Living up to the Lord of the Rings name is no easy task, especially as it’s one of the most successful and beloved books of all time and, most recently, an extremely successful film franchise. The video games based on the movies have aimed towards this level of greatness, but none of them have achieved it. But surely it’s virtually impossible to successfully aspire to such lofty expectations. The games are based on the movies, not the book, because they all include features directly related to the movies, such as actor likenesses and voiceovers, and a distinctly cinematic feel. So, will EA’s latest installment of the Lord of the Rings gaming franchise be worthy of critical praise?
It’s logical that one of EA’s goals with the graphics was to have the gamer feel as though they are playing the movies. And it’s the only Lord of the Rings series title on the market based solely on the movie, Return of the King. The games graphics pull themselves up high enough to be seen as just above average. Every character is easily identifiable, which is always an advantage with action games; the characters tending to be more detailed than in other genres. The graphics closely mimic the movie but they may also provoke nostalgia in players who remember another video game: Golden Axe. Both titles share similar graphics, style, and battle systems, but obviously Return of the King is a more recent release and thus a technically superior game. However, the environmental backgrounds leave a little to be desired. After playing the game for a while it will seem that the scenarios are the same. The movie franchise suffers from a similar ailment as the games on this subject. It has to be mentioned that there are some levels in Return of the King that are simply amazing; but too bad that it’s just some of them.
All the battles from the movie are very well portrayed in the game. In action games there are two main elements that players focus on: the controlled character(s) and the enemies. Both of them have to be visible to the player because otherwise battles would be confusing – and no fun at all, either. In Return of the King the battles are not confusing; the player will always know where his character is in direct relationship to his enemies. This is one aspect where the graphics help gameplay; if you can identify what’s happening on the battlefield, gameplay will be fluid.
The sound effects in Return of the King totally hit the mark, and they are impressively loud when necessary, too. In a Lord of the Rings game the sound needs to contain, accentuate and complement the same action as the gameplay and graphic departments. EA admirably achieves the goal of making the game sound much like a Lord of the Rings movie. The clashing of swords; the whizzing of arrows; and the snarls of Orcs, Goblins and other beasts found in the movies are all heard palpably throughout the game. One notable downside that both the movie and the game share is the lack of variation in background music; it’s just effective enough to promote the feel of the movie through your PC speakers, but it will not stand out. Background music aside, there are some aural pluses in the sound department. While in the midst of a battle, when the sheer measure of enemy numbers vastly outweighs your own, that’s when the sound effects are at their best. Subsequently, players will experience the gut-wrenching tension felt on any battlefield (especially while there’s a rabid bunch of beasties going at you).
Action games need to be simple to control and yet fun to play; and that’s what players expect to get out of these movie-licensed games. The gameplay is practically the same as in the previous two Lord of the Rings games. A massive series advantage at LotRs’ disposal is that the games are always fun to play – and that’s undeniably one of the most important aspects of any game. But the gameplay in Return of the King is not perfect. Controlling the characters in this series has proven to be an often difficult task. The main reason for the trouble with the control system lies with the PC’s keyboard-mouse layout, which is not favorable for this genre as opposed to first-person shooters – that seem born to be played on PC. However, thankfully, the lack of fluidity in the controls is not so critical as to make the whole game a lackluster experience. Like the graphics and sound, the gameplay controls get the job done without ever being truly excellent.
Fans of Lord of the Rings – especially the movies, will surely have a blast with Return of the King. The game doesn’t live up to the qualities resplendent in either the book or the movies, but it’s still a technically competent game and fun to play. Often that’s enough to make a successful game and the LotR video game series has certainly been successful. But the thought of the number of ways the game could have been better will linger long after the fact. If you want a gaming experience very close to seeing the movie, this is the best opportunity of doing so. EA?s slogan on Lord of the Rings: Return of the King should change to “If it’s in the movie, it’s in the game!”