Lord Of The Rings: Battle For Middle Earth II Xbox 360 Review
Is it good to play, Precious?
The core game play is very simple and reminiscent of other RTS games you may have played over the years, put basically if you are a fan of the Lord of The Rings Trilogy and also like the Command and Conquer series this is the game for you. Developed by the team that made the Command and Conquer games Westwood Studios and utilizing an enhanced version of the C&C Generals engine you will feel at home straight away. After you have gotten to grips with the control system you will be able to create wicked bases and coordinate attacks and battle formations all with the click of a couple of buttons.
There are a variety of modes to play in the main story mode; you can play as either the good (Elven and members of the Fellowship) or the Bad (Uruk Hai and so on). The old favourite Skirmish makes its return also which is good for getting in some practice before delving into the online modes. For once EA have pretty good servers on XBL for this game and I didn’t find it hard to connect to a game and also it maintained a very good for as EA connection throughout. For the newcomers to this game and genre there is a lengthy tutorial which is incorporated into the main story which helps new players get used to the way the game plays and also to grips with the much vaunted control system.
So… the much spoken of control method, what is it about this amazing and innovative control system the games developers and show goers alike have been hooting and hollering about for the best part of 3 months. Does the control system really reinvent the wheel of the console strategy game per se? Well the answer is a resounding YES and NO. Whilst being innovative and very effective, it takes a long while for you to be able to pick up how the controls work… It really can be a pain the butt for some people. Being a strategy game there is obviously the need for lots of functions so in with this in mind EVERY button on the 360 is used. The A button is used to issue orders and holding down the right trigger brings up a menu in the bottom left of the screen, you can use the D-pad to go up and down this brings up in unison the higher level windows which are: Heroes, Builders, Bookmarks and Powers, or you can move sideways and go into the sidebars which moves through the menu for the selected window or unit. An example of this in action would be to click the right trigger, move to the builder menu scroll along with the d-pad and you can select what you would like him to build.
At first this comes across as a clumsy and annoying system but if you sit down and persevere with it, you will soon be whizzing through menus and selecting battalions and structures to be built with ease and efficiency in no time. Although not as quick as the PC equivalent at being able to issue orders it does allow you to be able to do all the things you can do on the PC version. The developers knew that they had to make it easier for console gamers to select or command different units so they created the bookmarks system, this essentially allows you to access different elements of your army easily and do attacks utilising many units with a simple tap of the A button. Also the twin sticks have not been ignored, the left stick moves around the field whilst the right stick rotates the map and zooms in and out of the field of vision. An intuitive system that has the impetus of being simple it can just take a while for some people to pick up. Some however will not be satisfied with the initially unwieldy control system and will bemoan the lack of keyboard and mouse support. I tend to agree that this is an option that should maybe be allowed, but the control system offered is more than adequate.
But does it look next-gen, Samwise?
Being a port of a PC game released last year, the game manages to maintain the same charm and functionality graphics wise as its PC counterpart, in some area’s the game has received enhancement. If you are playing this game on a television or monitor capable of outputting in 720p/1080i you are seeing the game as it was always meant to be seen. With wonderful water and lighting effects and so much going on-screen at any one time it really is a visual treat. It does have its down points though, there are moments where the game slows down this is most evident when changing between sections or on the boat trips across the seas. On one of the occasions I was victim of horrendous slow down and it worry’s me that a PC game which can run fine on a mid spec PC has troubles running at high spec on the latest and most powerful games console which has the power to be able to easily play the game without any visual and frame rate hindrance if ported right. This however is not an occurrence that is ruinous to the game; more a minor quibble on my part. The look of the environment and the characters on the game from the units to the Heroes has been done pretty well – nothing over fancy, but it is solid and has a nice style to it though with use of the interactive right stick zoom, you tend to notice how clunky the and blocky the style of the units are.
In motion everything moves at a nice brisk pace with so much going on on-screen you would expect many slowdowns. This does not seem to be the case: explosions are happening all over the place and there seems to be no fear of the game slipping into the dreaded 5-10 frames per second mode where everything goes in slow motion – this was mostly prevalent in the tutorial mode. The slowdown only happened during the cut scenes. Being a strategy game you wouldn’t expect the game to have the sharpest and most in-depth graphics, but characters and environments being the two main things to be implemented graphically, it’s all about how the game handles the battles without struggling – not how sharp the resolution is and the amount of bump mapping is used like other games. This game does what it sets out to do graphically and the boosted looks are very nice and sharp on an HDTV display.
Since EA have the rights to not just the film but also the literary works of the LOTR series they are able to have Hollywood style production values on the soundtrack, to this effect they have performed exceptionally well creating a wonderful and captivating soundtrack that does not directly force itself into your conscious but plays in the background in a non-intrusive, but representative of the tone of the films and the events going on throughout the game. Hugo Weaving, famous for his turn as Agent Smith in ‘The Matrix’ trilogy and also V in ‘V for Vendetta’, returns for his part as Lord Elrond voicing your quest through the battles that you go through in the single player mode. The sounds of the main game from the building of objects to the battle cries are accurate and spot on and thoroughly represent the theme from the LOTR movies. Being a big budget game such as LOTR you expect values like this and everything is done impressively – a commendable job.
So what will you get out of this game? If you were to put the game play into layman’s terms this is pretty much the same as the C&C games already mentioned, but in the Lord of the Rings universe. You begin with a builder who creates the foundations for your base. From here you build your battalions and also gather resources to maintain the upkeep of your base and to build ultimately a bigger army. If you’re unlikely to be swayed by most RTS games I can’t see it happening now, but what this game does, it does very well creating a solid and engrossing experience in the LOTR world.
An excellent and engrossing adventure from beginning to end; the lure of an excellent multiplayer with a unique control system – this game shows strategy CAN be done on a console.
8.5 out of 10