Written by  :  Gerauchertes (9)
Written on  :  Aug 03, 2003
Platform  :  PlayStation 2
Rating  :  4 Stars4 Stars4 Stars4 Stars4 Stars

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A graphical tour de force, and an amusing diversion. For a while.

The Good

The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers actually starts at the beginning of the LOTR film trilogy. Faithfully reproducing the opening battle scenes of The Fellowship of the Ring (aided by actual footage pilfered from the movie), you briefly take on the role of Ilsidur in a sort of "prologue" chapter where players are familiarized with the controls and game mechanics.

After this quick introduction you'll commit to play out the remainder of the game as Gimli the dwarf, Legolas the elf or Aragorn the regular guy. Having arbitrarily choosen an avatar (it makes no difference as far as gameplay is concerned), you're set out into Middle Earth. This particular version of Middle Earth is visually astonishing. The game looks nothing short of spectacular, putting the graphics of any other PS2 title (and most of what's on XBox, for that matter) to shame. With Two Towers, EA's conducted a clinic in the field of video game art design. The sound is of similar quality, including voices that may or may not have also been lifted from the film tracks. If you like the movie score, you won't have any complaints about the music, either. Of note is the way footage from both films blends almost seamlessly into the in-game engine during cutscenes, before suddenly reverting to your control. The overall atmosphere creates a real sense of being "in the movie"--or at least the action segments.

Once you've taken over, emphasis is planted firmly on close-quarters combat. The faster you deal damage to enemies, the stronger your character becomes, a device that rewards only one style of play. Luckily, maintaining a constant barrage of blows is easy enough. Our heros can knock opponents into one another, smash through shields, unleash many simple combo strings, strike fallen enemies on the ground and set them aflame.

Sometimes the screen is so clogged up with enemies one can simply swing away at will and be guaranteed to hit something without bothering with any directional controls. It becomes a perpetual state in the game's final acts, beneath a rain of flaming arrows. These chaotic battle royales are the game's main attraction, and are executed without a skip in the framerate.

This havoc is all promiscously strung together by what exists of the game's "plot", loosely following the first two films of the trilogy, with the cinematic scenes spliced in between. EA (and New Line Cinema) clearly milked the license for everything it was worth with all these minutes of then-unpublicized movie sequences (the game preceded the big screen release by a couple months), targetting the game squarely at the countless legions of LOTR fans. The disc even includes some interviews with selected movie cast and crew members.

The Bad

Beneath its gilded exterior, Two Towers is pretty thin, being a generic hack-and-slash experience that (ab)uses its franchise name almost exclusively in name alone. It just is what it is, completely discarding all of the rich story and character elements that made LOTR so popular to begin with. Every character beside the three playable ones is largely ignored or simply AWOL, a certain few such as Gandalf and various hobbits making brief cameos now and again.

The levels are a linear series of missions that must be completed in order, one at a time. Gameplay features include bows and blocking and assorted powerups, but Two Towers is all about mêlée combat. This boils down to furious button mashing. The differences between the playable characters are strictly cosmetic, providing little incentive to play through the game with each. (There's some bonus material only available after completing the game with all the characters, but what precious little of it there is ends up being only more of what you drudged through to access it, and doesn't bring any extra longevity to the game.)

Between levels you can purchase "upgrades" in the form of new attack combos, more powerful weapons (that all look alike) and other miscellany. These upgrades are essentially the same for each character except in name, and don't do much to keep combat from quickly becoming mind-numbingly rote. And although you'll rarely face the infinite onrushing hordes of foes as in, say, Dynasty Warriors, those times when you do are scattered among many less frantic periods that involve a lot of hustling along each level's usually inflexible route, encountering a sporadic stream of enemies individually or in small groups. Either way, it's just a matter of hammering buttons until everything's dead, "everything" meaning lots of the same: There can't be more than a half-dozen variants of goblins/orcs/trolls, not including the occasional unique "boss" creature (invariably Super Mario-ish pattern-attacking affairs).

Then there's the cutscenes, which are sometimes quite long and can never be skipped. They're fine the first time, but not the ninth or twelfth or twentieth. After dying for the umpteenth time on one of the more challenging scenerios you don't get another crack at it until the preceding cutscene has run its course again. Eventually you may find yourself changing the channel between mission attempts.

The Bottom Line

Two Towers is a one-trick pony, sort of like a Faberge egg with a plastic kazoo inside: it's nice to look at, but the novelty wears off right quick once you get into it. Die-hard fans lured by the bonus interviews are better off waiting until they eventually appear on a DVD.

It's limited replayability might not make it worth the investment, but it lasts long enough to warrant a rental.