Monthly Archives: December 2014

The Hobbit: The Prelude to The Lord of The Rings

HobbitTitleNo, this isn’t a tie-in with the recently concluded film trilogy. In fact, its release dates back eleven years. It’s a PS2/Gamecube/Xbox game that adapts The Hobbit long before Peter Jackson was ready to try it. With The Lord of The Rings getting its theatrical adaptations, Inevitable Entertainment decided it would use Frodo’s uncle.

Did Inevitable succeed? Not really. It’s got serious problems, but I did have some fun. Just not as much fun as in EA’s LOTR games.

Plot: 8 out of 10

Pretty true to the book, other than the introductory stage that has Bilbo collecting supplies in Hobitton that his group will need on their adventure. Beyond that, the story is both accurate and good. My favorite part is the one with the trolls. This stealth challenge is quite scary. They sniff about (for effect) if they almost discover you. And if are found, there’s a cutscene of the troll who spotted you picking up Bilbo and saying something like, “You’re goin’ on the spit!”

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Sure, trolls gotta eat too, but with that “boob,” I think you’ve had enough!

Graphics: 4 out of 10

The landscape is fine, but the models are very blocky. Hair, for instance, looks like one solid object. We could’ve had better than this.

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I can’t think of a joke that makes see-through Bilbo look any worse than he does already. Any takers?

Sound: 8 out of 10

Voice cast is mostly solid. Great music captures the feel of the story. So even though the character models suck, you can still work to the beat of nice tunes.

Gameplay: 7 out of 10

This game is a platformer with some stealth and first-person shooter elements thrown in. I think it may have been better if the game had been mainly stealth, as that was Bilbo’s thing throughout the book. I admit, that’s not very heroic, but when you think about it, Bilbo himself wasn’t nearly as heroic as Frodo. He relied on a ring of invisibility that he stumbled upon by dumb luck to accomplish his tasks. How much more would you have the guts to do if you could turn invisible? Exactly.

Tangent over. Bilbo handles reasonably well. There’s a lot of jumping here, both to get to higher levels, and across gaps in the ground. Bilbo fights with a walking stick and upon getting it, a dagger (a sword to a furry-footed midget). From time to time you have to use stealth, such as the troll scene I mentioned earlier. This is a little too simple because it’s about holding down a button, as opposed to knowing to just lightly nudge the analog stick, but is otherwise quite good. The camera responds better in this game than in many 3D platformers, but errors are bound to occur.

I didn't know the Ring allowed hobbits to float.

With the power of programming mistakes, Bilbo can float!

Finally, Bilbo can also throw a limited supply of rocks from a third person perspective. Like a lot of games that use this only as a secondary function, The Hobbit f*cks it up. It’s difficult to get the cursor on the target, so it is effective only against enemies that either can’t move to you or are far away. This is the game’s biggest problem by far, gameplay-wise.

Challenge: 6 out of 10

Kind of inconsistent. The platforming parts tend to be easy but fun, while the stealth parts are fairly challenging. I really don’t know if this game was meant to be hard or easy.

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What kind of fantasy game would this be if it didn’t let you kill orcs/goblins/tackling dummies/whatevers?

Overall: 6 out of 10

It’s acceptable for one play through it, I guess. I wouldn’t have paid $49.99 for it back in the day. Get it if you can find it today for less than $20. But don’t compare it to the recent Middle-Earth Shadow of Mordor, which actually is worth the full price.

