dudacles's The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (PlayStation 2) review

An enjoyable brawler that really captures the feel of the film

The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King is directly based on the Peter Jackson's movie of the same name, just like the game The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers was based on the first two movies of the trilogy. You'd expect EA to quickly slap together a game in order to cash in on the franchise's enormous succes, but The Return of the King is in fact quite a good game.

The Two Towers was narrated by Aragorn, but The Return of the King is narrated by Gandalf. The game features ample footage from all three movies, and while Gandalf does explain what's going on for the most part, in order to have a proper understanding of what's happening and why characters are where they are, it's pretty much required to have either read the book or seen the film. The editing of the movie footage isn't all that cohesive,
Prepare for an action-packed rollercoaster ride
so the player has to have at least some basic knowledge about the source material, but then again, if you are interested  in this game, chances are you're a fan of The Lord of the Rings, so this won't be a problem. The game starts out quite well, instead of the main menu you will thrown straight into the game's first level, Helmsdeep, where you play as Gandalf. This sequence sets up the tone of the game nicely.

The Two Towers featured three characters and one bonus character. This time around, Aragorn, Legolas and Gimli are joined by three normal character and three secret character that you unlock upon beating the game. The game's story is split up into three paths. Gandalf has a path, called The Path of the Wizard. Aragorn, Legolas and Gimli also have a seperate path, called The Path of the King. Finally, Frodo and Sam have a path, called The Path of the Hobbits. The game is broken up into levels that you need to complete in order to move further up the path. The game's level select is a wall with a glyph that does a good job of showing when these levels take place in relation to each other.

There's a good amount of variety between all the characters. Characters like Gandalf and Aragorn are
This game does an amazing job of capturing the epic feel of the movie battles
powerhouses,and Legolas is characteristically really good with his bow, while Sam is a weak fighter in comparison. Because of this, The Path of the Wizard and The Path of the King are quite a bit more action-packed than the Hobbits' path. While playing as Sam, you'll have to do your best to avoid combat, instead using environmental hazards to dispatch your foes. This kind of variety is great, as it spices up some gameplay where the enemies pretty stay the same throughout.

The focus of this game is obviously pure combat, and for the most part, fighting is enjoyable. It's all pretty basic stuff. You have two attacks: a speedy, but weak attack and a fierce attack that's slower, but packs more of a punch. If an enemy carries a shield, one whack with a fierce attack will leave him shieldless. You also have a parry button. You have to time the button press with an enemy attack in order to deflect it, although simply mashing the button will work just as well. There's also a move that will knock dudes back, a button to do a quick backwards evade and a stab into the ground that will instantly kill enemies that you've knocked down. It's no Devil May Cry, but the combat engine definitely holds it own. The only real fault I can find with it is that when you find yourself surrounded by enemies, they'll take turns attacking you, giving you litterally no window to attack them at all. This is especially annoying when you're on the run for something or need to get somewhere with a time limit. You can't move while blocking, so the only option left is to run away and hope you don't get stunned over and over on the spot until you die. When this doesn't happen, the combat is really enjoyable though.

The Return of the King features a fantastic co-op mode.
The levels get even more fun when you play them in co-op. The game used to feature online co-op, but those servers got taken down years ago, as is to be expected by EA. However, if you use two controllers, you can still play co-op locally with friends, which is great. You'll share one screen, and although the camera angle isn't always optimal for both players, having one player going into a group of enemies while the other offers support with ranged weapons is great fun. You'll play through The Path of the King first, and then you can take one of those characters to join Gandalf in his path, which is a bit wierd,  but other than that, the co-op is amazing. Your character will also carry over, so a friend can bring his memory card over and use his own trained character instead of having to start out fresh if he has the game as well.

The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King really manages to capture the look and feel of the film. The environments are recognizable, with some great art design. Howard Shore's soundtrack is at full force here, and it's just as fantastic as before. The rest of the game sounds appropriate, all the clangs and bangs in combat are there. Voice work is done by most of the real actors, although Gimli's, Legolas' and Aragorn's actors haven't returned, which is a bit surprising. The voice work is good for the most part, as all you really need is a voice that sounds like the movie counterpart for it to be all right.

Return of the King is one of the few movie-to-game transitions that actually manages to make excellent use of the liscence. There's a ton of fanservice all over the game. Truly, if you loved the third film in the franchise, you pretty much can't go wrong with this game.
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