Electronic Arts – The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King review

fantastic game of the fantastic film
Photo of Electronic Arts – The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King

Usually the thought of a game franchise based on a movie is enough to have you running screaming for the hills, but EA made such a good attempt at translating the second of the Tolkien trilogy (The Two Towers) to PlayStation 2 that this one has been eagerly awaited by fans of Middle Earth.

The good news is that they can now release their breath, safe in the knowledge that this is an even greater triumph than the last. Within seconds of the opening movie footage of the beginning of the Battle of Helm’s Deep you’re suddenly playing Gandalf in the middle of that awesome conflict. No tutorial, no warning; you’re in and soon fighting for your life, using the basic fight combos against swarms of orcs and Uruk-Hai.

One of the new elements since the last game is the degree of interaction with objects. You can now fire catapults and ballistas as well as pick up spears and potions to help your survival. There are also more characters to choose from depending on which of the three Paths you choose to follow. Stay with Gandalf on the Path of the Wizard, switch to Sam and Frodo on the Path of the Hobbits, or be a hero with Aragorn, Legolas and Gimli on the Path of the King.

In the end it matters not where you start, as all the 13 levels have to be completed before you reach the final level and along the way you’ll ‘unlock’ three more characters and extras. How well you progress is determined by how many experience points you earn through the level – these can be awarded for defeating an enemy and by stringing together successful hits. You then decide whether you want to upgrade just your character or all of the Fellowship.

The only practical upgrades you receive are new fighting combos, which is a shame as better weapons and armour could have been useful against the giant spider Shelob or the armies of the Dead. The most impressive innovation, though, (and unique to the PlayStation 2 version) is the ability to play in co-op mode with a friend, which will certainly help when you get to one of the many tough levels.

As well as the great THX soundtrack, the graphics are mouth-wateringly stunning. The detail on the characters’ faces is spot-on and the backgrounds – whether in the forest where the Ents are madly stomping orcs or on the open plains swarming with thousands of foes – truly do justice to Peter Jackson’s vision.

Although there are some niggles with the camera angles and the scarcity of save points, this is one of the few games to show off what the PlayStation 2 is really capable of and should be a must for action fans in general and ‘Rings’ fans in particular.

Company: Electronic Arts

If you haven't yet had a chance to see the movie, rush out and buy this to give you the perfect introduction to how good a Lord of the Rings game can be when given serious attention.