Review by ConningOfficer

"So good, my fiancee wouldn't let me have the controller!"

The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers is a predominantly action title developed by Electronic Arts, based upon the Peter Jackson film adaptation of J.R.R. Tolkein's Lord of the Rings literary works.

In short, this has everything to do with the motion pictures and Mr. Jackson's interpretation of Tolkein's work.

Graphics: 9/10

While some gamers may gripe about the game not being fully three-dimensional, the modified two-dimensional animations and sprites were very well done, even for enemies and non-player characters. Gimli, Aragorn, and Legolas MOVE like John Rhys-Davies, Viggo Mortenson, and Orlando Bloom did in the movies. Enemies, while not unique, are quite varied and fluidly animated.

Backgrounds and background motion is outstanding. Earlier levels mimic movie sets and atmospheres. Middle levels show the beauty of forest streams, waterfalls, and villages upon the plains. In later levels, thousands of orcs stream beneath the walls, out of your main vision, but provide an epic atmosphere to the battle. You actually get a visual sense of what it would be like to defend Helm's Deep against the Horde of Isengard.

Attention to detail was superior - the element which pushed it over the top for me was the extremely realistic smoke effects in the villages. This level of attention to minor gameplay issues really impressed me. Why not a 10? It wasn't completely three-dimensional, and I'm a very difficult person to impress.

Sound and Music - 7/10

I love the original score for The Fellowship of the Ring, to the point that some themes are on the CD I use to go jogging. But, there isn't much variety in the game. You get to hear the ''battle song'' (Latin-sounding chant), and the level-ending theme. That's about it. As I joked above, my fiancee played this game so much that I have almost every note of the battle music stuck in my head. If there were more themes available, the original score would have been great. If the music was any less intrusive, it would have been OK, too. But, the high-volume, full-choir chanting was impossible to ignore and gets repetitive after listening to it for three hours straight.

Ambient sound was very good, but not outstanding. Each character has about 3 different combat ''grunts'', and the sound of metal clashing upon metal is well done. Splashes and fire sounds are solid, but again, not anything special.

Voice acting - exceptional. New material supplied by the cast of the films provided an air of authenticity and excellence. While the bits are tiny, generally only one sentence at the most, they are well done and add a lot of flavor to each level.

Gameplay - 8/10

This game was much more difficult than I guessed it would be. It starts off as what appears to be a pure hack-and-slash, but there are role playing elements included. For example, each kill you make is assigned a rating of ''fair'', ''good'', ''excellent'', and ''perfect''. The higher the rating, the greater the number of ''upgrade points'' you earn. Between each level, you may spend these points to improve your characters skills, or to earn special combination moves.

Planning becomes essential as you near the end of the game. There are some ''good'' upgrade skills, and others that can wait.

You play the game (generally) as one of the three members of the Fellowship: Aragorn (human), Gimli (dwarf), and Legolas (elf). You can play nearly every level as each of the three characters. Aragorn is a mix of speed and strength. Predictably, the other two characters are towards either extreme. If you prefer nimbly moving out of the way and excellent archery skills, choose Legolas. If you want to advance hacking and slashing to an art form, choose Gimli.

I have not had adrenaline surges while playing a game like this for a long, long time. The battles are all very intense, and there are often sequences where one or two major errors will cause your mission to end in failure. The music, graphics, and sound combined for an immersive experience that's unforgettable for any LOTR fan.

The missions are varied from ''make it from point A to point B, killing everyone you find'' to ''protect this objective'', and include a few in between. A lot of thought went into balancing each scenario, so my hat's off to EA Games. You get a fair bit of variety from level-to-level, despite the fact that there's only about 5 or 6 enemy ''types''.

Difficulty is a concern - these levels and missions are tough and involve sustained high performance, as opposed to learning a single trick and exploiting it. So - if you can't keep your will focused for 5 to 6 minutes, you're going to have some trouble with later levels.

Replayability - 8/10

Replaying each level is built into the game, as described above. It's a great deal of fun to go back and improve your rating or to try to experiment with some of the special moves.

Secrets and Extras - 10/10

There is a lot of extra stuff on this game disc. A whole lot of extra stuff. You get interviews, movie clips, a secret level, and a not-so-secret character! It's more of an immersive experience and a pump-up for the Two Towers film as much as it is a video game. The interviews were so well done, that I didn't mind the fact that I was being marketed to. John Rhys-Davies' interview was a huge highlight. Watching the big guy struggle with a PlayStation controller was worth the time and trouble to get to the point where the interview was unlocked.

Overall experience - 10/10

This is a BUY recommendation. The future Mrs. ConningOfficer, who loved the movies, but generally shys away from any game with higher octane than Final Fantasy dove right into this one and has learned how to kick some serious orc butt. So, if my fiancee loved it, there's a good chance that this one is great for the whole family. Most powergamers (or adolescents with lots of hand-eye coordination and spare time) will blaze through this game in 15 hours or less. For me and my fiancee, it was more of a 20 to 25 hour ordeal, due to some button pushing problems. But, that's OK - we are having a blast and it's money well spent. The Two Towers game is a challenging, but not impossible, button-masher that looks great on the TV. The music and stress of the difficult levels will have you on the edge of the couch, your friends screaming at you to ''kill that one before he breaks down the wall!''

Reviewer's Rating:   4.5 - Outstanding

Originally Posted: 11/07/02, Updated 11/07/02

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