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Platform

Xbox

 

Genre

Action

 

Publisher

Vivendi

 

Developer

WXP

 

ESRB

T (Teen)

 

Released

Q4 2002

 

 

- Finally get an interactive Middle-earth world to explore
- Graphics, especially the Middle-earth landscape and environments, are very good
- Musical score adds touch of suspense to gameplay

 

 

- Horrible collision detection control
- For an adventure game is extremely short
- Who beta tested this game? Can walk through rocks and can get inexplicably stuck in place in areas where you didnít before
- Long load times

 

 

Review: Enclave (XBox)

Review: Dark Cloud (Playstation 2)

Review: Lord of the Rings: Conquest (360)

 

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Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the Ring

Score: 5.1 / 10

 

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Thereís a little bit of confusion surrounding the licensing of the J.R.R. Tolkien Middle-earth world in videogames. Both Vivendi Universal Games and Electronic Arts acquired the rights to publish games following the Lord of the Rings storyline. But while EAís games are based on the trilogy of the Peter Jackson movies, Vivendiís titles are pulled right from the pages of the Tolkien books themselves. If you are still puzzled over which game is which, my suggestion to end the confusion in the videogame sect is to change the name of Vivendiís Xbox game from Lord of the Rings (LotR) to Lord of the Flies. This game is so bug-filled, I canít believe they had the audacity to retail this game in its present state of disarray.

Vivendiís title follows the action of the first book in the Lord of the Rings trilogy, The Fellowship of the Ring. You start out as the hobbit Frodo, who is given the task of destroying the One Ring that the evil Sauron is intent on possessing in his ruthless attempt to control the whole land. Throughout the third-person game, you will shift

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from Frodo to the wizened wizard Gandalf to the human warrior Aragorn. Each character has different attributes. Frodo is the smallest and weakest, but is the only one that can use the ring to find hidden areas in the game. But beware, because too much usage of the ring will "kill" him or just as bad will draw the attention of Sauronís Black Riders, who Frodo has no chance against. Get these guys on your tail and expect to have your game end fairly

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quickly.

Gandalf has powerful magic attacks in addition to his swordwork, and Aragorn gets by on his strong skills with the long sword and bow. In your travels, there are various items that can help you in your many battles. Different weapons and their respective replenishing supply of ammunition, mushrooms that restock your health meter and potion bottles that fill up Gandalfís magic attack lie all around.

Along the way, you will run into many NPCs that aid you and also join the Fellowship. Interaction is done through text and voice communication that is the norm for adventure games. There are some puzzles and tasks that you must also do, especially as Frodo, that while they add some longevity to the game, are usually boring and needless. (One task has you gathering a Hobbiton neighborís pigs into the pigpen before continuing on your journey to Mount Doom.)

The sensory features of LotR are very well done. Visually, this is the way you would imagine a videogame of Middle-earth to look like. The cut-scenes and FMVs are richly rendered too. The main character models are relatively good but not great. Orcs and overgrown spiders that you encounter in the woods are particularly impressive in their detail and overall scary appearance. Animation of the characters is smooth. Pay attention to the little animation touches that make the visuals such a treat. When Frodo, for instance, is running or sneaking around, he will nervously adjust his grip on his sword. It's a minute detail that's a pleasant surprise (considering the many problems that plague LotR). The musical score that flows airily through your escapades is also of a high quality. Reminiscent of the stupendous score of Halo, it adds the right mood particularly in suspenseful situations to the gameplay.

But there are a lot of bad things going on in Vivendiís Middle-earth title. The game faithfully follows the sequence of the bookís action, but thatís one of the problems. (Middle-earth seems big and expansive due to the excellent environmental graphics, but there are invisible walls that impede adventuring the Tolkien world and keep you on the linear storyline.) If you read the book or even just saw the movie, you know how things are going to wind up. This is never more evident in Gandalfís battle against the Balrog in the deep mines of Moria. All you need to do is force the Balrog to the edge of the bridge and force him over with your magic attacks, which you would have known if you read the book. But once thatís done, thereís little room for surprise, for you know the seemingly victorious Gandalf is going to be pulled down the deep cavernous drop right behind the Balrog. Knowing the LotR story is both a blessing and a curse.

