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.
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