Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers (PS2)

Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers (PS2)

Written by Charlie Sinhaseni on 1/4/2003 for PS2  

I'll be the first to admit that I'm not the biggest fan of the Lord of the Rings. I've never read the trilogy and to be honest, had it not been for the player selection screen I wouldn't know any of the primary player's names. I don't quite understand the lore behind the entire story nor do I care to learn more about it. I am a huge fan of hack'n'slash style gameplay though and I've got a pretty clear idea of what a great slasher should be. You know something? I may not know anything about this ring nonsense, but the game based on the movie based on his book really isn't half bad.

Plain and simple, EA's Lord of the Rings The Two Towers is the best film to video game adaptation that I have ever played. It doesn't come off feeling like a cheap piece of memorabilia that was meant to ride the coattails of the major motion picture. Instead it feels like a stand alone title that can reside on its own merits that doesn't need to rely on some big name movie licensing. Instead, it exploits that license to the fullest extent to create one of the best hack'n'slash games of the year 2002. Best of all? It takes all the boring aspects of the three-hour snoozefests, weeds out the boring parts (read: majorly feminine hobbit sideplots) and wraps it up in a neat little action-packed package.

Because EA opted to head straight to the second movie in the trilogy (to coincide with the movie's release) Two Towers actually encompasses both the first and second movies, also the second movie receives top billing. The game belongs with an elongated intro detailing the history and mystique behind the "one ring." You'll see the actual full length intro to the major motion picture and then the game seamlessly blends into gameplay, suffice to say I was very impressed. After that you'll assume control of one of the movie's three pivotal characters, Aragorn, Legolas or Gimli. Each of the levels can be played with either of the three characters with little to no change, completing a level unlocks the next level en route to the game's finale. Thankfully you don't need to complete each level with every character in order to progress through the game, completing one level with Gimli will allow you to play the next with Legolas and so forth. When you get far enough through the game you'll unlock a secret level (a fight up a 20 story tower) which upon completion will unlock a secret character.

While the game may look like a mindless slasher it's actually much deeper than you might initially expect. Rushing headlong into the battle will generally result in your death, instead you'll have to use some tactics in order to be sucessful. You'll have three types of attacks, a quick attack, a strong attack, a kick, a ranged attack, a finishing manuever and a parrying manuever. You'll need to do much more blocking in Two Towers than the other games of this genre, in fact blocking/parrying plays a vital role in your success. You'll be able to block nearly all attacks, leaving your enemies open to a counteract. Then there are the finishing manuevers that can be performed after a succesful attack that will instantly kill your opponents.

In addition, you'll be able to perform combos that will also help you dispose of your enemies. In a nice touch your characters will increase in level as you beat more and more opponents. How much experience you receive depends on how effectively dispatch of your enemies, beat them with cheap tactics and you'll receive little experience. Take them out swiftly and quickly you'll be rewarded with more experience points. The points then can be used to purchase upgrades for your characters including new combos and manuevers. Learning how and when to use the proper combos and tactics really plays a key role in your success throughout the duration of the game. Best of all the combat is actually entertaining and while it can get repetitive at times, there's enough variation to keep you on your toes from time to time.
Each level takes place in one of the movie's scenes, the forest, the plains and of course, at the fortified fort at the end of the movie. Each of them usually involve you travelling through the environments, disposing of a batch of enemies and then laying waste to an end-level boss. Sometimes this formula is changed a bit, requiring you to defend an object for a set amount of time or to protect a set of villagers, but the general gameplay remains unchanged. This isn't all that bad, but sometimes the levels are made out to be much more difficult than they should be. Most of the defense levels pan out like something out of the movie Starship Troopers, asking you to defend a fort or a wooden door from an endless onslaught of enemies. What happens if you fail? You'll have to start from the very beginning of the level. While the majority of the levels are generally good about providing the gamer with checkpoints to restart from these levels are just absurd and lead to nothing but frustration. Thankfully there are only a few of them but they're still bothersome nonetheless.

Gameplay is also hindered by the inclusion of some pretty horrid camera angles. Even worse is the fact that you cannot manually control the camera to obtain a better vantage point on the action. While it's nice at some points of the game, lending it a more cinematic feel, it generally proves to be much more of an annoyance than it should be. This is especially bothersome when some off-screen enemy is hurling arrows and fodder at you. I'm not saying that the other 3D games have perfected the camera system but being able to at least rotate the viewpoint would have done wonders for this game.

