The Lord of The Rings: The Return of The King review
Arrival of the king
The end of an epic...?
The Lord Of The Rings franchise, whether you're talking about the books or the movie trilogy directed by Peter Jackson, defines epic. The story is big, the characters are full of depth, the battles are big and the stakes are high. I have to say, though, the games don't really compare and it's easy to push them aside, labelling them cash ins and moving onto a game that is worth something, but don't be too quick to underestimate the Lord Of The Rings games, because they are still good games. Not fantastic, but they always get the job done in terms of being a good game, and this game is the one that ticks many boxes while being a fun hack and slash well worth your time.
One story to rule them all.
Following the story of the Peter Jackson movie, after the battle at Helm's Deep. Gandalf parts ways with Aragorn, Legolas and Gimli, but both still have the same goal, which is to defeat Sauron's forces while Frodo and Sam head off to Mount Doom to destroy the one ring. There's not a whole lot else that's given to you in the game because, like King Kong, this was released before the movie and thus they couldn't really afford to spoil much of it. It's a stupid decision and really ruins the game's story. You're better off watching the movie in order to learn anything about what really happens because the most you'll get here are the very basics, and while it's faithful to the movie, it has no real presence in the game and ultimately, it just screams cash in.
One combat system to rule them all.
But yeah, this game is a hack and slash through and through. You'll go through each level hacking through groups of orcs, uruk-hais and the like. That's pretty much the general gist of things. While some levels play out a bit differently (a couple have you slaying groups of enemies in an enclosed arena, one level is a bit of a maze and most of a level has you defending a castle from being overrun by enemies), generally, it's a linear slog, so there's not a whole lot to be said about the level designs. But *bleep* it, we're all about hacking enemies to bits, and boy oh boy, is it ever so fun... moreso if you play alongside somebody, but even if you're flying solo, *bleep*ing shit up is still a lot of fun. Whether you're hitting X for quick attacks, triangle for stronger attacks or mixing them up for combos, or even holding L1 to aim with projectiles (bow and arrow, knives and even magic), it's easy to lose yourself in the heat of battle because there are always enemies to take out, and once you take one down, you can't stop there - there's always that need to keep going with little to no regard to anything else around you, and since 99% of the game is designed around combat, well, it's a good thing it's like this.
There are some things to keep it from just being about mashing the X button. For one thing, you can put the experience points you earn during the level into abilities and enhancements after beating said level. Ranging from increasing your health to using attacks that are stronger against certain enemies, and even learning some special attacks here and there, there's plenty to spend your experience points on. But that's not all - you can either choose to improve that specific character, or pour some more experience points into giving that upgrade/attack to everybody, as long as it's not a character specific one. It does make you think that they didn't really come up with many upgrades, but eh, I thought that there was enough and that it was actually nice of them to let you upgrade everyone at once. But even getting it can get interesting, as you can rack up heaps as you keep hitting enemies without getting hit yourself... what I mean is that if you're in amongst a group of enemies and you keep hitting them, you can build the experience multiplier up and up until you eventually hit Perfect Mode, where you'll get the maximum experience points you can from enemies until it runs out. Be quick, though - the multiplier goes down quickly if you aren't hitting enemies.
This game isn't above having issues, and this has two fairly big ones. One thing is the lack of camera control. Shit, what is this, 1999, playing bloody Castlevania on the Nintendo 64? Nah man, this is 2003 on the Playstation 2, we got dual analogue sticks! Besides, these camera angles don't exactly shout or even whisper "epic"; it just says lazy design because the levels have corridor designs and the times you spend on more open areas against thousands of enemies are no fun roller coaster ride as you have to keep track of what's going on. So yeah, lack of camera control can be a bitch. The other problem is that this game can get pretty cheap at times. Whether it's some levels not having any checkpoints or having a scarce amount, or enemies constantly gang banging you, one thing is for certain - it can get pretty frustrating. With some perseverance, it can be a bit rewarding, but nothing ultimately satisfying because this game never feels truly challenging. No epic boss fights or struggles - just enemies cheap shotting you and taking advantage of you having no camera control. When it's not frustrating though, it is a lot of fun, so don't let it deter you too much, and hell, if you play alongside somebody, a fair amount of the frustration will be alleviated, so that's more incentive to get into cooperative play.
One graphics engine to rule them all.
The graphics are fairly hit and miss. It hits more often then not, but where it misses are in the colors. Put simply, they're a bit drab. Grey and brown are, for the most part, the only colors you'll see, and yeah, I get that we're at war with swords and elephants, but it is possible to make browns and greys vibrant. Some of the special effects are a bit drab, too. Really, not a whole lot stands out as particularly impressive looking, but - and here's where it hits - the technology is definitely there. The textures are quite detailed for a PS2 game, managing to really nail the look of mountains, caves and castles quite finely. It only suffers from the fact that it's a PS2 game - let's be honest, the PS2 ain't exactly a powerhouse when stacked up against the Gamecube and Xbox 1.
One sound design to rule them all.
Yeah yeah, I know it's cheating to reuse music from the license and that with the advancement of sound chips, it's become easier to add music from said licenses (at least if you have money to wipe your ass with), but *bleep* it, the soundtrack sounds so bloody good that I don't really care. Each song makes each level feel like a big deal, and given the epic scale, it's no wonder that it's so easy to lose yourself in the heat of battle - it's like you're there, slashing orcs up like nobody's business. The sound effects are pretty... meh, they don't really do much to make the battle exciting, but then again, it's got to compete with the best fantasy movie soundtrack you'll ever hear in a movie, let alone in a video game!
One game to rule them all?
While the Lord Of The Rings games have gotten better over the years, Return Of The King is the beginning of an era where the games really shine brightly. Before, they were games that were simply good, if fairly underwhelming, but starting with this game, they (more often than not, anyway) started to realize their potential for greatness. Return Of The King is a well made hack and slash game and if you don't mind some frustrating parts, you'll find within the disc very immersing gameplay aided by a bloody epic soundtrack.
Pretty much just says "hey guys watch the movie". Easily ignorable but it at least follows the basic sequence of events.
At times it can be unnecessarily frustrating, but the rest of the game is fun and pretty well made.
The lack of camera control sucks, but the other controls are tight and work out pretty well.
The colors are a bit drab and ultimately, it's nothing special, but technically speaking, it does look pretty good.
It may all be ripped from the movie, but *bleep* it, it's excellent and the quality is top notch!
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