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December 22, 2003
Lord of the Rings: Return of the King - Review
Release Date Distributor Developer Players Rating Difficulty
10/11/2003EA GamesEA Games1-2M15+Medium
Save Size Sound Format Vibration 60Hz Mode 50Hz Border Widescreen
79KBDolby Pro Logic IIYesNoNoneNo

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Check out the stunning visuals.
When Electronic Arts grabbed the rights to make games based on the Lord of the Rings movies many were expecting rushed games to cash in on the potential success of the movies. Rather then rush out a game to be released at the same time as Fellowship of the Ring Electronic Arts took their time to ensure the games would be solidly built and meet the high expectation of gamers. What wasn't expected was the final quality of Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers which turned out to be possibly the best movie based game in years. The game became a commercial and critical success and showed the world that video game tie-ins could be very enjoyable. A year later and Electronic Arts has released a game based on the final (and many predict greatest) movie in the trilogy, Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King.

Click To Enlarge Image
Check out the stunning visuals.
The Return of the King sees you return to Middle-earth once again to take control of the heroes in the movie as they continue on their separate quests to defeat evil. Electronic Arts have included over twelve interactive environments authentically reproduced from the films. Explore the Paths of the Dead, defend Minas Tirith, and battle Sauronís forces at the Pelennor Fields before final confrontations at the Black Gate and the Crack of Doom. More than just a backdrop to the action, the game environments are interactive, letting players incorporate the various environments into their strategies for both melee and ranged combat. Characters now have the ability to jump and swing from ropes, fire catapults or kick boulders among other things. It certainly adds a little variety, and some minor (and I mean minor) puzzle solving to the game.

Instead of just the three playable characters in the original game the developers have upped the number of playable characters to eight including Gandalf, Aragorn, Legolas, Gimli, Sam & Frodo (and some secret unlockable characters). Each character has his own strength. Gimli is strong, but slow whereas Legolas is better with distance attacks and fairly quick movement. As you progress through the title you earn experience, which can then be used to "purchase" new attacks, improved health or other attributes that will help you progress through the game. Some of these attributes can only be used once your character has obtained the required level.

Click To Enlarge Image
Check out the stunning visuals.
Also included in The Return of the King is an all-new co-op multiplayer mode will allow players to team up with a companion. This ads some great longevity to the title as completing the missions with friend is tremendous fun. In fact, this is among the most fun I've had this year in a multi-player game.

Sadly, Return of the King is yet another title that despite the American version including online gameplay, the PAL version has had it removed. Once again there is no real reason for it especially considering the game would run on a peer-to-peer basis with no need for servers from Electronic Arts besides a very basic area to meet other gamers. One issue which some people may have with the gameplay, and this was the case with Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers is that the game is essentially a side-scrolling beat 'em up and can become repetitive after lengthy play. As with the previous game the missions are about an hour each, giving the game a total completion time of around 10 hours, although if you want to unlock all the moves and extras you'll have to replay some of the levels several times.

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One of the major battles.
One of the highlights of this game is the seamless transitions between movie scenes and real-time cut scenes. The transitions are perfect, and you'll be looking twice to ensure you've switched from one to the other. The in-game graphics have certainly been beefed up from the original title, with improved and a much wider range of attacks and animations. The character models themselves are fairly good, although still not quite as detailed as you would expect. Backgrounds also deserve a special mention with all the major locations from the movie (well, the bits I've seen at least) faithfully reproduced. One downer with the graphics is the camera which sometimes allows you character to run too close to the edge of the screen and before you know it you're being slaughtered by an Orc. All the developers had to do was move the camera back a little, or focus it more towards where your character is heading.

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Gandalf's getting pissed...
As expected The Return of the King is THX certified, which ensures the highest quality sound. Considering the game includes much footage from the movie, and Howard Shore's great music score, it's a little disappointing that DTS sound isn't also included in the game, but the Dolby Pro Logic II has enough impact to keep you on the edge of your seat. The one-line comments from the characters (using the voices from the real actors) vary from great, to extremely corny while the sound effects, played through a good setup will rock your room, especially during the large battles and explosions.

As a movie tie-in Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King is as good as it gets. The only drawback is that if you haven't seen the final movie this game may give away some of the storyline and major plot points, but if you've read the books I would say that you should delve into this game immediately. The 2-player co-op mode is tremendous fun, but I still question the decision for Electronic Arts to remove the online gameplay. All-in-all an essential purchase for fans of the movies.

Review By: David Warner

GRAPHICSImproved over last years game with great texturing and animation.
89%
SOUNDOriginal movie music, dialogue is corny, even with real actors used.
90%
GAMEPLAYWhile single player may tire, the inclusion of 2-player mode rocks.
86%
VALUEYou'll certainly want to play through to unlock all the bonuses.
84%
OVERALLFans of the movies (and that should be almost everyone reading this) could do a lot worse then pick up this title. Electronic Arts are putting a lot of effort into making this brand pay off, and the results are terrific.
87%

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