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

HobbitJourneyPosterMartin Freeman as Bilbo Baggins
Ian McKellen as Gandalf the Gray
Richard Armitage as Thorin Oakenshield
Ken Stott as Balin
Aiden Turner as Kili
Dean O’Gorman as Fili
James Nesbit as Bofur
Graham McTavish as Dwalin
Jed Brophy as Nori
Adam Brown as Ori
John Callen as Gloin
Stephen Hunter as Bombur
Peter Hambleton as Gloin and William the troll
Mark Hadlow as Dori and Bert the troll
William Kircher as Bifur and Tom the troll
Manu Bennett as Azog the Defiler
Sylvester McCoy as Radagast the Brown
Hugo Weaving as Elrond
Barry Humphries as The Great Goblin*

When I heard that there was going to be a trilogy based on The Hobbit, I was immediately skeptical. How do you cram a single novel into three movies? Well, I must say that this particular film does a better job of it than some that was to come later. It’s definitely not on par the the Lord of the Rings adaptations, but it is quite acceptable.

Our story is about Bilbo Baggins, who you might recall as being a retired adventurer in LOTR. In his younger days, he actually dislikes the idea of adventuring. But destiny is about to call. The wizard Gandalf comes to his home with a band of homeless dwarves. These dwarves are deliberately messy guests to send the message: “We’re tormenting you and staying until you agree to come along on our adventure.” But it’s when the description of the adventure sparks Bilbo’s buried-under-the-surface interest in seeing what’s out there that he decides to come along.

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Yep, definitely homeless apparel.

The acting is quite solid. Martin Freeman is a perfect Bilbo: innocent, uncomfortable away from home, and with a strong sense of duty. Elijah Wood, Ian McKellen, Andy Serkis, Hugo Weaving, Christopher Lee, Cate Blanchett, and Ian Holm, are all LOTR veterans who are back to play their old roles and do good jobs in them. The dwarves, are performed well as a poor people who seek to reclaim the home they lost to the dragon Smaug (but he doesn’t appear yet). I remember reading some reviews that expressed surprise that the other dwarves don’t speak in Gimli’s over-the-top deep voice. I can explain why. Gimli was something of a comic relief character. These dwarves are nothing less than deadly serious. So it’s no wonder that they speak in a more normal way.

As for the story, it’s mostly true to the book from the beginning to when the giant eagles save the company from the orcs. The classic scenes are all done basically as I envisioned them, especially Bilbo’s game of riddles with Gollum in which losing means death.

I have to wonder if any of those responsible for the look played the game The Battle for Middle-Earth II because the Misty Mountains have a look very similar to how they looked in that game. On the other hand, giants appear at one point, but bear no resemblance to how they appeared in that game.

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Giant football?

One problem I do have, and one that will become much worse in part two, is the extra stuff added. Some LOTR characters who aren’t even in the book make appearances. This is in a discussion of a new threat to Middle-Earth that will explain why Gandalf eventually has to leave his current group to deal with the greater problem. All this is obviously added to somehow stretch an adaptation of a third of a novel out for three hours.

In all fairness, though, it does make sense to explain in greater detail Gandalf’s departure. It’s just the motive that gets me. Let’s not kid ourselves. The reason this novel is adapted in a trilogy is to make more money. In pursuit of this goal, storytelling suffers a bit.

Still, the character interactions do help redeem things. In particular, there are scenes that reveal Bilbo’s cultural difficulty with being away from home. But as he notes, at least he’s got a home. At the moment, the dwarves don’t but seek to get their home back. So Bilbo becomes determined to help. Also, the heated rivalry between head dwarf Thorin Oakenshield and dwarf leader Azog the Defiler is similarly handled well.

I must say, I can recommend this movie. Though not quite as good as its “predecessors,” The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey is a pretty worthwhile cinematic experience.

Overall: 8 out of 10

*I noted in my reviews of the LOTR movies that each of them had a secondary villain whose name was not mentioned by name. This tradition continues with The Great Goblin.

I always thought he'd be named The Goblin King

I always thought he’d be named The Goblin King

The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King

ReturnOfKingTitleIt had to happen. Almost every blockbuster movie seems able to get a game. There wasn’t even much of a video game industry when The Godfather hit theaters, yet it still got a game thirty-four years later. So when The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King was to be released in theaters, was there any doubt that its game would be forthcoming? And I must say, this is a thorough improvement of EA’s adaptation of The Two Towers from a year before.

