Xbox
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Platforms: Nintendo GameCube,PS2, Xbox Reviewed Platform: Xbox Publisher: EA Games ESRB Rating: Teen,for blood and violence

A fellowship is formed

It\'s no secret that Electronic Arts scored big when they picked up the red-hot Lord of the Rings movie license. The key point here is that EA\'s game is based on the films, not Tolkien\'s novels. That license had, in fact, been scooped up earlier by Vivendi Universal\'s game division. Under their new publishing imprint, Black Label Games, VU released a game based upon the Fellowship of the Ring novel. However, EA and developer Stormfront Studios set out to make a title based on the first two films, but named after the second. To do so, they utilized the set and character designs used by the films\' crew, as well as the actors themselves, to create a game which is worthy of the license. And that\'s no small potatoes, considering the state of movie-based titles in the past. For those not paying attention, those \'games\' were usually terrible wastes of disc space.

One game play style to rule them all

Alright, I\'m going to get this out of the way now. The Two Towers is a straight up action game. No puzzles, some very minimal RPG elements, and little strategy is needed. This is a beat-\'em-up that harkens back to ye olden days, when young, pimple-faced citizens would venture into mysterious, darkly lit dwellings known as arcades. The townsfolk would then proceed to pour quarters into machines with names plastered upon them like \'Gauntlet\' and \'Golden Axe.\' They would virtually hack and slash their way to victory against the evil hordes of ugly henchmen and menacing bosses of those titles, while grabbing powerups along the way. Sure, it ain\'t brain surgery, but it is within the simplicity of those classics that many gamers first grew to love this wonderful hobby. And it is this simplicity which I found in the Two Towers. With apologies to RPG lovers everywhere, I\'ve always been an action junkie, so I thought that an old school beat-\'em-up was a perfect fit for the LOTR series, especially considering that the movies themselves contain so many epic battle scenes. So, without further adieu, let\'s dissect this title.

Sword, bow, and axe at the ready!

You can choose from among three characters at the outset of the game. First, we have Aragorn (aka Strider), who wields a mighty sword, and is the most balanced character with regard to speed and strength. He\'s a good character to start out with, in my opinion. Next up is the elven character, Legolas, who carries two short swords, and values speed over strength, but he gets the job done. Plus, he\'s the best archer. Finally, we have everyone\'s favorite short guy, Gimli the dwarf, who\'s the slowest but most powerful playable character in the game. He never leaves home without tugging along his trusty axe, and it\'s a good thing he does, too, since you\'ll be facing quite a few baddies along the road to victory. The character models are all decent, although they don\'t tax the Xbox hardware too much. This is a Playstation 2 port, and you can clearly see it. The visuals as a whole seem optimized for Sony\'s console, but they\'re still nice-looking and are passable in the end. Just don\'t expect Dead or Alive 3-caliber character models. Now, to the environments, which are splendid. Nicely textured and sharp-looking, and very reminiscent of the film\'s locales. The developers really did a good job on this. I should mention that the first few levels of the game are taken from the Fellowship of the Ring movie, while the later stages come from the Two Towers. EA released this game in conjunction with the second film\'s theatrical release, but they still wanted to throw in some scenes from the first. So, you\'ll open up the game as Isildur battling Sauron\'s hordes, just as the film trilogy opened with his prologue. In addition, you\'ll also see the Gates of Moria, Balin\'s Tomb, and Amon Hen from the first film. Later, Fangorn Forest, the kingdom of Rohan, and Helm\'s Deep from the second movie are featured. Two more things: the camera and frame rate. I know that Stormfront tried to use cinematic camera angles to heighten the suspense and majesty of the game, but it does sometimes get annoying. Abrupt perspective switches often require you to quickly change direction in order to pass through doors or pathways. It\'s very jarring, and can be irritating when you\'re fighting orcs. Also, your character can be obscured behind large groups of enemies, so you have to jam buttons and hope that he clears out an area so you can get a visual on him. This happens a lot in the Helm\'s Deep levels later in the game. Still, it\'s not a death knell for this game, just a slight annoyance. Overall, nice graphics and decent presentation, but I can only imagine how much better this game would have looked had Stormfront optimized it for the Xbox. It is, after all, the most technically powerful console out.

