The line that once separated movies and games is fast becoming blurred. Lord of the Rings - The Return of the King is yet another title that makes this blurring even more apparent.
From the start you know that this is a game that is proud to apart of the Rings trilogy and the game is laced with cut scenes from the three films. Throughout the game you are given the chance to play any one of the remaining 8 characters left in the Fellowship and depending on the level you choose depends on the characters you get to play. Starting at the Battle of Helm’s Deep, the game throws you straight into the action. We stay straight in and with this title we mean it. No training, no induction. EA has made sure that from the first cutscene the film shots quickly turn into gameplay and you are suddenly surrounded by orcs. In the first instance this transition was so clean that we didn’t realise what had happened and sat back only to realise that Gandalf was actually being clubbed to death and perhaps we should jump in and save him.
Playing the different characters does bring variety to the game and each has their own special skill set and moves. Aaragorn for example is good with a sword, Sam Gangee with an invisible cloak. There are about 12 levels in all to complete, but you can replay them all with different characters - albeit sometimes only on a second visit. As you progress you earn battle points for completing combination moves and at the end of each level you can visit a shop to get better equipment, extra health and items that will help you complete you quest. If that wasn’t enough completing levels also opens up areas of the game like original artwork from the three films or other characters from the movies and all in all you can see that EA has spent a lot of time developing a game that uses the licence to its fullest.
The gameplay itself is slightly monosyllabic in its nature, there are two main moves - “heavy” and “quick” attacks and that’s pretty much it although you are rewarded for combination moves and not taking a hit. Levels are based around a combination of knowing when to run and knowing when to fight and with only one check point per level the game can get frustratingly long if you happen to get stuck on a certain bad guy.
There are two versions to play, single player or two player co-op. The co-op is great and brings back memories of Gauntlet-style game play as you help each other out of troublesome situations.
Of course all this would mean nothing without good graphics and the game certainly has those. Drifting from film to game and back again with the slightest of ease is one of the games strengths. Normally when a film contains movie cut scenes you are in for disappointment but Return of the King does a very good job and morphs away seamlessly. In game and there is a console sheen to them and this will appeal to the games audience.
If you are a fan of the Lord of the Rings trilogy then this is probably a must-have and for once here is a movie tie in that is actually good fun. The only frustration is the checkpoint hell that you have to put yourself through but then this does raise the stakes and make you concentrate that little bit more. If you're not a fan and have spent the last three years trying to avoid all the Tolkien mania then this is a good game but probably one that you'll want to avoid just like the films. The slash and dash mentally, the fast paced speed of the game and the heavy amount of action won't be everyone's cup of tea. But we certainly enjoyed it.