Plot: 8 out of 10

In the predecessor, my biggest critique was the fact that it had very little Frodo. Luckily, that doesn’t happen this time. After an introductory cutscene that goes from Gandalf revealing to Frodo that his uncle Bilbo’s magic ring is the One Ring of Sauron to Gandalf and Eomer entering The Battle of Helm’s Deep you begin as Gandalf, fighting uruk-hai. This is a short level. After it is over, the story branches into three portions, Gandalf helping the defense of Gondor, Aragorn, Legolas, and Gimli recruiting the army of the dead, and Frodo and Sam journeying to Mount Doom to destroy the Ring.

With notable exceptions for gameplay purposes (you have to beat the King of the Dead before he will help, for instance), this game stays true to the movies. There’s lots of strategic combat interrupted occasionally by cutscenes that move the story along.

ReturnOfKing1

Despite these not looking like actors, it’s a solid reproduction of a scene from the film.

Graphics: 9 out of 10

A great look. Characters and locations look much like they do in the movies. You’ll have no trouble recognizing the character you pick. As noted, the cutscenes use actual footage from the films, which adds to the feel.

Sound: 9 out of 10

Mostly music from the movies but some environmental sounds. The use of the the movies’ soundtracks may not require the most skill, but it’s great. The actors are back to voice their characters, and they do good jobs in their roles.

I knew the King of the dead was scary, but doesn't this image indicate that he's stinky, too?

I knew the King of the Dead was scary, but doesn’t this image indicate that he’s stinky, too?

Gameplay: 7 out of 10

Like 2002’s The Two Towers, this game is a strategic hack-and-slasher. You have quick attacks, powerful but slow attacks, parries, and ranged attacks. This variety of moves means that it rewards the clever.

There is an experience system that gives you combos and special abilities. Some apply to everyone, some only to certain characters, so every time you play a mission on the same path, it should be as the same character. Which reminds me, some characters require codes to unlock. Check out GameFAQs.com for those.

ReturnOfKing3

Good thing this flaming, catapulting rock is part of the background or Sam could get hurt.

 

Unfortunately, the jerky camera from The Two Towers is still a serious problem. Time and time again, combat is interfered with by the camera that swings around too fast and hard. It’s quite annoying.

Challenge: 9 out of 10

A difficult game, but not agonizingly so, The Return of the King employs enemies who block, are at times immune, knock you down with ease, or surround you in large numbers. You’ll probably not beat this thing in one sitting, that’s for sure.

ReturnOfKing4

The reason you should not “meddle in the affairs of wizards” is about to be revealed.

It’s not tear-your-hair-out hard, though. The solutions to beating the missions can be found, and are quite fun to do so.

Overall: 8 out of 10

A rock-solid adaptation of The Return of the King (and the last ten or so minutes of The Two Towers), The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King is a fun and tactically sound experience. Definitely a keeper.

The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King

ReturnofKingPosterElijah Wood as Frodo Baggins
Sean Astin as Sam Gamgee
Ian McKellen as Gandalf the White
Viggo Mortensen as Aragorn
Andy Serkis as Gollum
Orlando Bloom as Legolas
John Rhys-Davies as Gimli
John Noble as Denethor
Billy Boyd as Pippin Took
Dominic Monaghan as Merry Brandybuck
Bernard Hill as Theoden
Miranda Otto as Eowyn
Karl Urban as Eomer
Bruce Hopkins as Gamling
David Wenham as Faramir
Liv Tyler as Arwen
Hugo Weaving as Elrond
Cate Blanchett as Galadriel
Lawrence Makoare as the Lord of Angmar and Gothmogh*

All stories, no matter how long, have a beginning and end. When you have a big story, it is all the more important to get that ending right. And The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King does just that! It concludes things, ties things up, and gives its characters closure with a bang!

