Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers
The Lord of the Rings trilogy of movies have been insanely successful because their dark, mystic, exotic collection of otherworldly tree creatures, Orcs, Goblins, Elves, and Men alike — seized us from our mundane everyday and led us to their world of alien grandeur that was not so much unlike our own world at its fragile, battle-weary heart. Middle-Earth’s savage truth and gentle realities both, claimed our attention effortlessly and held fast with a good-triumphing-over-evil storyline that seemed not only a richly satisfying outcome, but the sole acceptable one.
The trouble with The Two Towers, which chronicles the middle chapter (beginning with Frodo still in the care of The Fellowship) of the series, is that it pays so much obvious loving attention to the movie it is borne of, that the gameplay elements seem an afterthought, left under-ripe and wholly unsatisfying. Powerful cinematic moments such as The Battle at Helm’s Deep are reduced to novelty, superfluous small screen re-enactments followed up rather clumsily by limited, repetitive Golden Axe-esque gameplay. You’ll remember Golden Axe? Perhaps not — it’s a very old game. It featured three characters: one fast, one strong, and one in-between. And so, meet Legolas, Gimli, and Aragorn.
Tragically, Sega’s old arcade favourite may even surpass TTT in terms of depth of gameplay, as that game’s magic gauge building system works better than the buy-in leveling up at work here — and it’s two-player action to TTT’s lonely undertaking! Each of TTT’s three heroes is scored on the quality of his killing throughout the levels. With each murder, a rating will appear, ranging from “fair” to “perfect”. Should you attack in a fashion the game deems cowardly or unskilled, your ratings will reflect that, and your points (used to purchase special skills between stages) will reflect that. This seems perfectly acceptable until you figure out what sorts of kills the game respects. Fancy using Legolas? Certainly; his bow and arrow attacks are easily the game’s greatest draw because by comparison, hack and slashing adventures are a dime a dozen. Realize with some disdain, that employing his bow with relish will lead to copious “fairs” and inversely proportionate credits to spend on improving him. In other words, the game punishes you for having the most fun you can have with it.
TTT coaxes you to engage in overcrowded scrums with shield bearing Orcs and long blade wielding Urak-Hai who will surely cut you down — unless you’ve earned the impressive looking melee-ready special skills. But, ironically enough, these skills that are so critical to crowd control require you to almost commit suicide in amongst those same crowds to earn enough “excellents” or whatever, to buy them in the first place. Make sense? No? Well, of course not.
Your heart, like mine, will sink on countless occasions as beautiful moments lifted directly and remarkably from the film are transitioned smoothly into game CGI, and then into actual game sequences. The atmosphere-setting is magnificent, from the darting through Amon Hen in the scorching day, to holding Helm’s Deep in the rainy dark — the black shapes of Urak-Hai and giant Cave Trolls bobbing ominously over the fog-blanketed panorama. The sounds of battle — swords rending air and splintering wooden shields — and the thundering music quickens your gaming pulse.
You find a sweet vantage point to begin picking foes off at will with your bow. Aiming is easy and intuitive, and soon your kill count grows. You can’t just turtle here completely; some dark nasty of Sarumon’s pale molding hand will seek you out soon enough, so you’ll have to scurry, finding extra arrows and replenishing vitality dropped by slain foes along the way.
But this can’t go on. If the blow your pride takes from receiving countless “fair” ratings doesn’t make you cry out “fine, you bastards, I’ll mix it up with you if you want a piece o’ me so bad!”, then the game’s mounting focus on urgency will. Later levels simply won’t stand for hit-and-run or long distance approaches because you’ll be expected to defend a door, or else a wall, and nothing but the most aggressive, insane hacking and slashing will see your objectives completed.
The sheer excellence of TTT’s presentation escapes your discerning love, gone up in smoke with the mindless button pressing reminiscent of certain old school arcade games. For argument’s sake, let’s assume you somehow manage to accrue enough scratch to add specials such as the stylishly named Isildur’s Judgment or Elrond’s Judgment to your arsenal of under-whelming normal moves. Even though the game tells you what sequence of button presses effect the specials, grinding them out with consistency is inexcusably ponderous. I found that I had more luck with some moves by just pounding whichever two or three buttons were involved completely randomly, than to hit them precisely in the correct order.
Thus, special moves or no — recreated Peter Jackson cinematic magic or no — The Two Towers is a tedious button pounder. It’s a horrible, horrible shame that such an arrestingly magical game should function in such an off-putting, clunky and inconsistent fashion. Recommended for die-hard fans of the movies only, so that they may play out their favourite moments — their love is such that they may see past the limited, archaic tedium of it all — leave them to it.