The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (Xbox)

Well, LOTR and video game fans alike, it’s been a year since The Two Towers Video Game was released, and anticipation has been escalating in preparation for this one. I must say that while it didn’t meet most of our exceedingly high expectations, it is far superior to last year’s and provides very challenging and engaging gameplay.

A lot of my appreciation for this game comes from the cinematic feel I get playing it. The game starts out with what could pass as an introduction to the actual movie, explaining all the important plot elements and segueing you seamlessly into gameplay. There are various scenes from the LOTR movies throughout the game, and they really do add to the experience.

The graphics aren’t much of an improvement from TTT, the most noticeable change being the characters’ faces. That’s not to say it looks the same; the game has a much smoother look in general and is definitely better.

Gameplay progresses very similarly to TTT, but is more complex. In Return of the King, you have three “paths” of gameplay. You can choose to play as Gandalf,The Three Hunters, or Frodo and Sam; each with their own special levels, abilities, etc. Gameplay progresses in an RPG fashion, with experience points attained and usable to “buy” character upgrades. I’ve come to find that these must be used liberally for maximum effect. There aren’t very many levels for each gamepath, but they’re challenging enough to make the game last you quite awhile. A few personal qualms I had were that health was not as abundant as I’d like it to be, I still don’t really care too much for the projectiles (especially Gimli’s! :mad: ), and there’s still only one really effective combination(A+A+Y) besides the Banes.

This game also has a co-operative mode, playable only by Legolas, Aragorn, and Gimli. From what I’ve played of it, it’s the exact same game with more difficult and abundant enemies. It’s fun for awhile, but if you’re the type that goes all out and your friend is the kind that runs away and then attacks one-by-one, you’re gonna have some problems. The level ends after two deaths occur, either by you, your friend, or both of you. It can be a lot of fun but, hence the title, involves a lot of co-operation.

The sound for this game is incredible. Even though it sounds like they’ve recycled the same music cues from Fellowship and Towers, the effect is still as powerful. The slashing and clanging of swords, the cries of the vanquished orcs, and almost all of the original actor’s voices (I’ve heard many complaints that Orlando Bloom isn’t in this one) really place you in the battles.There’s really nothing to complain about here, except that I’ve always thought that the dialogue for the games has been really cheesy. I understand that they probably didn’t hire a team of Hollywood screenwriters, but some of the lines sounded like bad teen poetry. But enough about sound…

The controls for the Xbox are pretty much the same as last year, with a few changes. The black button is now the Action Button (you can use this to pick up projectiles and throw them, pull levers, turn cranks, just about anything marked with a nifty glowing blue circle)and the White Button is jump back. There’s also a really cool ability for each character when you hold down both triggers. They each have their own special qualities and uses, i.e. Sam can become invisible, Gandalf develops a lightning shield around him, etc. Other than that, it’s pretty much the same controls as Towers, which was perfect. No complaints from me; I’ve never had any control-related problems with this game.

This game is a Lord of the Rings fan’s dream; with interviews, conceptual art, secret levels and characters, and some great footage from the three movies. Since this review is for a fan site, I give it a 10 out of 10. There’s enough in here to make any LOTR fan happy,and that’s all that matters, right? ;) Either way, buy it. I guarantee it’ll be worth your money.