It 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.