With all the hype surrounding the movies, it was only a matter of time before Electronic Arts produced a game to capitalise on what is a seriously hot property right now - and just in time for the festive season!
Fortunately you don't have to be a fan of the J.R.R Tolkein novels or the movie to get into the game. Essentially EA has opted to recreate the action elements of the movies, so what you get is a relentless hack and slash affair that feels like an up to date Golden Axe, with elements of Devil May Cry and Dynasty Warriors.
Early forays teach you the basic moves of the game; press X to perform the fairly useless fast attack for dispatching foes without shields, triangle gets rid of enemies with shields, while circle performs a kick, and square a slash attack. Meanwhile, holding L1 and X together fires arrows, while L2 makes you jump back, while R1 performs a lethal ground stab, to finish off grounded opponents. All fairly straightforward to begin with - in fact you'll be able to progress through the first handful of missions just stabbing the triangle button, occasionally moving around if you feel the need.
This kind of approach suggests EA is going for the mass market - or even for people who don't normally play games at all. Even on normal difficulty, it's almost harder to mess up than not, with enemies going down after one or two hits. For the seasoned gamer, this is a rather tedious entry into the proceedings, but the ante is raised once you face your first boss monster - which is curiously hard to beat in the light of the ease of actually getting there.
From there on, it's a case of tightly scripted action sequences, with progressively harder foes, and harder bosses to face. You feel a bit like a passenger, rather than an active participant in the game - it feels more than a little 'on rails', but this is only to be expected, given the fact that you're following the events of the movie.
The most impressive aspect of the game is its visuals. EA held back development to make sure the game was up to the standard required, and it shows. The character models and backdrops are all well up to scratch, although perhaps not on the same level as something like Devil May Cry, for example. Occasionally the way the real life FMV morphs into CGI is nice, but other times it merely shows up the engine. Whatever, it's a cool way of moving the game on, and the fact that the film's main characters have lent their voices to the game gives the package a much more solid feel.
Another pleasing aspect of LOTR is the RPG-esque ability to buy new moves at the end of every level. Depending on how well you've performed, and how gracefully executed your moves have been, you'll earn credits to spend on new combos, which, in time, will make the combat element far more interesting than the rather basic moves available to you from the beginning. Also, you get to choose from various characters to play on each level (apart from the first few), which gives the game a certain amount of replay value.
Having only devoted around three hours so far, it's tricky to make a call on the game's depth and longevity at present. What we will say at the moment, is that it has the usual glorious EA presentation, but that it comes across as more of a mass market pleaser than a hardcore choice. But then, that's what EA has based its huge success on, so no surprises there. Check out our full review in the days leading up to its November 8th release.