WARNING! GAMING SPOILERS AHEAD!
Due to the nature of this review, certain gaming elements were revealed. If you do not wish to spoil the game, please do not read further.
Okay folks, here we go…
Last week I went to my local Electronics Boutique to trade in a few DVDs for some in-store credit. After several minutes perusing the rows of seemingly endless titles, I found it…or it found me. There was ONE last copy of the Vivendi/Universal Lord of the Rings PS2 game on the shelf. Without hesitation, I asked the manager to charge it against my credit – even before I knew how much credit I had! I couldn’t wait to play it. However, with a great deal of discipline I savored the anticipation, hoping that this game would fulfill its ultimate goal: to bring the complete experience of The Fellowship of the Ring into my living room!
I was extremely anxious to see if the Vivendi/Universal PS2 game would indeed offer a unique, richly textured, total gaming experience worthy of the characters, events, and context that I enjoyed in The Fellowship of The Ring – especially in comparison to EA’s newly released THE TWO TOWERS game. So, without further delay, here is the full account of my gaming experience with The PS2 version of The Lord of the Rings by Vivendi/Universal and Black Label Games:
The game began with an incredible establishing sequence of The ONE RING beautifully directed, as if visualized by Peter Jackson himself!
In the opening movie, I was treated to a wonderful, albeit brief cut-scene of Galadriel narrating the history of the ring thus far as seen through the Mirror of Galadriel. And just when I was ready to fully immerse myself into realm of the game…that’s when the experience dramatically and unfortunately changed. I encountered the first of several and rather significant technical problems.
PROBLEM #1: Lengthy Loading Time
After what I believed to be a very engaging opening segment, the screen then faded to black: a traditional experience with standard load-in RPGs. Usually this process takes no more than a few seconds to evolve from one screen to the next. I stared at the “loading bar” for this game for NO LESS than 15 seconds. And, after the loading sequence was finished, a CD shaped icon flashed for another 5-10 seconds before bringing me back into the experience. This type of lengthy distraction on average damages gaming continuity and disrupts the flow when you least expect it. In other words, imagine yourself settled into the fantasy realm of a theatrical experience when all of a sudden, the projection comes to a grinding halt, the house lights come up and you are thrust back into reality. Now apply this sensation as something you will encounter throughout the entire course of the game. This load time problem happens too early and hobbles the pace; setting a trend which plagues the game until the very end.
PROBLEM #2: Poor Camera Tracking
Nothing is more problematic in a game like this than losing your line of sight, especially during combat. Far too many times the camera lost accurate Third Person POV (point of view) to the point where the sight line was blocked, partially obscured, or all together off target. This caused monumental problems in combat tracking and melee against multiple opponents. Not being able to clearly understand and focus on the main playable character caused a general sense of disorientation and frustration when progressing into more difficult combat arenas like Moria and the summit arena of Amon Hen.
PROBLEM #3: Large Bugs
WARNING! GAME SPOILERS AHEAD! YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED!
On two separate occasions, I experienced programming faults which forced me to restart and reset the game in order to clear the “bug” from the sequence.
Example 1: During melee with BOSS of the Barrow-wight level, after claiming the Blade of Westerness, I proceeded to engage the Barrow-wight. After striking it once, it plunged into the ground, disappeared and re-emerged across the chamber. After striking the Barrow-wight a second time, it disappeared much like before – however, it never re-emerged! For 10 minutes, I waited for the Barrow-wight to return so I could defeat it and finish the level. Even the EYE icon – which signifies that there is an attacking creature in range – was active! Ultimately, I had to restart the game in order to replay the entire BOSS level sequence.
Example 2: When Gandalf has to find a way out of the 21st Chamber in the Mines of Moria, not only did I have to discover how to trigger the main door mechanism, but I had to do it TWO different ways! Traditionally, puzzles are fixed and programmed to be successfully triggered by a series of specific events. This must be a first?
Version 1: I solved the puzzle by simply running over each perimeter tile surronding a central statue; activating each of their respective light beams to open the main hall door and completing the sequence.
Version 2: Shortly after the events above…Gandalf “died”. I continued from and re-played that very same level, executed the same maneuvers, but received significantly different results: the main door did not open, nor did the light beams remain activated once triggered. Finally, I pushed each adjacent stone statue over their respective tiles in order to trigger and secure the light beam activators to open the main hall door again.
As far as programming problems are concerned, those were the greater offenders. The game also suffered from minor problems such as intermittent sound effects, and score drop-off. As far as rating technical merit, I would have to say that this game felt as if it was – at best – a beta version which still required further play-testing to finalize cohesion, compression and syncopation. The components were in place, but the fusion was not quite all there. The overall presentation suffered from several large production rifts dividing design, programming and context continuity to the point where the game experience became less than mediocre.
For the second half of this review, I will be revealing several significant plot devices so please, if you do not wish to spoil this game do not read further!
WARNING! GAME SPOILERS AHEAD! YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED!
