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The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Rings

Platform(s): Game Boy Advance, PC, PlayStation 2, Xbox
Genre: Action/Adventure
Publisher: Black Label Games
Developer: WXP Games
Release Date: Sept. 26, 2002 (US), Nov. 8, 2002 (EU)


Xbox Review - 'LotR : The Fellowship of the Ring'

by The Cookie Snatcher on Oct. 16, 2002 @ 8:30 a.m. PDT

Undertake a fantastic journey following the same path as the Fellowship in the book. Play as either Frodo, Aragorn, or Gandalf the Grey. As you take the fabled One Ring closer to its fate, you will explore the most dangerous wilds of Middle-earth from the Shire to the very edge of Mordor.

When Frodo agreed to bear the burden of the One Ring at Elrond’s crib in Rivendell I bet he never guessed that a videogame based on his exploits would be created hundreds of years later. He also never could have imagined that the hassle of playing this game, with its piss-poor playcontrol and annoying objectives would make the battle at Helm’s Deep seem like a children’s birthday party, with hats and those candles that relight themselves and stuff. I’d also venture to guess that if Frodo had a choice between playing to the end of this game or making his way to Mount Doom riding bareback with a Ring Wraith he would literally jump at the opportunity to do the latter.

The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring is a game based on the first part of J.R.R. Tolkien’s epic trilogy of the same title. The fact that the game is based off of the book instead of the movie seems like an excellent idea, but the developers took far too many liberties with the story and end up making the game almost feel like some sort of dim-witted satirical parody that only loosely represents its subject matter. What they’ve done is added unrealistic elements in the game that never actually took place in the book and used events that did occur but changed them so that they would fit with the game’s repetitive objectives. For example, in one scenario you meet up with Tom Bombadil (yay!) but before you are allowed into the safety of his house you must collect 12 lilies for Bombadil’s old lady (boo!). Lilies, What?! I don’t remember that part, it’s true that the book mentioned Bombadil collected lilies for his wife in passing phrase but he never forced the poor down-trodden hobbit-folk to do the leg work!

This overhead-perspective adventure game starts you off as Frodo, he can swing a weapon, jump, block, and throw rocks. You will also be able to control Aragorn and Gandalf as the story progresses but they both control nearly identically to Frodo. Moving around is accomplished with the L-analog stick and the camera perspective can be zoomed in and out and rotated with the R-analog stick. The camera system is constantly trying to reposition itself and more often than not the perspective the game chooses for you is completely illogical, you can rotate the camera with the R-Analog stick but you’ll find that you are time and again fighting with the computer-controlled perspective.

In the first area of the game you are to avoid roving black riders as you perform various tasks throughout the Shire, some of which are optional. These objectives include things like delivering the Bag End key to Hamfast Gamgee, and meeting Merry, Pippin, and Sam at old Maggot’s farm. I guess the ring wraiths are used for purposes of attempting to instill a sense of stealth action into the game, sadly it comes off feeling like a poorly constructed Herdy Gerdy: The VR Missions.

Loading times between areas seem excruciatingly long, not only because they are but because you know that once it’s done loading you’ll be greeted with another lame scavenger hunt. I’m all for a LotR game that takes sequences directly from the book but when they are processed and reduced to simple fetching assignments all of the appeal of Tolkien’s story is thrown right out the window. Who has the ring, do you have the ring, where is the ring? After sitting down with this game for what seems like an eternity I could care less about the ring, give it to Sauron if he wants it so bad, just don’t force me to collect any more ingredients to help make that sluggard Fatty a pie.

Graphically, LotR: FotR is pretty intriguing, if only because it’s fun to see the various locales and structures that were described in the book. But from a technical standpoint the environments tend to be bland and repetitive, finding your way out of a small cave for example can prove to be an annoying chore. The color palette is often incredibly dark and the surrounding objects are so featureless that they blend right in with the backgrounds. There are some pretty reflection techniques used on shiny objects though, for whatever that is worth.

Major clipping problems abound, you have to be careful where you step lest you get stuck in the invisible pit-of-doom that is the scenery, forcing you to have to reload a saved game from a previous area. In one spot of the game the clipping got so bad that Frodo’s entire body was stuck inside a giant rock structure, the only thing showing was his furry hobbit feet. For something like this to have been stamped with a seal of approval Black Label Games must have hired a team of brain-damaged monkeys to do the testing.

The sound in FotR is comprised of one audio track that constantly plays and loops various ambient noises like crickets in the distance, owls hooting, coyotes howling, and birds squaking. And another audio track that conveys the stirring orchestrations which fade in and out as you progress through the game. In-game sound effects are generally lame though, as are the voice-overs. (Tom Bombadil sounds like a drunk Irish hoodlum.)

The sad thing about this game is that people who are not fans of the Tolkien books are almost assuredly not going to find this title worth playing because of its boring obscure objectives and shoddy camera system. What is even sadder though is that fans of the LotR series are going to like this game even less since it doesn’t even come close to doing justice to the books on which it is based. Check it out if you must but for god’s sake, man, rent before you buy.

Score: 4.2/10

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