Game Description: The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers action-adventure game will allow players to take control of the trilogy’s action heroes—Aragorn, Legolas, and Gimli—with other members of the Fellowship taking an active role during gameplay. Players will battle a variety of Orcs and square off against vicious boss monsters including the Cave Troll and Saruman. A tactical gameplay system will encourage players to react quickly and be strategic with their selection of characters, weaponry, and combat moves.
Many developers have stumbled when it comes to adapting the books of J.R.R. Tolkien into videogame form. We need not look any further than Mike Bracken's review of The Fellowship Of The Ring for proof of this. Or, for those of us with longer memories, think back to the problematic Super Nintendo (SNES) game that was ambitiously titled "Volume 1" but never actually got its sequels. Poorly interpreted and awfully executed games based on movie and book licenses are nothing new, but Tolkien fans are an especially tenacious and passionate bunch who aren't willing to tolerate any mangling or half-hearted treatment of their beloved masterwork, especially since Tolkien's Middle Earth isn't exactly a shallow well from which to draw inspiration.
The Two Towers console game is something a little different, since it's based not directly on The Lord of the Rings books, but on the first two instalments of Peter Jackson's film adaptation (The Fellowship Of The Ring and The Two Towers). As a result, the game is able to neatly bypass all of the pitfalls associated with interpretation, since Jackson has been the one to go out on a limb in that regard. Therefore the tasks set before Electronic Arts and Stormfront Studios are simply to recreate the film environment convincingly and to build a decent game around that existing framework.
The Two Towers succeeds most impressively at its first. Each stage contains liberal doses of actual movie footage that switches seamlessly to the rendered in-game graphics without any sort of delay or load-time whatsoever (I found the simple lack of load-time to be quite refreshing in on itself.) In perhaps the smartest move of all, Electronic Arts made a deal with several of the key film actors to record the in-game dialogue. So when Legolas passionately cries "go back to the pit that spawned you!" after dispatching an orc, it is the actual voice of Orlando Bloom. Viggo Mortensen, John Rhys-Davies, Elijah Wood and Sir Ian McKellen are also on board, not to mention incorporating Howard Shore's film soundtrack into the game and bringing in Peter Jackson and producer Barrie Osborne give their input on the project as well. As opposed to a game set adrift and isolated from its source material, The Two Towers maintains close ties with the creative forces behind the movies, so that it is more an outgrowth of the movies themselves rather than a separately conceived entity.
Now on to the second task of creating decent gameplay. The Two Towers makes no pretences of being an all-encompassing role-playing game, despite the fact that that particular genre is perhaps what comes to mind first when envisioning a game about Tolkien's fantasy world. Instead, the game takes a very narrow focus and stays true to that one focus throughout. That focus, while it may seem simplistic at first glance, is actually not only highly appropriate for a videogame, but is something that both movies had rather a lot of: killing many, many bad guys.
The gamer gets to control Aragorn, Gimli or Legolas and is taken on a tour of the movies' bloodiest and most frenzied moments: namely Moria, the Plains of Rohan and Helm's Deep. Nuisances like item collection, special-ability juggling and other menu-driven characteristics of role-playing or adventure titles have been done away with, and the goal is literally to kill all the enemies that come anywhere near the player. Each character has the choice of using a melee weapon like a sword or two-handed axe, or a ranged weapon like arrows or throwing axes; the two types can be switched on the fly during combat without any interference or hiccup in the gameplay.
Players are rewarded for using more complex button combinations to execute special moves by gaining more experience points for each foe vanquished while managing to avoid being hit themselves. Thus, button-mashing is discouraged and a vestige of the role-playing power-up system does in fact make an appearance. At the end of each completed level, experience points are tallied and can be used to "purchase" new special moves and health and weapon upgrades.
By choosing to highlight the militaristic side of The Lord Of The Rings, the game addresses something deeply intrinsic to Tolkien's books that makes The Two Towers perhaps less simplistic than it first appears. One of the underlying currents running through The Lord Of The Rings is of course the struggle of good against evil, or more specifically, the idea that the forces of good are fighting valiantly against a numerically superior evil force that is on the verge of overwhelming them. In its own unique way, this is exactly what The Two Towers communicates.
I say this for a few reasons, the first being that the game is for the most part a solitary adventure. While several of the levels (most notably the Balin's Tomb scenario in Moria) contain other computer-controlled members of the Fellowship fighting alongside the human-controlled character, there is not the degree of "fellowship" that would indicate a truly co-operative game. The computer-controlled companions fill the air will battle cries and calls for help, yet can never actually get injured or perish. If I may dredge up the SNES Lord Of The Rings one more time, one of the most frustrating aspects about it was that the other members of the Fellowship could die (and did so quite frequently), meaning that the quest could either be continued without them thereby destroying all sense of plot continuity, or the game would have to be restarted.
In The Two Towers, the invulnerability of the companions means that the human player is free of worry and instead of adopting a defensive strategy of protection and caution, can instead hack away at anything that moves with reckless abandon. This leads back to my initial point about the solitary nature of fighting in The Two Towers. It is literally the idea of one man and a blade trying to turn back a giant, crashing tidal wave of enemies. We could question the astronomically slanted bad-guy to good-guy ratio; how is it that Aragorn is capable of dispatching 200 or 300 orcs without catching even a single stray arrow? Yet at the same time we expect Aragorn to triumph because he represents Good, and all the other hundreds of faceless creatures of the dark are simply The Bad.