When I wasn't being bothered by some of the inane camera angles I was being impressed by the game's action. Speaking of impressive, the engine used for the game is the most impressive piece of technology to appear in a video game since the engine used for State of Emergency, but while SOE rendered hundreds of crude-looking models, Two Tower's engine can push out dozens of fully rendered creatures at once. This is especially amazing during the game's more epic fight scenes where you'll take on hordes and hordes of beautifully rendered enemies. Animations for both playable and non-playable characters is superb, providing some of the most fluid movements of any game on the market. You'll see the battle unfold around you and best of all, you can actually interact and do combat with each of the dozens of creatures in the battle. It's not just some cheap animation being played on a loop, it's all being rendered on the fly, making it all the more impressive.

Each of the main characters look more or less like faithful to their movie counterparts. In addition to the movie clips used to move along the plot pre-rendered sequences are also sprinkled about, although their pretty weak, especially in comparison to the engine-rendered visuals.Some of the characters just look completely off in the pre-rendered sequences, especially Legolas who has brown hair as opposed to the bright white mane that he sports in the game. Aragorn's body and build look pretty accurate but his face and expressions look lifeless and empty while Gimli looks, well like Gimli. The models are pretty good by themselves but when compared to their movie counterparts are pretty off-kilter.
As a result of peer pressure I've seen the major motion picture and for the most part, the game does an admirable job of following the events that transpired during the entire three hours. There are a few deviations however, most likely added to fill in some of the time gaps of the movie. For instance, you'll actually be forced to fight your way through that forest as opposed to just simply wandering through and encountering the wizard, Gandalf. The final sequence is also a bit difference in that Gandalf doesn't get to fight in the battle, his presence is represented by a short clip from the movie. The movie clip does an admirable job of explaining what eventually transpires in the battle, although you don't get to see any of that hot hot tree people action.

The game is fairly short and can be completed in under 5 hours with one character. In order to prolong the experience you'll get DVD extras such as interviews and artwork that can be unlocked throughout the course of the game. It's a nice way to draw in LOTR geeks without leaving them feeling like they've been completely cheated out of 50 dollars. There's also the prospect of playing the game through with each of the three characters and the unlocking of the secret character that will do well to keep you busy for a few more hours.

Erase everything you know about video games based on movies because Two Towers is out to rewrite the book on the subject matter. While it's not exactly perfect, it's still the best movie-based video game that I've ever played. If you're even remotely interested in the movie or the trilogy you should give this one some serious consideration. It not only serves as an excellent piece of memorabilia, but also serves as one hell of a video game that is packed to the rim with entertainment and excitement.
Gameplay and cinematics blend seamlessly to create one of gaming's most amazing experiences and surprisingly, the game doesn't feel like some cheap movie tie-in. Sadly, like most good things in life, it all ends much too quickly.

Rating: 8.6 Very Good

* The product in this article was sent to us by the developer/company for review.


About Author

Gaming has been a part of my life for as long as I could remember. I can still recall many a lost nights spent playing Gyromite with that stupid robot contraption for the old NES. While I'm not as old as the rest of the crew around these parts, I still have a solid understanding of the heritage and the history of the video gaming industry.

It's funny, when I see other people reference games like Doom as "old-school" I almost begin to cringe. I bet that half of these supposed "old-school" gamers don't even remember classic games like Rise of the Triad and Commander Keen. How about Halloween Harry? Does anyone even remember the term "shareware" anymore? If you want to know "old-school" just talk to John. He'll tell you all about his favorite Atari game, Custer's Revenge.

It's okay though, ignorance is bliss and what the kids don't know won't hurt them. I'll just simply smile and nod the next time someone tells me that the best entry in the Final Fantasy franchise was Final Fantasy VII.

When I'm not playing games I'm usually busy sleeping through classes at a boring college in Southern Oregon. My current hobbies are: writing songs for punk rock bands that never quite make it, and teasing Bart about... well just teasing Bart in general. I swear the material writes itself when you're around this guy. He gives new meaning to the term "moving punching bag."

As for games, I enjoy all types except those long-winded turn-based strategy games. I send those games to my good pal Tyler, I hear he has a thing for those games that none of us actually have the time to play.

When I'm not busy plowing through a massive pile of video games I spend all of my time trying to keep my cute little girl fed. She eats a ton but damn she's so hot. Does anyone understand the Asian girl weight principal? Like they'll clean out your fridge yet still weigh less than 110 pounds.

Currently I'm playing: THUG, True Crime, Prince of Persia, Project Gotham 2 and Beyond Good & Evil. View Profile

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