Lord of The Rings: Return of The King
Gandalf, Frodo, Sam, and four secret characters join Middle-earth MVPs Aragorn, Legolas, and Gimli in this sequel to last year's hit hack-and-slash adventure. Depending on the character you pick (hairy half-pints included), you'll play through one of three distinct paths (with additional detours for determined explorers) that overlap to match events in the forthcoming film. But if anything makes this the movie game to keep an eye out for, it's the new two-player cooperative play. Of all the new features, that one's the most intriguing.
HOW WAS IT?
Involved, eye-pleasing, majestic--Return of the King's epic scale is simply overwhelming. Sulfur-spewing dragons soar overhead, waves of ores advance beyond the citadel walls, siege engines roll up against ramparts, the camera spins dramatically to capture incoming catapult fire...maybe it's all just smoke and mirrors disguising a straightforward slasher, but I set down the controller totally convinced of my role as a lone, yet indispensable player in a world-changing war.
Download Lord of The Rings: Return of The King
Now I know how the sword hand of royal asskicker Aragorn feels after a hard day's hacking. Return of the King--due for all systems on November 4--has curled my fingers into blistered claws. But as I sit here soaking in salves and ointments and think back to the 10 hours it took to save besieged Middle-earth, I don't regret debilitating my digits. This game is a thrill ride. And not just 'cause Return of the King unleashes larger hordes of foes than last year's equally slick Two Towers prequel. Many of Return of the King's levels actually force you to multitask while you hack and slash. Take Osgiliath--an early mission for new playable halfling Sam--in which you must steer Frodo clear of open areas, lest a soaring Black Rider swoop down and pluck the fuzzy little guy away while you're busy smiting scumbags. In the Battle of Pelennor Fields, a massive clash that could have been the game's finale but isn't, you have to trigger catapults to cripple rampaging behemoths while simultaneously knocking a Black Rider from the sky, defending small-fry Pippin, and fending off a never-ending crush of enemy warriors. My blisters burn at the memory. Adding to the chaos: The game doles out just enough health to keep you a few steps from death at all times--and then only if you rely on combo attacks and blocking moves rather than random button hammering. It makes for a white-knuckle experience that can also lead to hairpulling frustration in a few levels that suffer from unclear objectives. Let me save you from some pain right now: If you get stuck during the siege of Minis Tirith, try using Gandalf's long-range magic attack. Trust me on this. While players will limp away from Return of the King with carpal-tunnel pain, they at least won't have much of the new movie spoiled. The game actually contains little footage from the flick, although the environments themselves are modeled after the movie's locales. In fact, a few plot points and bosses will be lost on players who haven't read the books. But the whole thing still hangs together as a high-gloss experience that'll make your Middle-earth move.
Return of the King does a fantastic job of putting you into the world of the movie through its graphically stunning reproductions of the film's war-torn sets, smooth transitions from thrilling cinema clips into exciting gameplay, top-notch voice work by the trilogy's actors, and music drawn from the flick's epic soundtrack. Once you the game, that's it: You've entered Middle-earth, or at least the one from the movie. Granted, that all was true of last year's Two Towers, too. So, what's changed? Return of the King's gameplay has much more variety because the Hobbits (Sam and Frodo), the warriors (Aragorn, Gimli, and Legolas), and Gandalf all play distinctly different. You'd think that nothing could possibly compare to cleaving through (almost Galaga-like) droves of ores as Aragorn, but blasting them with Gandalf's magic staff and outwitting them using small-fry Sam's stealth and cunning is surprisingly just as much fun. Each of the three group's stages are also dissimilar enough that--once you've beaten the game and gained the ability to play through levels as any character--you'll want to go back and see how, say, Aragorn fares defending the walls of Minas Tirith or how well Gandalf holds up at the Black Gate of Mordor. Does Return of the King have an Achilles' heel? Sure: It's too frigging hard. The game can make you more irate than exhilarated on many stages, but its multiple unlockable features, co-op mode, and online gameplay (for PS2, anyway) make up for a lot of the frustration. Besides being tougher than +5 splint mail, Return of the King is exactly what a licensed game should be.
At the danger of sounding like a broken record (preferably a warped old 45 of Leonard Nimoy's 'Ballad of Bilbo Baggins'), I must admit that I agree with my fellow reviewers on just about all their points regarding Return of the King. It bests last year's Two Towers game by adding more playable characters, a wider variety of level types, and much-needed two-player co-op action. Like the previous game, King offers an audiovisual orgy of Middle-earth splendors that accurately re-creates the film (which, in turn, perfectly adapted the original books with terrifying reverence). Massive armies battle in the background, siege weapons obliterate fortress walls, and Gollum's loincloth ripples tastefully in the breeze--videogames rarely look this polished and solid. Also, just as in last year's model, a bevy of impressive bonus features (see Small Wonders on the previous page) adds even more pizazz to the slick package, plus makes a make fine reward for plowing through those legions of ores. Honestly, the gameplay doesn't quite live up to the presentation's absurd heights of grandeur, but, realistically, it's tough for a hack-n-slash game to offer voluminous depth. Light role-playing elements allow you to customize your characters' moves, upgrade your equipment, and increase your HP, but underneath it all, you're kinda playing Double Dragon with extra emphasis on the Dragon. Expect to plow through the entire multipath adventure in a weekend. But oh, what a weekend it is.
Uh, you mean you didn't play the last Flings game, The Two Tower& Huh. Well, we guess there must be one of you out there. Anyway, like the previous game, Return of the King is an action/beat-em-up based on the blockbuster film trilogy.
"I don't think there's an area we haven't improved [over The Two Towers]," says EA's Neil Young. "We have six playable characters (Gandalf, Frodo, and Sam are new), plus at least two hidden characters and multiple paths [through] the game. Sword control is now on the right analog stick, and [now you can] swing on ropes, jump over gaps, kick boulders, throw objects, etc. Finally, as if that wasn't enough, we've added two-player co-op play."