. You can attack him head-on and then proceed to the walls where the wheel that opens the game is located, or you can avoid a direct fight, climb the walls, and spill hot oil on troll's head. If you take the later approach, however, you'll be forced to fight even more enemies and deal away with another troll on top of the walls. You can take care of him by using one of the catapults, or you can simply climb the walls and take him head-on. There are certain choices to be made here. Granted, they are very simple alternatives, but at least they're there.
But to get back what I was saying, the aforementioned linearity and restrictive movement are common to these types of games and, if done right, can become so integral to the action that you won't even notice them. My real beef with this game had to do with the console-friendly feel to the controls, lack of any kind of net multiplayer or co-op mode for the PC, and the relatively short single-player campaign. Even though you're able to use the standard mouse look in the game, using your mouse will serve little purpose outside of clicking on the left and right buttons. The camera controls are done in such a way that you'll be forced to control your character's movement and facing by using the WASD keys. Eventually I got used to this, but that still doesn't justify the fact that the designers could've put some extra work into taking the full advantage of PC's superior control system. (Ed. - That comes from a PC gamer's point of view, one thing us console gamers enjoy is simplicity of control. To us, the controller is far superior to the keyboard and mouse.) (2Lions - Yeah, whatever...) Another extremely disappointing fact about this game is the lack of bona fide co-op mode. It would be so damn cool to play this one with your buddies over LAN, but noooo... The only way you can play this game in co-op on the PC is if you hook up an extra controller and play with your buddy on the same PC over split screen?! And to add salt to an already throbbing injury, PS2 gamers get to have a fully-featured internet co-op mode! (Ed. - Unfair! PS2 highly lacks in net play games, it's good to have one out there that only we can have!) (2Lions - Did you know that I can wield a mouse as a lethal weapon?) Go figure! I guess us PC gamers are just a minor segment of the market and therefore not worth the extra effort.
Finally, it took me about a day and a half to finish the single-player campaign. Granted, you can unlock bonus characters, levels and whatnot, and the game is sufficiently challenging to force you to replay certain levels dozens of times, but the fact remains it didn't take me more than a day and a half to finish Return of the King.
To sum it up, Return of the King is probably the most intense PC game I've played this year after Call of Duty. It is a true action arcade title, which implies an obvious lack of any gameplay depth. The fantastic integration of movie elements, visuals, story, and THX-certified sound, however, make this one of the best arcade action experiences ever. Although the camera work is clunky and far from the potential of modern-day PC games, it doesn't take away from the action too much, and you get used to it pretty quickly. By far the biggest gripe I had with this game is its lack of more replay value. Lack of internet co-op play is a hard blow to any PC gamer.
Even still, I believe that the incredibly atmospheric and addictive action was worth the price of admission. Be forewarned though that some of you PC purists out there might find the abovementioned downsides unacceptable. Still, we're delving here into the realm of personal affinities and that is one place I don't want to go in too deeply in this review. (Ed. - Too late.)
8.3 Very Good
Incredibly intense, addictive and well-balanced action; sounds, visuals, cinematic sequences, bigger and more interactive levels;
Controls, lack of true co-op/multiplayer support, short.
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