Gollum, having made a decision to turn against his hobbit companions, manages to turn Frodo against Sam. Meanwhile, Gandalf takes Pippin to Gondor when it  becomes clear that Sauron is planning to send his forces to attack this nation. The leader of Gondor is Denethor, father of Boromir and Faramir. Unfortunately, Denethor is a corrupt, self-interested politician who, rather than focusing on the coming battle, is preoccupied with Aragorn’s ascension to the throne, which would end his rule of Gondor. Denethor is also upset that Faramir sent Frodo back on his journey to destroy the Ring instead of taking it to one of Denethor’s dungeons for safekeeping, and no doubt, to become a political trump card.

"Remember,  John, act like a dick. No, more of dick. No, more!"

“Remember, John, act like a dick. No, more of a dick. No, more!”

Like The Shire in Fellowship and Rohan in Two Towers, Peter Jackson seems to have put his all into how Gondor was supposed to look, especially the capital, Minas Tirith. I’d always pictured it as a generic castle-town, but it is designed more as a giant fortress containing many levels to which to fall back in the event of a siege, clearly the best man could construct against the power of Sauron.

The “hope springs eternal” message built up over the first two movies continues with Denethor coming to believe that Faramir (on top of Boromir) is dead. The shock of losing two sons and the inevitability of superior numbers of the army of orcs that has arrived and evil men still on their way to attack his fortress leave Denethor in a state of panic and insanity. He decides to burn himself and Faramir like the kings of ancient times. The irony is that Faramir is still alive, just in need of medical attention, while reinforcements from Rohan and the ghosts of disgraced soldiers, given a chance at redemption by Aragorn, are coming to help. So to say that Denethor lost hope too easily would be an understatement.

ReturnKing2

Looks kind of like some Return of the King book covers I’ve seen.

As for other characters, everybody gets closure. Almost everybody remembers how Eowyn and Merry are dismissed as viable soldiers because of their respective identities as elf maiden and hobbit. A disguise for Eowyn and a hiding place for Merry on the way to Minas Tirith, though, give them a chance to fight and prove themselves. I also think the army of the dead is handled well. Appearing as incorporeal beings through CGI, the audience is given absolutely no reason to like them, and Aragorn absolutely hates turning to them. But he has no choice. And the extremely childlike Pippin finally grows up a little by pledging fealty to Denethor because Boromir died trying to save Merry and Pippin. And, of course, the doomed coupling of Aragorn and Arwen occurs after all.

Then there is Frodo himself. The Ring became very “heavy,” its corrupting power growing stronger the closer he got to Mount Doom. So after all this, Frodo finds that going home isn’t the same. He tries writing a book but eventually decides to go to the Gray Havens with the elves.

You will remember to take a bath before going, right?

You will remember to take a bath before going, right?

There is one conclusion I do have an issue with, both here and in the book (although if I remember, it only appears in the Extended Edition). Near the end, Faramir and Eowyn hit it off. Needless to say, this relationship goes ridiculously fast. Frankly, it seems to have occurred only because Eowyn had lost Aragorn to another and Tolkien’s vision demanded that this end unhappily for no one.

Despite this, I have to consider The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King the greatest fantasy movie ever made. It is a worthy conclusion to a great trilogy and it’s a fantastic movie in its own right as well.

Overall: 9 out of 10

*What is it with these movies and an orc type leader not being mentioned by name but appearing in the credits? Still, Gothmogh actually is a character who was in the book as leader of the orc army. Here he appears as an orc himself, but this has to be a guess because Tolkien never clarified who or what he is.

The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers

TheTwoTowersTitleSince I have reviewed two subpar LOTR games in the past, I figured it time to cover a good one. Developed by Stormfront Studios and published by Electronic Arts, The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers is a hack-and-slash game mostly about the second movie but some Fellowship content as well. Why wouldn’t EA give both movies their own game? Either because another company was adapting the original or just the fact that The Two Towers was about to hit theaters. Take your pick.

