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LORD OF THE RINGS: RETURN OF THE KINGS
Reviewed by RICKEE MURRELL
It's been an unfortunate sort of month for me and my PS2.
PES3, although good, did not live completely up to my expectations, The Simpsons: Hit and Run was about as in-depth as a fish bowl and far too linear for a game that could have and should have been so much more, but I am now glad to say that things have got that little bit better thanks to the arrival of this long-awaited final instalment.
Return of the King begins as epic and engrossing as its predecessor, if not more so, to get you involved and on the edge of your seat from the off.
Possibly too simplistic, the menu sends you straight to the cinema when you start a new game with a Gandalf-voiced dialogue explaining the events like a board presentation, pieced together with the film's eye-candy leaving you eager to get it on. You begin as Gandalf (one of the new characters) in a basic tutorial mission which explains all the basic controls and sends you on your way.
After the first level is completed you can select one of three paths, to follow depending on the character you want to be. You can continue with Gandalf, where you encounter the Ents, among others, along Gandalfs path which is plotted along the lines of distracting Sauron by fighting in Rohan and Minas Tirith.
Gandalf is a refreshing character in the game, his combos and magic add something a little different which the other characters don't really have. Where Legolas' long range weapon is his bow, Gimlis' his throwing axes and Sam's is throwing knifes, Gandalf fires bolts of blue energy which is later upgraded to fire and is of course very pretty.
Alternatively you can begin Aragorn's path teamed up with that loveable little fella Gimli, and the spock-lookalike (well in the ears) Legolas. His path is the dead army caves, down the road to Minas Tirith and then onto the dreaded Mordor. All characters have a few more upgrades than The Two Towers had and this is largely apparent with Aragorn. His moves are sleek and impressive.
The third path is that of our hairy footed friends Frodo and Sam who are initially accompanied by Smeagol/Gollum. They, as we all know, must complete their trip to Mount Doom to discard the One Ring, encountering Shelob and the Ringwraiths along the way.
One more addition to Return of the King not seen before is the special ability that each character possesses.Readily available from the beginning, it is performed with L1, L2, R1 and R2 pressed at the same time. Sam can take advantage of the elven cloak and disappear, leaving any would be attackers standing there looking around as if preparing to cross a busy road!
Overall, the game seems to put right, to a certain extent, what was wrong with The Two Towers. The game is longer and the want of more characters is fulfilled as nine are ultimately available. Interaction with ballistas and catapults are fleeting but a good touch. The Two Towers was far too hack 'n' slash all the way, whereas in the latest offering we are required to use our action button to pull and turn switches, to open doors and progress as well as take advantage of spears sticking in the ground while in the thick of it. The graphics are astonishing and excellent, really pushing the console to its current limits and helping to keep you intrigued all the way.
The excellent sinc between film, FMV and game graphics really involves you in the story, keeping you well-informed and repeatedly impressed as the stories progress. Sound is as superb as it was in The Two Towers, the stars of the sound show obviously being the original actors from the films with more dialogue from more characters in their over-the-top actor ways.
We cannot forget the music, which is from the films, complements the game, doing what a beer does for the vindaloo. The game does well with its physics and combos performed by characters and their flying, spinning victims. All looks really realistic, making all models move and look almost as good as they do in the films.
The Co-op mode is a very welcome addition that deserves a mention, but is, unfortunately, not very different from the Single Player game. The only slight problem I have to mention with the game is it is quite difficult and you will find yourself repeating missions quite a lot and throwing the controller against the wall in desperate frustration! Co-op mode is just as difficult thanks to EA not perfecting the camera movement here. This occasionally causes a player to get stuck somewhere while the other continues along, even when there seems to be nothing in the way, but perhaps half-decent communication and sticking together can prevent this.
All told it is an excellent game which does almost everything right to produce an enjoyable gaming experience. The Two Towers was good, but this is ten times better. Return of the King is a king among games and I can assure you is a welcome return to decent gaming.