Sunday, 6 January 2013

Review: LEGO The Lord Of The Rings Videogame (PS3)


LEGO is one of the biggest and best selling toys in the world and it's easy to see why really.  It's colourful, cheap and allows for endless amounts of creativity.  Many a child over the years has thought at some point or another about playing with LEGO based on their favourite films or characters like Star Wars, Batman, Marvel and The lord of the rings.

Thankfully we have Travellers Tales who in partnership with LEGO and Warner Bros. have provided many hours of glorious LEGO gaming fun over the years starting with Star Wars back in 2005.  Since then we have been able to play through both film trilogies and some of the clone wars, taken to the streets of Gotham City as the dark knight and swashbuckled our way through the pirates of the Caribbean, but now comes the greatest fantasy saga of all time, The lord of the rings.

The LEGO versions of characters look great and very expressive
Anyone who has played a LEGO game in the past will know the routine by now.  You begin with a limited selection of characters who have certain abilities and progress through select parts of the story to unlock more characters and levels.  Every completed level unlocks a free play version where you can unlock more secrets and earn more studs to buy more characters and other extras, while playing as any character you want from your unlocked list.

Things are a little different here though as Travellers Tales have opted for a huge open world  for you to run around in between levels, complete with it's own puzzles, platforming sections and mini-games.  You can venture to any of the locales the Fellowship visited during the trilogy to explore a miniature version of these areas such as Helm's Deep, Hobbiton, Minas Tirith and more.  These locations contain extra characters to unlock and for the first time quests.  Numerous characters throughout this plastic Middle Earth will want you to obtain a treasure for them in return for a red brick.  These boil down to being nothing more than fetch quests but they add some extra goals for you to achieve compared to the previous games method of finding the bricks in the levels themselves.  It also keeps with the fantasy styling of the games world.

Gold bricks have since vanished in favour of the more expensive Mithril bricks which are required for crafting new items.  Some quest givers will want these items instead of treasure, but these items can only be crafted when you acquire the necessary blacksmith design and have enough mithril bricks to craft the item.  Mithril bricks are found primarily in the open world hub, but also awarded for achieving goals in the story levels, such as acquiring all treasure or finding the blacksmith design.

Combat is simple but allows you to vary up with melee and ranged
The upside of crafting these items once you unlock them is that any character can use them to open doors, climb ropes, dig up objects and more when you need to.  Normally you would need Sam to dig up a buried item, but with the mithril trowel you can do it with Sauron for instance (who coincidentally enjoys gardening when not conquering Middle Earth) or any other character who normally cannot dig up items.

Like LEGO Batman 2, LEGO LOTR uses fully voiced dialogue instead of the more traditional grunts and sighs heard in earlier games.  Unlike Batman 2 however the dialogue is lifted straight from the films soundtracks with some editing to fit certain scenes.  Also characters who in scenes were smoking are now drinking hot chocolate and the like to keep younger players from seeing such acts.  My only problem is that the dialogue is delivered with the same severity of the film, so scenes that are designed in game to have a humorous slant become awkward.  An example is the death of Boromir who receives a more comical death at the hands of Lurtz, but still delivers his tear jerking death speech to Aragorn before kicking the bucket, it just doesn't work well in every scene.  Batman 2 had a unique script to fit the games events and used voice actors for that production so didn't suffer the same way.  Regardless it still works well generally and doesn't ruin the experience in anyway.  Personally I prefer the voice over option compared and hope to see it in future LEGO games.

Graphically the game looks nice with the characters being very expressive and animating smoothly.  The world they inhabit is a mix of LEGO bricks with more traditional 3D designs being used for the levels themselves making up the ruins of Osgiliath for instance.  There is a nice use of lighting here with Gandalf's staff illuminating darker levels while Frodo uses his light of Eärendil to highlight hidden areas.  There are some great vistas to find in the open world in places like Rivendell and Minas Tirith, showing off the work of the art team.  My favourite effect is when Frodo uses the ring and enters the phased world with the effect looking exactly like that of the film.

The effect when Frodo puts on the ring is impressive
The audio in game is pretty good despite the sometimes awkward dialogue/humour mash-ups.  Weapons clang and smash like previous LEGO titles, while the soundtrack to the game is that of the films themselves, so you will be hearing some awesome music throughout.  The few pieces of recorded dialogue for quest givers and the like is delivered well enough for younger audiences that this game aims for primarily. 

My only other grievances with the game is the over emphasis on certain characters.  Legolas and Samwise Gamgee are required a lot in this game.  Sam can pull objects with his rope, climb using the rope, plant flowers to access new areas, dig up items and use hobbit holes.  Legolas is the only regular character who can jump high, swing from arrows he fires into walls to access new areas and tight rope walk to access hidden goodies.  Granted other characters such as Gimli and Aragorn have their own uses, but nowhere near as much.  It became a slight annoyance having to switch to Sam and Legolas so often for tasks. This does become less of a hassle when you have the mithril items instead, but until then and during story missions it can be a pain.

The dynamic split screen could sometimes kick in when it wasn't needed and the ability to both play the same character being removed slowed the game down a little on cooperative play when one player needed Sam and the other Legolas.  This led to the amusing situation where both players had to switch to random characters to get the ones they wanted.  The camera could sometimes be a hindrance for certain jumps in split screen, but this issue was easily resolved on singleplayer.

These are only minor nitpicks to what is a good game overall.  The work done to create a fully realised Middle Earth completely trounces Gotham City from LEGO Batman 2 and the level designs are very good and imaginative at times.  If you have enjoyed LEGO games in the past then pick this up.  If you are new then this is the game to start with as it represents the best work to date on the LEGO game series.

SCORE: 7.0/10


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