The Lord of the Rings - The Fellowship of the Ring
by Black Label Games/Vivendi
With the success of the last years movie and the perpetual interest in the books, the rights to create games based on either one was always going to be highly sort after. Vivendi secured the rights to do games on the books and I for one would prefer a game that came straight from the source rather than an abridged movie version. The movie missed out key sections which as a fan of the book, was very disappointing. Characters such as Tom Bombadil were completely missed out, which was criminal. Anyway what we have here is a game based on the first book, The Fellowship of the Ring. Let's take a look at what kind of experience the game offers.
If I were to attempt to put this game into a genre I would have great difficulty. Throughout the game you play as three of the key characters, Frodo, Aragorn and Gandalf. You begin the game as Frodo. When I first played the game I was overjoyed at what appeared to be an adventure game. The early part of the game sees Frodo getting ready to leave the Shire. In order to do this he has to hand over the deed to his home which in turn means he has to ring the town bell to satisfy his home's purchaser which in turn means... well you get the picture anyway it's typical adventure game stuff, and very pleasing too. On completing this first phase though, which occurs when you've done initial tasks and collected the ring, the game begins to make a genre change from adventure to pure hack 'n' slash gameplay. This change initially is subtle and to begin with Frodo has no alternative but to use stealth to avoid the Black Riders as any confrontation with these will mean game over. Soon after this, when you enter the forest, stealth won't be so much of an option and by the time you're playing as Aragorn (or Strider as he's also known) it's completely hack 'n' slash. Of course when you get to control Gandalf you also have the help of his magic but there is still a high proportion of slicing and dicing to do. Had the game remained as an adventure it would have been so much better.
At the beginning of the game I got the impression that I was in for twenty hours gameplay from this title but alas it soon becomes obvious after you leave the Shire that events are going to be kept short and by the end of the game I was disappointed to find that barely ten hours play had been had. Had the game been kept as an adventure game then the gameplay time would have at least been doubled. By resorting to hack 'n' slash gameplay, it's as though events had been compressed in an effort to get through key parts of the story. In fact if you ignore the cutscenes and the first part of the game you could argue that what we have here, in many respects is a pale imitation of Diablo.
The constantly swaying opinion I had of this game didn't stop with the graphics. The character models are some of the best I have ever seen in a game and the developers deserve high praise indeed for their efforts. The brilliance doesn't end there either. The environments are beautifully detail and at times it seems like you're watching a movie. What sours the whole thing though is the diabolical framerate which nosedives continually. This could be forgivable with an adventure game but with so much of the game being a hack 'n' slash it's just too big a problem to put up with. An additional problem worth mentioning is the loading times which are occasionally very long for a Xbox game. In the mines of Moria there are times where you goto walk into an area and it's all black. In the top right of the screen it says 'Loading' and after about 6 seconds the contents of the area appears within the door frame, which is poor. Collision detection is also a major problem. You'll regularly find your character walk through fences and other obstacles. If you open a cupboard door the doors will pass through your character. It is also disappointing that so many places have invisible boundaries that force you to take the long way around. Even very small streams cannot be walked through and in most cases even small logs can't be jumped over.
Suitability for deaf gamers is also an area which is mixed. The initial introduction to the game is not subtitled. Almost everything else is though, and the subtitles are very easy to read in nice clear text. During the game there are times when characters will sing such as Tom Bombadil and Frodo. The singing is not subtitled. As you progress from one area to another a World Map is displayed and all the speech that occurs here is also not subtitled. Pressing the back button will inform you of your objectives and you are notified onscreen when the objectives have changed. There is even a stealth meter that informs you of how quiet you are being (green is good, red is bad) when an enemy is near, which of course is an excellent addition for deaf gamers.
The Lord of the Rings will probably still appeal to fans of the book despite some of the negative comments I have made. I played the game to the finish despite some of my feelings about the combative nature of the game. For the most part it is deaf gamer friendly too. Those who don't like repetitive battles though, should probably give it a miss. You can't help but wish the developers had maintained the adventure game nature of the games from the beginning through to the very end.
Overall Game Rating: 6.7/10 What starts out as a promising adventure deteriorates into a hack 'n' slash. Fanatics of the story though will still probably find it worth a look.
Deaf Gamers comment: Mostly accessible for deaf gamers.