...Drums in the deep...

Sound is used wonderfully in this game. Howard Shore\'s score blasts out of your speakers as you attack the orc and goblin armies of Sauron and the dark wizard Saruman. I loved the choral tracks, in particular, which are stress-inducing, majestic, and adrenaline-pumping all at the same time. Sometimes, especially if you replay certain levels, the music gets monotonous. I would simply turn the sound down to combat that. Overall, an excellent soundtrack that immerses you in the LOTR world. The sound effects are top-notch, as well. Swords clank, shields break apart, arrows fly through the air, explosions rock your stereo system, enemies scream in pain, and speech is crystal clear. That\'s an important factor in this game, as you are sometimes cued verbally by your comrades in certain levels. All the actors\' voices are included in the game, including Elijah Wood, who gets a cameo as a non-playable Frodo Baggins, and Sir Ian McKellen, who plays Gandalf. Even that ugly Uruk-Hai leader guy gets to do his own voice in the game. They also have interviews with the main actors which can be unlocked by playing through the game. Nicely done.

A ring which controls them all..

Every playable character has the same basic move list. Remember those RPG elements I mentioned? Well, as your character\'s fighting level increases, new attacks can be purchased with your earned experience points. Also, the controls are identical for each character. A is a speed attack, X is parry and block, Y is a fierce weapon strike, and B is a kick attack. The black button on the Xbox is the jump back (evade) button, while the left trigger sets up your ranged weapon (bow and arrow for Aragorn and Legolas; axe for Gimli), and the right trigger delivers a hard deathblow to an opponent as they lie defenseless on the ground. The controls are pretty responsive and tight, although the game can degenerate into a button masher at times, especially when you\'re surrounded. Also, the combos in the game are not complex at all. Mostly it consists of three or four button presses in a row (such as A, B, Y, Right trigger) that unleash a powerful attack. Allow me to reiterate, this game is a brawler. Finesse is not in the cards. However, I was hoping for a more robust combo system. Nevertheless, it\'s functional.

Appropriate?

The Lord of the Rings films are rather dark and occasionally frightening. This game is no different. The ESRB\'s \'teen\' rating is an appropriate one here. Young children should not play this game too much. Not without parental guidance and supervision. The orcs, goblins, trolls, and Uruk-Hai are disgusting creatures; indeed, their evil is shown outwardly. I feel that this may scare some kids who try this game out. However, people who have seen the movie need not worry about that. Next up is the violence factor. This game, being a beat-\'em-up, has much hacking and slashing going on, but it\'s not really that extreme. No disembowelments are seen in the game. You cut \'em, they fall over, and that\'s that. No real problem there, unless you\'re really young. Lastly, there is no swearing in the game. A definite plus.

My Preciousssss...

So, I\'d say that this game is worth the money you spend on it. True, it could be deeper, you sometimes take cheap hits, the graphics are nothing the Xbox can\'t handle, and it can be tough in some areas, but I feel that the Two Towers captures the essence of Tolkien\'s masterpiece well. While it\'s not the best beat-\'em-up I\'ve ever played (it lacks a two-player cooperative play mode), and I\'m not in love with this game like I was with Panzer Dragoon Orta, I\'m certain that it can find its audience. That said, there are some things I\'d improve upon in the sequel, which is coming out later (such as the aforementioned sub par graphics and cheap hits). Still, not a bad effort from Stormfront and EA. Oh, and be on the lookout for the secret stage. It\'s a fun one!

Final Ratings

Game Play: B- Sound: A- Graphics: B Controls B- Appropriateness: B

Overall: 80% Good

About the Author

Cheryl Gress

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Christ Centered Gamer looks at video games from two view points. We analyze games on a secular level which will break down a game based on its graphics, sound, stability and overall gaming experience. If you’re concerned about the family friendliness of a game, we have a separate moral score which looks at violence, language, sexual content, occult references and other ethical issues.

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