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The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring
Review By:  Jared Black
Developer:  Surreal
Publisher:  Black Label Games (Universal)
# of Players:  1
Genre:  Adventure
ESRB:  Teen
Online:  No
Accessories:  Memory Card
Date Posted:  11-13-02

Usually whenever a company releases the same game at the same time for multiple platforms, the differences between each version are limited only to the capabilities of that platform. Thus it's somewhat surprising that, despite having different developers, The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring on PS2 is a much different experience from the Xbox version. And in this particular case, that's to this game's advantage.

First let's go over what remains the same in this version. The PS2 version features the exact same voice acting, script, three-character gameplay, and level layout as the WXP-developed Xbox version. As a result a couple of my complaints about the Xbox version are still valid here; namely, the game is extremely linear and the storyline is told in a very basic fashion. While it's great that this game features a lot of events that were in the book but cut from the movie, most major events are told in such a bare-bones fashion that they don't carry nearly the weight that they should. The Council of Elrond, in particular, is almost an afterthought. Surreal did open up several levels a bit more than WXP did (ex: tiny streams that ridiculously couldn't be passed in the Xbox version can now be walked through), but for the most part it's still a point A to B affair that leaves little room for exploration.

Aside from these things however, Surreal has crafted a game that's superior to its Xbox cousin. The gameplay still consists of a three-character control system, with the player alternatively controlling Frodo, Gandalf, and Strider. Frodo still has his sneak ability, but now it's a much more important part of the game. In the Xbox version you could practically pet a Black Rider's horse without being attacked, but now if a Black Rider detects Frodo it's instantly game over. This is much more realistic, and makes the already scary Black Riders that much more menacing. Each character has also lost his "charged" attack, which was mostly useless as it forced the character to stand still while charging. In it's place is a new finishing move, which is basically a gruesome downward stab that finishes off opponents on the ground.  It's actually a useful move, and makes the game a grittier experience.

A lot of other minor things are handled better as well. The most obvious are the various side-quests, which have nearly been eliminated in the PS2 version. The Xbox version started out with a few side-quests in The Shire and then dumped the concept later on, so by eliminating these from the start Surreal has crafted a more consistent game world. The side-quests and puzzles that remain have been streamlined and dumbed-down as well, most notably the big ending puzzle in Moria. While this does make a short game even shorter, it really only cuts out those parts of the game that drag on and add length for the sake of length. 

For example, in the Xbox version getting out of the Old Forest requires finding a lever used to open a gate. Since all of the Old Forest looks the same though, I found it considerably frustrating running back and forth wasting my time trying to locate the lever. In this version though, once you find all of Frodo's hobbit companions the game instantly takes you out of that part of the forest, without making the player go through the stupid lever hunt.

Most importantly, this time the Fellowship actually fights back! One of my major complaints about the Xbox version was that other Fellowship members rarely helped out, but in this version they're competent fighters. Unfortunately, the actual implementation of it is still lacking. No explanation is given as to why only certain fellowship members will help out at certain points in the story, making the game feel disjointed. Additionally it appears that NPC Fellowship members are completely invincible, as I repeatedly tried to get them killed without ever succeeding. Therefore the player can often just hide behind them and let them handle the dirty work, knowing that they'll never die. It doesn't get much weirder than being able to cower as Strider while three hobbits beat a giant Cave Troll to death in seconds. I guess some assistance is better than none though, but it's obvious this area still needs considerable work before the next installment.

Graphically, in many ways the PS2 version actually looks better than the Xbox version. While it's technically inferior due to the PS2's limitations, Surreal's art design fits more into what one would think Middle-Earth would look like and how it was portrayed in the movie. Outdoor areas are more lush and green, and the slight fogging actually adds to the effect by creating a dreamy fantasy-like environment.  Bree looks much better as well, with a couple of little touches (like banners) not found in the Xbox version. With the exception of the Old Forest (WXP did a better job of making it feel dark and foreboding), I found Surreal's take on the world to almost always be more convincing and realistic. Enemy artwork is better as well, with some menacing monster designs. The only area the Xbox version looks noticeably better in is the Fellowship and NPC character models.  They both use the same character designs, so naturally the Xbox can create more realistic ones.

The game uses the exact same voice acting and soundtrack (I think), so sound-wise there's very little difference between the two versions. The only difference may be in the monster sounds, which I found to be more menacing and realistic in this version.

HIGHS:

  • Much better art design make it look as good or better than the Xbox version.
  • The voice acting is excellent, as is the soundtrack and various monster samples.
  • Includes a number of things the movie doesn't, such as meeting Tom Bombadil.
  • Frodo's sneak ability actually means something now, and the useless charge attack has been replaced with a cool finishing move.
  • By cutting out most of the puzzle and side-quest elements, the PS2 version flows much better than the flip-flopping Xbox version.
  • No more silly monster generators to destroy.

LOWS:

  • The storyline is too streamlined, and de-emphasizes the major points from the book.
  • I still want to be able to explore a vast Middle-Earth, not be forced down an extremely linear path.
  • While fighting the final boss I encountered a very nasty bug. Basically it became stuck in the ground, making it easy to pound it into oblivion and beat the game.

FINAL VERDICT:

If you own both consoles and want to get a Lord of the Rings game, this is definitely the one to pick up.  It flows better, looks better, and plays better.  It's still far from the perfect Tolkien experience, but it's a great start.

Overall Score: 7.7

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