 

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A blessing because your familiarity with whatís happening can get you through areas of the game, but a curse because of the above-mentioned problem of knowing whatís in store for you around the next bend. And unfortunately your game in this particular title will end long before you ever reach Mount Doom. Speaking of ending way too soon, this is an incredibly short game, an unforgivable sin for an adventure title. You wonít have to play more than nine hours to complete the entire game. Thatís no more than two days of playing time (it took me three) for most gamers. For $50 dollars, you should be getting much more out of a game than this.

Game control and the collision physics are totally awful and unacceptable for an adventure title. The developers couldnít make up their mind as to how the characters interact within the game environment. When climbing on high ledges, some areas of LotR have invisible barriers that will not under any circumstances allow your character to fall off. But in other areas of the game, your character will go plummeting into the depths of Tolkienís world. You never know how safe or unsafe you may be in your high-climbing adventuring.

Fighting against the many enemies you will encounter has its problems too. When you press the attack button on the controller, there seems to be a delay in the character actually performing the attack, and the enemy has no difficulty taking advantage of that, getting in a few hits you wouldnít think should be available if the controls were more responsive.

I would LOVE to know who beta-tested this game, because I havenít seen such bad gameplay elements in one title in a while. The worst atrocity is graphical breakup that allows you to walk right through environmental features that arenít supposed to be walked through. There was one area of the game in the woods that allowed me to walk through a big boulder to the other side, which was the invisible barrier of the level. I know the developers didnít want me to be roaming back there, but because someone missed it on the beta testing, it found its way into the final product. There are other areas of the game that you can half-walk through static features of the environment, which makes it really hard to enjoy your visit to Middle-earth.

Another bad mistake that finds its way into the gameplay is items that donít always do what they are supposed to the first time or disappear and reappear at malevolently-orchestrated will. Hereís a classic example: I found a key that was meant to open a door nearby. Logically I went to the nearest door that I thought the key would fit. It wouldnít open. So I went back out into the underground recesses of Moria to find the door it belonged to. 45 frustrating minutes later, I still couldnít find the door, so I saved then quit the game in disgust. Later, I went about my travels in the same area, thinking maybe that I missed something. An hour later, I frustratingly saved and quit again. After starting my saved game yet again, I decided what the heck, I would give that very door that wouldnít open before another try. It opened. Needless to say, I was upset that I wasted nearly two hours searching for the door that I had already found but the game decided it didnít want to open.

Camera and load-time issues also bring down the LotR game experience. The camera doesnít always allow you to see who or what is attacking you. And the load times on LotR's many levels are inexcusably bad. In Halo, when you are moving from one area to the next, there is almost seamless load-times that are barely noticeable as the next area of the game comes into focus and allows you to venture forward. In LotR, however, what appears is a solid black wall that can take up to a minute before suddenly becoming a visual interpretation of the travelable path that it is meant to be. It is clearly evident that this is the classic example of a videogame rushed to market without being properly beta tested and corrected.

Lord of the Rings unfortunately has fallen under the licensing hex that has been placed on many a videogaming title before it, doing a terrible injustice to one of the greatest fantasy literary works ever scribed. While the sensory facets of LotR are pleasantly done and finally being able to explore the Tolkien world of Middle-earth will be enjoyable for hobbit fans everywhere, the god-awful controls, horrible collision detection, needless puzzles and tasks, and incredibly short game length make this a game to stay away from, at least where your hard-earned money is concerned.

Big-time Tolkien fans that can tolerate the generally poor gameplay features in order to get a interactive romp through Middle-earth may want to give LotR a rental, but absolutely donít consider this for a gaming buy unless it can be had around the holidays for under $20 bucks. And thatís ONLY if you are a HUGE Tolkien universe fan that wants this strictly for its value as Tolkien memorabilia.

- Lee Cieniawa
lcieniawa@armchairempire.com

(October 23, 2002)

 

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