When I first purchased this game, I honestly wanted this experience to be one of the best ever. I mean come on…it’s The Lord of the Rings after all! I wanted this game to be on par with the likes of Onimusha: Warlords, Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty and Resident Evil. I wanted to feel total immersion into the depths of the lore that I both know and respect. I wanted, no demanded a great deal from this game because it was supposed to capture the spirit and essence of Tolkien’s work. It was supposed to offer the grand scope of the complete storyline, which was not (for well-known reasons) captured on film. Unfortunately, this game fell far short of the mark which was quite disappointing. How could this have happened? Here are the main reasons why I feel this game was unsuccessful in trying to convey the essence, drama and vision of the original literary work:
THE QUEST NEVER TOOK SHAPE: The underlying motivating force throughout The Fellowship of the Ring IS to protect Frodo on his journey to destroy The One Ring while being hunted by the forces of Saruman and Sauron. Comparatively, during the entire course of the game, I never once felt that “threat” or “sense of urgency”. The entire momentum of the game was generally undefined. To be fair the “core” elements of the story fulfilled the overall sense of plot. However, this component was never integrated in such a way to enhance a dramatic thrust to encourage continual game play.
OVERCONCEPTUALIZED ENVIRONMENTS: Probably one of the greatest drawbacks in the game is something that should have been among its greatest strengths. The expansive environments are indeed well rendered, fully realized and at very certain times, did heighten the enjoyment somewhat. Mostly, these richly textured and vast locations held very little in the way of a fully interactive experience. In a way, there was almost TOO MUCH to explore, causing a directionless and unbalanced narrative mechanic.
SELECTIVE STORYTELLING: After finishing the game, I was quite surprised at the selective nature of the storytelling. There were significant amounts of the text which were either never explored or completely omitted. This game was supposed to reflect the essential The Fellowship of the Ring. However, with the deletion of rather significant storytelling elements, a great deal of the original spirit had been completely lost. There were at times, significant attention to the details: Discovering Gandalf’s ruins at Weathertop; finding the Westerness Blade to fight the lord of the Barrow-wights; Tom Bombadil’s council and aid to the Hobbits in their dire straits against Old-Man Willow and the Barrow-wights and Glorfindel’s assistance after the encounter at Weathertop.
That being said: Why wasn’t the confrontation of Gandalf and Saruman at Orthanc added? Why was there no presentation of the Gifts at Lothlorien? Most importantly, why was the Phial of Galadriel completely omitted as a detail – one of the most important in the entire trilogy? ***MAJOR GAMING SPOILER*** Finally, since the strength of this game is focused on promoting an accurate account of the “Fellowship”…then where in the original story was SAM GAMGEE attacked and abducted by a winged NAZGUL on the river Anduin? And, subsequently, when did ARAGORN have to save Sam from this winged Nazgul – which in fact, became the climatic finale of the game.
MISSED OPPORTUNITIES: There were too many times where more mundane storytelling devices such as illustrations and narrative descriptions took the place of potential additional elements that could have enhanced the experience; fleshing out much more of the plot line than what was presented. For example, at Lothlorien, it would have been much more interesting to have had an interactive environment throughout the Mallorn-Trees where elements such as the Phial of Galadriel were awarded after certain interactive goals were met. Sam could have been awarded the Elven-rope, the Fellowship could have received their Elven-cloaks and so forth. It was unfortunate that plot elements such as these were not fully explored and presented in this format.
LIMITED BONUS MATERIALS: One traditional hallmark of any RPG style game is the ability to gain experience and use that experience to enhance weaponry, gain skills, or unlock bonus or secret material. This game does not offer these standards which would have proved beneficial to certain characters like Frodo and Aragorn as their experience levels DID change from the outset of their journey to the breaking of the Fellowship and beyond. Secondly, there was only one difficulty setting which meant once you have completed the game, that was it – there were no other options but to experience the exact same game over again. Amenities such as extra levels, hidden playable characters, and secret bonus items are somewhat minor details yet were unavailable or unobtainable throughout the course of the game, significantly diminishing replay value.
FINALLY: Properly adapted, the source material available for programming and designing this game (i.e. The Fellowship text) should have been able to create a far more expansive and layered gaming adventure than what was actually presentedwhich I was able to complete in less than 15 hours (including exploration of every single nook and cranny of every single level.) Believe me when I say that I had every intention to give this game the widest opportunity to win-over my loyalty with its presentation, execution and enjoyment for a console-based adaptation of The Fellowship of the Ring. I struggled with the notion of returning it on several occasions because what I thought was to be an all-encompassing gaming experience turned out to be…well…rather ordinary. There is a certain standard of excellence that Peter Jackson has equated with The Lord of the Rings franchise and unless future endeavors like this Vivendi/Universal game can respectfully meet or exceed this “bar”, then I’m not sure what type of audience games of this quality will be able to sustain. But then again, it’s just my opinion.
Here’s my final review and score of the VIVENDI/UNIVERSAL Lord of the Rings PS2 Game:
Rating system: Scale of 1-10 (1 being poor and 10 being excellent)
Overall Quality: 4
Replay Value: 2
Overall Score: 3.4 out of 10
Thanks for reading,
Lao of Gondor