Lord of the Rings: Two Towers Review
Easily, the most epic film of the year, and one of the most epic films this side of Ben-Hur, the Lord of the Rings trilogy continued with the sequel to last year's breathtaking Fellowship of the Rings. Game software based on the movies was pretty much inevitable, and so was the expectation of them being poorly done...though, EA's videogame adaptation of the first two 'Rings' movies breaks the cycle; unusual that these words are being said, and naturally so, as most would've expected a poorly done game title with little to nothing to desire. LOTR's developer, Stormfront Studios, has managed to break the plague that has claimed movie licensed games such as Blade, Minority Report, Monsters Inc., and so on and so forth. If you are the least bit worrisome about Two Towers' fate as a PS2 game, worry no more. This is easily the most faithful movie to game title ever made.
Visually, LOTR: TTT does a superb job at precisely recreating the scenery of the movies. While it doesn't feature the beautiful plains that the characters made their ways through, the game features environments from the most climactic segments of the two movies, so many of you should know what the game has in store in terms of environments. The cut-scenes do a great job of filling in any gaps between the stages, while at the same time being void of any spoilers. Perhaps what makes the game's visuals stand out so much is the incredible FMV to real-time conversions. If you haven't seen this yet, it's breathtaking to say the least. Basically, Stormfront implemented a very intuitive technique that enables the game engine to re-render an actual clip of the movie in real-time polygonal graphics. To put it more simply, actual movie footage will convert itself seamlessly into in-game visuals. Every character model in the game, be it Aragorn, Gimli, Legolas, Gandalf or even Isildur does a great job of portraying their actual likenesses. Though, not as extremely detailed as games such as Metal Gear Solid 2 or Onimusha 2, The Two Towers' character models are great, nonetheless. It should be noted, as well, that the monsters are every bit as detailed as the protagonists are. Up-close shots of the beasts, during various encounters, will attest to this.
One thing that was a bit hard to believe was that none of the game's animations were motion captured. Every character animation in the game was done manually, without a single mo-cap detector used -- seeing the game in motion, one would never be able to tell. What's quite surprising about the game's visuals is that despite the amounts of characters on screen, the framerate remains constant and never drops. There could be at least 15 characters on screen, and remember, we're talking pretty detailed models here, and the game will run without a hint of slowdown. That said, LOTR: TTT boasts some very impressive environmental texture detail. Everything looks very sharp and the overall look of the game can only be summed up as 'crisp'. Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers is certainly one of the better looking PS2 games of 2002.
Despite what the title implies, LOTR: TTT doesn't only take you through The Two Towers episode, but 'Fellowship' as well. The first half of the game adventure is based on encounters found in Fellowship of the Rings. The final half is, of course, based on The Two Towers. Even though the game is based on the two movies, you'd be hard pressed to find any spoilers in the game. The FMV cut scenes, which are pulled straight from the movie, are so intricately edited and cut, that having any portion of the movie spoiled is almost impossible. Some portions of the game have been altered to further prevent spoilers, though it isn't anything crucial, it is obvious -- fans will easily spot the changes.
Much like the movie, the game features Aragorn (sword, bow), Legolas (daggers, bow), and Gimli (axe) as the primary fighting characters. The game will also allow you to play as Isildur throughout most of the game, once you complete every stage with all three default characters. Isildur is, of course, not only the first character you play with in the game, but is pretty much single-handedly responsible for causing the chaos in all Middle-Earth. Had he destroyed the ring on Mount Doom with Elrond, Frodo would've been able to live a normal hobbit life...then again, no grand novel or movie would develop from that, so let's praise Isildur's selfish act in harmony.
Furthermore, proving that The Two Towers is worthy of trip through the adventure, in true EA fashion and depending on how well you perform during your progress throughout the game, you will be rewarded with tons of DVD extras. The DVD extras include interviews with the cast of the trilogy, teaser clips, pictures, and more. Aside from the perks, as you progress, the better you fight, and the more variation you put into your attacks, you will earn points at the end of every stage. Those points can be used to purchase a variety of different attack combos, or even new weaponry and armory for whatever character you have chosen to play as. For every other level you reach (2, 4, 6, 8) you will be able to purchase newer upgrades with the currency you receive after every stage. That said, Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers features some of the most exciting battles in a videogame to date. Faithfully covering the movie is not all that it does, but it faithfully reproduces the action sequences by throwing dozens and dozens of enemies at you, just as the movie had it. They'll never all swarm you and attack you to death, but regardless, the challenge is there. The action itself is hack n' slash, for the most part. Though, not the deepest, it's still very addictive and enjoyable! If you're debating between that other Lord of the Rings title, published by Vivendi, avoid it like a plague. Stormfront's The Two Towers is a far more enjoyable effort that is worthy of being the deemed the Lord of the Rings license.
By now, none of us should even underestimate EA when it comes down to impressing the gamer. Going all out, and making sure to please every fan of the movie, EA managed to get every leading actor of the two movies into the sound set of Stormfront's development headquarters. Every character's voice acting is done by the actual Lord of the Rings cast. Of course, naturally, the voice acting is superbly done, especially seeing as how much of the cut scenes are pulled straight from the two movies -- can one really complain at all? Seeing as how we've got the actual cast of the movie, why not take another appreciated step forward and give the gamers the original musical score from LOTR? Lastly, Stormfront made great use of utilizing Dolby Surround in the game, much like EA-LA did with Medal of Honor. Like I always say, if you have the proper audio setup at home make sure to take advantage of it with the game.
Getting adjusted to LOTR: TTT may take about 5-10 minutes (at most). At first the controls can feel a bit off, but once you get accustomed to them, all of the problems are pretty much gone. The face buttons are your attack buttons, while the square button is your block/parry button. Getting a feel for the square button and learning how to properly parry is a very useful tactic during the whole game. You will need to deflect burning arrows shot at you, not to mention the attacks of gigantic bosses (the tentacle creature in the swamp, for one). The attacks are of course all different for every character that you use, though it needs to be said that every character has an instant kill thrust attack. If you manage to knock an enemy on the floor, you will be able to fully finish him off by tapping the R2 button, while standing over him. That said, pulling off your acquired combos isn't very hard at all. The combos usually consist of no more than 5 buttons that need to be hit. And lastly, in order to make the game easier for those who just want to kick ass, instead of hitting the face buttons to attack, the gamer can utilize the right analog stick as a quick melee solution. Swinging the right analog stick around will make your selected character perform various attacks, but he will not parry/block attacks, so you will still have to use the square button.
When it's all said and done, Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers is hands-down the most faithful movie to game conversion ever made. I can most certainly guarantee that it will remain that until EA releases the already much anticipated "The Return of the King" this coming November. Until then, make sure you purchase yourself a copy of The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers. It's one of the most enjoyable titles on the PS2, and certainly one of the most pleasing titles to look at. The presentation and the DVD extras are a sure treat to any Tolkien fan that plays this. Finally, to those who have yet to see the first two movies, all three of you, don't worry, it's absolutely spoiler free.
1/8/2003 Arnold Katayev