(I know there is another thread on this but I wanted to make this review separate since it is a tad long) Game: Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers Platform: Playstation 2 Publisher: Electronic Arts 16:9: No 480p: No Sound Format: Dolby Pro-Logic Introduction: "Where is the horse and the rider?" The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring. One of the most beloved literary works of our time and one of the most critically acclaimed movies to be released last year. Peter Jackson did the impossible and visually crafted the world of Middle-Earth as so many of us imagined it in our minds. The acting was superb, the direction inspired and the film was without a doubt epic in scale. Could the game capture this unique experience? Could EA avoid the inevitable pitfall of games based on movie licenses? Quite the question indeed. The Two Towers is of course based on the soon to be released film of the same name though EA has decided to also include various portions of the original movie as well. No argument from this Tolkien fan. Never kick a gift-Nazgul in the mouth. Along with the ability to play through various sequences from both movies the game includes a wealth of extras that are very akin to extras you would find on your garden variety DVD. Extras range from still photographs from the movies production to interviews with the cast. These extras are of course not available from the start of the game and need to be unlocked as you play. A nice little touch for fans of the movie. So what exactly is the game about? Story Suffice it to say that the Two Towers is an exciting book and will not doubt make quite the movie. The story deals with the union of the Two Towers Orthanc and Barad-dur. Repective homes of Saruman and Sauron. Both forces have united to wage full out war on the land of Rohan and the free peoples of Middle-Earth. Its is up to the remnants of the Fellowship to rescue thier kidnapped friends Merry and Pippen and to warn the King of Rohan of its pending doom. All the while the hobbit Frodo and his faithful friend Sam Gamgee must make the most perilous journey ever imagined... To destroy the One Ring once and for all. Fans awaiting the movie will no doubt enjoy the game for the simple fact that it includes various clips from both Lord of the Rings movies. I myself was enthralled while watching the various clips of Helms Deep and the Fellowships trek through Fangorn Forest. Fair warning to the Tolkien faithful, if you want to remain spoiler free you may want to skip this title for now and purchase it after the movie. There is nothing here that will ruin the movie for you but for some what is here may be bothersome. Gameplay The Two Towers can be best described as a hack and slash dungeon crawler without the dungeons. The moment you turn on your Playstation 2 and insert the game you are met with the full introduction from the Fellowship of the Ring. You bear witness to the forging of the ring and Saurons strangle hold on Middle-Earth. The reason I mention this is because the game has no start menu to begin with. It was actually quite suprising for me. I'm the type of gamer that always waits and watches the introduction sequence for any game before pressing start and entering the fray so to speak. Imagine my suprise when the introduction sequence goes straight into the gameplay! Shortly after the Last Alliance battle begins you are given full control of Isildur and are taken through a small tutorial on how to fight. The controls are not complicated and are very easy to get used to. Heres the button layout: X: Normal Attack Square: Defend Triangle: Fierce Attack O: Kick R1: Parry R2: Finishing Move L1: Draw Long Range Weapon (Bow) L2: Jump back The controls are quite responsive and never fail you in your task. Combinations can be done very easily by pressing sequences such as X, Triangle, X or X, X Triangle X. The combinations are very impressive looking and when chained with a finishing move (Throat slash, decapitation) look so much like its movie counterparts battle sequences that its uncanny! The only hitch of course is that you must purchase these combinations in order to use them. Each character has his own individual skills which can be purchased via the characters "upgrade" screen.(which you will have access to in between every level) The available characters which you can use throughout the game are Aragorn, Legolas and Gimli.(With a few suprises along the way) Throughout the game you are rated on how well you defeated your enemies. The ratings are given based on what combinations you use and how many enemies you dispatch at a time. The higher the rating the more experience you get. The more experience you get the quicker your character will gain a level and the quicker you can buy more skills. The ratings are listed below: Fair-minimal XP Good-Average XP Excellent-Good XP Perfect-Best XP All in all your character can increase to the highest level of ten. Every two levels you are given access to a new "upgrade" screen with even more combinations and more powerful weapon upgrades.(The game is setup very much like the after level screens in Jedi Power Battles if you want a point of reference) All in all you can upgrade your character with over 25 new skills and attacks per character. Not too shabby at all. Whilst in the midst of battle you will also notice that there is a small meter at the bottom left hand corner of the screen. This meter is simplistically called the "Combat Meter". By chaining various combinations and destroying multiple enemies this meter will begin to fill. Once full your sword/bow/ax will begin to glow. At this time you can kill enemies with one hit and you will score a "Perfect" evertime. No doubt this is a state you want to reach as often as possible so that you can accumulate enough experience to level as quickly as possible. At this point you should understand that gaining levels and fighting are the most important aspect of the Two Towers gameplay but lets not forget the locations. This is The Lord of the Rings after all and where you do battle is almost as important as how you do battle. After the introductory level with Isildur you will take