I was going to do a review of the video game adaptation of The Two Towers, which, despite its title, goes over the first two films. Yet I seemed to recall a largely forgotten game based on The Fellowship of The Ring that was published at the same time as that game. I also remembered nothing about it except some very unimpressive promotional images. Still, I decided to check it out. And unfortunately, I have come to see why this game has been forgotten.
Plot: 4 out of 10
Released a year after the movie of the same name, I always assumed that this game was an adaptation of the Peter Jackson classic. Instead, it translates the novel its own way. While it gets the basic nerve of the story right, the characters are another matter. For instance, Sam, Merry, and Pippin keep getting lost, and others have to find them. This doesn’t make them look like ordinary people who are in over their heads. It makes them look like cretins who are in over their heads. Pedestrian dialogue and lame sidequests don’t help.
Graphics: 2 out of 10
Adjusted for available technology, I don’t believe that I’ve ever played a game that had character models as bad as the ones in this game. Hell, some later N64 games pulled off better models despite having half the power and a fraction of the memory of this PS2/Xbox/Gamecube game. These models are truly blocky and ugly things.
The landscapes also have serious problems in their structure and detail. While nowhere near as bad as the models, they still suck some serious nuts.
Sound: 3 out of 10
Lame yet forgettable music does not begin to compensate for awful voice acting. Since this game isn’t based on the movies, it makes sense to not use the cast of those movies. Instead, what we get is a bunch of posers who are always off-key. You know how I said that three of the four hobbits are often in trouble? Well, their voices never show any sense of urgency.
Gameplay: 3 out of 10
You shift between Frodo, Aragorn, and Gandalf. All play similarly (obviously Frodo is the weakest). You can collect items to heal yourself along the way and talk to people. There’s also a save feature that seems to start you precisely where you left off in exchange for no automatic checkpoints. Most of the game is you finding your way through mazes and hackin’ and slashin’ through the opposition.
The controls aren’t so good, especially with Aragorn. He has a side kick designed to knock over an opponent even if he parries your sword slashes. Trouble is, Aragorn tends not to kick where you mean to kick. All three characters have a certain clumsiness, slow striking, and long lag time.
And yet, these are the minor problems. The real issue is with the camera. It has a tendency to get off-target and can’t keep up with you when you make sudden moves. A stick-and-move strategy is often a good idea, except that the camera wreaks havoc on it.
Oh, yeah, the Ring is available as an item. you can put it on to become invisible (except to nazgul, who instantly sense you when you’re trying to avoid them). This lasts until the meter runs out, at which point you fail the game.
Challenge: 7 out of 10
Your first trial by fire is escaping Frodo’s home town of Hobbiton without ever getting spotted by a nazgul/ringwraith/black rider/whatever. This part is broken because The Fellowship of the Ring is the kind of game that has its own idea of stealth. More than one time I was somewhere I shouldn’t have been spotted, but was. On the other hand, there was this one nazgul I couldn’t lure away with my decoy rocks (by the way, you can throw them forever from a safe place and they won’t suspect). How’d I get past him? By using those rocks to lure him to not far behind me, then running full sprint to the next area. Makes sense…
But the rest of the game is a fairly challenging experience. You have modestly difficult normal enemies leading up to tough bosses. Despite the early nazgul hiccup, the challenge is the only redeeming factor in this game, despite the extra difficulty the controls and especially the camera present.
Overall: 4 out of 10
Being able to use improvement in the artistic areas, and absolutely atrocious on the technical side The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring isn’t a good experience. It’s not horrible exactly, but a generally lack of competence ultimately damages it. Look elsewhere for your fantasy fun.