Title :Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers
Platforms :Microsoft Xbox, Nintendo GameCube, Sony PlayStation 2
Publisher :Electronic Arts
ESRB Rating :Teen
Game Rating :9.5
Review by :Ken Gagne

"One ring to rule them all…" 

Peter Jackson is bringing these words to life in the unimaginably impressive Lord of the Rings trilogy of movies. That same quality of showmanship is marvelously integrated into a gaming experience as The Two Towers, an Electronic Arts game for the Xbox, GameCube, and PlayStation 2. (Xbox version reviewed here) 

Despite the name, this game is a digital rendition of the first two films. The video game will be lost on anyone who has not seen at least Fellowship of the Ring, for what makes the game such a technological marvel is its flawless blending of the two media. The opening to EA's game is identical with the prologue to Fellowship — up until the point the characters suddenly become digital and gamers find themselves thrust into the role of Isildur, who took up his father's sword and struck the One Ring from Sauron's hand. From this point on, The Two Towers seamlessly weaves between cinematic and interactive, using actual footage from the two films to carry players from one scene to the next. There were times when the camera had me wondering if I'd been placed back in control, or was still watching a movie. 

Contributing to the cinematic appeal is the presence of the film's actors, who provided original dialogue and narration for the game. The audio also features movements from the first movie's soundtrack, authenticating the experience for fans of the film. Additionally, as players prove their worth in the battle for Middle-Earth, exclusive interviews with the producers and actors of the game and movie become available. 

For all this dressing up, the gameplay is fairly straightforward, reminiscent of other fantasy classics such as Golden Axe and Gauntlet. Players journey through the Mines of Moria, the plains of Rohan, and the walls of Helms' Deep as the swift elf Legolas, the sturdy dwarf Gimli, or the sterling human Aragorn. The many orcs, trolls, and uruk-hai are defeated in real-time 3D combat, with a simple control scheme that includes swift and fierce melee attacks, blocks, and missiles. The button-mashing calls for more than a modicum of thought, as these waves of foes can demolish any hero who isn't paying attention to an incoming sword strike. This level of difficulty melds well with the feeling that the gamer is playing an active role in one of the most epic fantasy tales ever told. 

Though each hero adventures through the same levels, they approach them with their own unique repertoire of moves, earning experience points for streaks and combos. These points can be used to purchase more attack patterns necessary to overcome the swelling hordes of Sauron and Saruman. A level can be played three times, only once per playable character, and then without restriction once the thirteenth and final level has been conquered. 

Beyond the material borrowed from the films, the graphics and sound perform admirably on their own as well. As mentioned, the camera highlights the action finely, following the heroes from myriad points as they progress through forests and lakes. As a character wades through deep water, he holds his weapon above his head to keep it dry; meanwhile, in the water can be seen both his legs and the reflection his torso. The speed with which each character wields his bow and arrow captures the strength these same icons displayed on the silver screen. 

Despite its high score, The Two Towers may be worth only a rental. Though it is an essential addition to any Tolkien diehard's library, the gameplay's essentially elementary nature and short duration (the thirteen levels can fly quickly) may make it last less time than one would like. However, The Two Towers is a truly impressive feat, and will surely be something Precious to you.

This article is copyright (c) 2003, 2007 by Ken Gagne. All rights reserved. Not to be distributed without permission.

Original publication: Sentinel & Enterprise, 13-Jan-03