control of Aragorn and defend Frodo from the Ringwraiths on Weathertop. Your adventures will take you further into Tolkien lore by visiting varied locales such as Balins Tomb, Amon Hen, Fangorn Forest, Rohan and more. Each level provides its own challenges, tasks and boss battles. After each level you will be taken back to the "main menu" which is actually map of Middle-Earth that allows you to access each level along with all of the special features you've unlocked. Its an attractive menu and the most important thing to remember here is that you can access and play through each level with each of the three characters you have available to you. Each one will have its own individual rating and experience points per level. The special features you unlock are dependant upon which character you play. If you want to see all the game has to offer you will want to play through it with every character. To sum up, the gameplay in The Two Towers is fun and enjoyable. You will have hordes of enemies to fight and you will have a great time doing it. The fighting system is simple enough to pick up, yet deep enough to experiment with and if your a fan of the movies the locations will have you in awe. With this in mind I would be remiss not to mention a few gripes. Collision detection is a problem at times. While defending the walls of Helms Deep you are required to run back and forth and kick over the ladders that the Uruk-Hai army are using to climb the walls. The problem is the Rohan troops that are there to aid you, do nothing but get in your way. Since they are considered "solid" you find yourself getting stuck behind them constantly making level completion more difficult than it needs to be.(and utterly frustrating I might add!) This same problem arises to a smaller degree in other areas of the game. Also some gamers will have substanial problems with the fact that there are no in level oppurtunities to save your game. I personally did not find this to be a problem but I feel its worth mentioning. Another game that took a bit of a beating for this a few short months ago was the Xbox's Enclave. The Two Towers is very similiar in that if you are at the end of a given level and die, you must do the whole level over again from the beginning. It adds to the challenge in my opinion but some people may be put off by this. Finally and my biggest caveat is the games length. I beat the game the first time with Aragorn in 3 hours and 45 minutes. I played through with Legolas the second time in 3 hours flat. All told after completing the game with all three characters and unlocking the everything in the game your looking at about an 8-9 hour experience. I wish it were more because whats here is really fun, its just ends far too quickly! Graphics For a game that is so short there is never a shortage of things to see. This is by far one of the nicest looking PS2 games on the market (or for any console for that matter). Easily equalling if not surpassing the graphics of similiar games like Devil May Cry or Buffy The Vampire Slayer. Each location has been painstakingly recreated. Texture quality is the real winner here. You wont notice many mundane textures in the world of Tolkien. Some of the texture quality comes close to looking bump-mapped in areas like Amon-hen. Grass blows in the wind, fire and particle effects come through very nicely and lighting is superb. Balins Tomb will make you want to put your DVD in the tray and watch that scene alone. Slowdown is never an issue and that is most suprising and generous thing I can say to this game. The reason I mention its suprising is because of the HUGE amount of enemies on screen at a time. I kid you not when I say you can have anywhere from thirty to fourty Uruk-Hai along with 2 Cave Trolls running around on screen and the framerate never falters. Very impressive indeed. EA knows how to strut thier stuff graphically on the PS2. Something else to note is that while you move from level to level you will greeted with actual movie clips (as mentioned earlier) that progress the story as you go. The clips move into a small CG clip that in turn moves into the in-game graphics. The process is damn near seamless and quite impressive to behold. Performance on my Toshiba 42H81 was excellent. The game was played via the component input on the set and the picture quality was outstanding with minimal jaggies. I only wish EA would have included 16:9 support. It would only make sense considering what this game is based on. Sound Howard Shore. What else is there to say. If you enjoyed the Lord of the Rings soundtrack by Howard Shore than you will be in heaven while playing this game. There is ample use of his score throughout the game and it helps even more to draw you into the game. The score is well placed and never seems to just be thrown in without care. It rises when it needs to and falls when the scene in question calls for it. The games use of pro-logic is commendable. Bass is strong and the game has a suprising amount of directionality. During the courtyard battle at Helms Deep you will feel those firey boulders clash on the floor. The clangs of your weapons will come through clearly. Very good pro-logic mix though it really gets me excited for the multi-channel mixes that will hopefully be featured on the GC and Xbox versions of the game due in December.(I could not test for Pro-Logic 2 support as my reciever does not support it) If anything you will want to turn the game up just to let the sweet score sink further into your ears. Its the real showcase in the sound department. Conclusion What we have here is an enjoyable game that really captures the feel of the movie. Its a "must play" for any fan of Tolkien or of the movie. However it becomes difficult for me to recommend this game a "must buy" because of its short length and limited replay value. If you do not mind the length and really want a game based on Lord of the Rings that is actually good then by all means go for it. However more conservative gamers that are no doubt aware of the barrage of games coming in the next few months may want to rent first and decide from there. Make no mistake, this is really good game despite the length.