reviews\ Oct 8, 2002 at 8:00 pm

The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring - XB - Review

Merry and Pippin have been lulled to sleep, the gnarled arms of Old Man Willow embracing them in a slumber from which there is no awaking. Samwise Gamgee is also asleep. It falls to Frodo to battle the monster tree and save the brave band of adventurers.

Armed with his trusty stick, he attacks, dodges and evades the strikes of the massive arms of the giant tree. Where is Tom Bombadil when you need him?

Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, an Xbox release from Black Label Games and Vivendi Universal, does not necessarily follow the same course as the fabled books by J.R.R. Tolkien. After all, this is a video game, and certain liberties had to be taken for the sake of gameplay. But the essence of the fantastic adventure is there, and while the game does chart an extremely linear path through the lands of Middle-earth, there are enough challenges along the route to enable players to joyfully experience the urgency and terror of the journey.

The opening phases of the game center on Frodo Baggins, and his attempts to leave The Shire and begin the journey to Rivendell. This acts like a tutorial to guide players through the nuances of game play. Frodo must locate the deed to Bag End, then deliver it to Lobelia Sackville-Baggins. Then it is back for the ring and on his way. Yes there are quests that can be undertaken before leaving the Shire. A broken weathervane, pigs on the loose are both side quests may detract from the overall urgency of the expedition, but certainly can be entertaining.

Of course, about the time that Frodo secures the ring, the Black Riders show up searching for him. The very animation suggests evil, and should Frodo be tempted to put the ring on (not only will his purity level drop as the ring corrupts him), he is easier for the Ringwraiths to find.

The game features three playable characters: Frodo, Aragorn and Gandalf. Others may be associated with the party, but merely stand by uselessly when the action is taking place. Sam, Merry and Pippin are attacked and captured in the Old Forest by huge spiders but do nothing to help themselves except cower. Frodo is the one that does the fighting. Not only are the party members not attacked, but they are little more than obstacles that must be negotiated.

The game animation is quite good and motion is fluid. The environments are wonderfully realized. Bag End is the kind of house that, if not a big person, you would want to crawl into and declare home.

If there is a fault with the environments, it lies in the linear nature of the game. When in the Old Forest, Frodo can’t skip across the landscape, but is stuck to the path. There are invisible barriers that hold him there. He can try to jump up on the surrounding terrain, but inevitably he falls back to the path. Some of the environments are interactive while others are not. This is selective. The parts you can interact with likely contain items you can use. However, if you repeat a level from the start, you will find everything where it was before. So much for the replayability of the title.

Graphically this game is a delight for the eyes. Fans of the Tolkien novels will likely recognize many of the environments without being told what they are. Lighting dynamics are also excellent. Special effects are superb, even when Frodo puts on the ring. The Ringwraiths look like something you would be afraid of.

The sound of the game is exceptional. The musical score adds a richness to the gameplay and the cutscenes are extremely well done when it comes to the vocal characterizations. This is a game where the soundtrack is actually vying with the graphics for top billing.

The controls of this game are kept very simple. The ring has a tendency to pop itself up to the top position in the your inventory, but then, it had a way of making its presence felt the entire time it was in Frodo’s possession. Just be careful, because if it pops up to the top slot and you press the wrong key, Frodo is one step closer to total corruption.

Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the Rings is one of those curious games that comes along once in a while that defies expectations on one hand, and lives up to them on the other. For hard-core gamers, this title will certainly not appeal to them. But fans of the novels will like likely find value in the graphics, sound and overall faithfulness to Tolkien’s books.

This game is rated Teen for blood and violence.


Gameplay: 7
The game is just too linear. There are a plethora of load times, which interfere with the smoothness of transitions from one level to the next. The game does have a host of cutscenes, but they really advance the story and look good to boot.

Graphics: 9
Textures, lighting, effects, environment and characters are all well done. The animation is excellent. The 360-degree rotatable camera aids the overall look of the game as well.

Sound: 9
The musical score, ambient sounds, and vocal characterizations are superb. This game is not only a visual treat, but an audio one as well.

Difficulty: Medium
Replayability is nowhere to be found. Once you have solved a puzzle, unless you have complete memory failure, you will be able to solve it time after time. The player interface is designed for ease of use.

Concept: 8
A mixed bag here. The game does a terrific job in following the novel, but the linear nature won’t appeal to those who place game play above faithfulness to a third medium.

Overall: 8
For Tolkien fans, linear is good. What happened in the novels will always happen, time and again. For gameplayers, linear is not good. Though a game sports a variety of puzzles, they should change up a bit for the sake of diversity, something that this game doesn’t appear able to do. The enemy AI is suspect. In spite of all that, it is the very faithfulness to the story, as well as the graphics and sound, which should make this a delightful time for any LOTR fan.


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