Although EA is possibly the most successful third party developer in the business, many don’t care for it. They say that the company is super-corporate and soulless, recycling the same things over and over again. This is particularly true of the company’s sports series, each of which gets a sequel every year, even though there’s not always much of an improvement besides a roster update. Despite that, EA does maintain a consistent standard of competence, and we definitely see that here.

Plot: 6 out of 10

TheTwoTowers1

See these characters? They’re the ones you play as.

For they are the choices. Despite its title, this game does not in fact start you in The Two Towers but instead The Fellowship of the Ring. Fellowship gets five levels: the opening battle in Fellowship, Aragorn defending the hobbits from nazgul, finding the entrance to the mines of Moria, battling orcs and a troll in Moria, and finally, fighting uruk-hai right after the fellowship breaks up. It should be noted that the first two of these levels are short warm-ups that leave one to wonder why they are counted as individual levels.

Most of the game is taken up by the Aragorn/Legolas/Gimli portion of the second movie. Everything stays true to the story, except of course that we see little of Frodo, who you might recall as being the centerpiece of the story. You protect him for a few levels, then never see him again. This is probably because EA had seen The Two Towers and concluded that The Battle of Helms Deep would end up being the biggest selling point. And it was. Despite the giant flaw of Frodo not getting much game time, the story we get is told well.

Graphics: 9 out of 10

If you saw the movies, you’ll have no trouble recognizing everybody and everything. The character models and environments may not be quite up to par with Final Fantasy X, but they’re still pretty good.

One nice touch is something that is now rarely seen: footage from the actual material. Cutscenes use movie clips and they’re actually DVD quality. Why don’t we still see this kind of thing? Probably because it brings up bad memories of the full motion video games of the 1990s that were either “tap left, tap right” games or movies interrupted occasionally by limited gameplay. Still, they’re a great touch here.

TheTwoTowers2

Sound: 8 out of 10

Some levels have environmental sounds, some have music from the movies. Don’t worry, there’s no law against plagiarizing work that you have the game rights to. Besides, we all know how great the soundtracks are. It was great to listen to them again.

Voice acting? Everybody’s back playing their old roles and up to snuff. Except that new actors seem to be playing Lurtz (the guy who kills Boromir) and Sharku (leader of the warg-riders) and do terrible jobs. Especially Sharku. He takes occasional breaks to send a common enemy and letting out a hilariously off-key “kill that one.” You’ve really got to hear it to know how bad it is talking about. But since neither of these actors get much work, I can forgive. The game, that is.

Gameplay: 7 out of 10

Other than a flawed camera that has a tendency to jerk about too much when the map makes you do a loop-around turn, The Two Towers also handles well. Each level asks you to choose either Aragorn, Legolas, or Gimli, but because there’s an experience system, you should pick one of them when the choice first comes and stick with him.

This is a hack-and-slash game, but involves a lot of strategy for that category. You have a quick but weak attack,  strong but slow attack, block, shoving back of enemies, coup de grace on downed foes, backwards hop (there is no conventional jumping because this is a pure swordplay game), and arrow or throwing axe to strike from afar. You can also earn experience points to purchase abilities and strike combos that make the game easier. So plan on playing strategically in this game.

A neat concept. Good controls would be necessary in a strategic game. And they are quite responsive. Even the bad camera isn’t that big of an issue because you’re usually moving on a straightforward path.

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Of course, forest levels lose something without any chance of getting lost

Challenge: 9 out of 10

A pretty tough game. If my point about strategy isn’t clear, do not try to adreanaline rush it. No, you have to be defensive but not without a sense of opportunity. Also, most of the bosses require a specific trick to win. There is frustration, but it’s good frustration — the kind that makes you keep coming back.

Overall: 8 out of 10

It may be an incomplete adaptation of the movies, but as a game, The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers does it’s job with flying colors! The sense of strategy serves it well, and you’ll have a good time killing orcs. Definitely recommend this one.