Other defiances of logic can be overlooked as well, but perhaps not as easily. The extreme linearity of The Fellowship game that so irked Mike is present in The Two Towers as well. Yet this can be tolerated if we keep in mind the game's presentation as a straight-ahead action title where the need to explore every nook and cranny of the environment is neither necessary nor fruitful. Yes, it is silly that Aragorn can wade waist-deep into water, whereupon he runs up against a mysterious underwater barricade that prevents him from moving deeper. But when the pack of angry Wargs is bearing down in front of him on the shore, wanting to backtrack through the lake instead of meeting them head-on just doesn't make sense in the first place.
It may seem like I'm making excuses for too many of The Two Towers obvious flaws. However I want to stress that despite the logic issues, the lack of a two-player mode, and the utterly disappointing "secret" level and character, I still consider the game to be a success. While gamers who are not fans of The Lord Of The Rings will likely find The Two Towers to be nothing more than an average action title (especially given its short length of twelve missions), I feel that the true test of any licensed game is whether it is able to hold up under the scrutiny of the fans. The answer in this case is yes.
Disclaimer: This review is based on the PlayStation 2 version of the game.
Erin's right when she says that The Lord Of The Rings: The Two Towers works surprisingly well as a beat 'em up, but I think the reason why it works so well doesn't have that much to do with notions of Good and Evil. When I look at the stories Tolkien has created, I see a grand legend. They're about romanticizing the past and recalling the many extraordinary deeds of great men in dark, dark times. In the books, the movies, and even in the videogames, the heroes of Tolkien's world are practically elevated to the level demi-gods, and if they don't hack up at least two hundred Orcs in a single battle we come away disappointed. If it's illogical for us to believe that a single man can do that then it's because we're foolishly filling that role with ourselves: soft, lazy, weak of will sitting in comfy swivel chairs at the computer—no wonder it's illogical! Aragorn, Legolas and Gimle are a different caliber of people. They are heroes and we expect them to do really fantastic things. The pleasure in playing these sorts of games is taking on the role of a superhuman and doling out a good amount of butt kicking.
Considering the mythology behind Tolkien's works, it's kind of interesting to compare the Two Towers game to another beat 'em up, Dynasty Warriors.
The saga of the Three Kingdoms is an incredibly popular Chinese historical tale, and like the The Lord Of The Rings, has seen numerous adaptations. Just like the heroes of Middle Earth, the great generals of the Three Kingdoms are larger than life, leading massive armies and personally mowing through tens if not hundreds of enemies every battle. Armies fought on for days until one side was utterly annihilated. Again, like The Lord Of The Rings, it really is a great backdrop for a videogame.
As Erin pointed out, the Two Towers game takes a militaristic battlefield eye's view of Tolkien's epic tale, and it works to a certain extent. Compared to the absolutely chaotic rush of soldiers numbering hundreds in Dynasty Warriors, it falls terribly short. The Two Towers progresses rather mechanically and deliberately, with the bulk of the game spent strolling through very set paths and enemies waiting at very specific points along the way. Erin's right to point out that the Two Towers is straight ahead action, but I don't think that means the player has to walk a straight line from A to B. The battles in Dynasty Warriors take place in large open spaces and filled with hundreds of soldiers at time. Players can run back and forth in the chaos hacking at whatever is running around, and use spectacular special attacks that blast multiple enemy bodies into the air like they were bowling pins. The massive fights in Dynasty Warriors are epic and the sight of hundreds of bodies flailing away at each other is really primal. I'm not particularly smitten with Koei's franchise, but the gameplay of Dynasty Warriors does capture well the fabled strength of the generals, and insanity of the kinds of battles chronicled in the Three Kingdoms saga.
Much of the fighting in Two Towers lacks the visceral free-for-all quality I found when I first encountered Dynasty Warriors. When I was playing as Legolas, and trying to save a town from being razed by Orcs and Uruk Hai, I wanted to run freely through the town, popping into the different burning homes, or just run wherever my instinct told me to go. Instead, I made my way through an obstacle course. There was a set path to follow and I had no sense of the calamity or the confusion of such a situation. There was barely a sense of urgency. I was simply moving through yet another one of the twelve levels. The Two Towers is such a basic beat 'em up that I got the feeling the developers were simply going through the motions. I imagine the Orcs could have easily been replaced with something else and we'd have a different title for sale on the shelf. The game wasn't so important so long as Aragorn, Legolas, and the rest of the heroes were present.
Erin mentioned the nice segues between clips from the The Lord Of The Rings films and in-game portions. The segues were really nice, but they also summed up the entire experience for me: The Two Towers is a walkthrough for the Peter Jackson movies.
Disclaimer: This review is based on the GameCube version of the game.
According to ESRB, this game contains: Blood, Violence
Parents should be aware of the massive amount of violence in the game, yet can take comfort in the fact that there is no blood shown and the players are battling against the "forces of darkness."
Fans of the films have plenty to drool about here; the game includes cutscenes from the movie, actor interviews, authentic voice-acting and music, and plenty of other movie-related goodies.
Tolkien fans who have not yet seen the movies (if they even exist) be warned: the game contains severe spoilers and takes a few liberties with the plot that may seem bewildering to someone who has not first experienced Peter Jackson's film interpretations.
Casual gamers and fans of action games should find The Two Towers a solid rental or discount purchase, but will likely be unimpressed by the relatively short length and the fan-oriented special features.
Deaf and Hard of Hearing gamers may unfortunately have some difficulty with the game. Although most of the important in-game events are triggered by cutscenes, the player must occasionally react to important voice commands from companions that are not issued simultaneously in text form.