The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring

Developer:  Surreal Studios
Publisher:  Black Label/Vivendi
Year Released:  2002

Review by Rosemary Young (January, 2003)
Well Lord of the Rings fans are truly blessed at the moment. Not only do we have the books being re-released day by day in various editions, but there have now been two movies and two separate computer game incarnations. The manual for this game The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, published by Vivendi, establishes it as the 'Official Game based on the Literary Works of J.R.R. Tolkien. This differentiates it from the other game series, which is based on the movies and published by EA.

Now I confess that I haven't played the other games, but I have seen the movies. Though I enjoyed them immensely, I still thought they erred on the side of action with all the epic battles. Being based on the 'Literary Works' I was really enthusiastic about this game so, of course, I set myself up for some disappointment. In retrospect, I was a bit naïve. Both the movies and this game are based on the literary works so they each do their own varied retelling of the same story and in so doing they both show the problems faced (and the liberties taken) when translating the written word into another medium.

Superficially, of course, there don't seem to be as many hurdles to jump when making a movie from a book, just tell the tale in pictures and reword the dialogue to fit. With a computer game, however, there's the gameplay to factor in. What does the player do, especially in between the significant events when the characters are simply trekking from place to place, admiring the scenery, getting lost or having cosy little chats? This game transforms these bits into combat arenas where you run into spiders, wolves, trolls, Dark Riders, etc. Thus the game is highly action oriented. First up, however, there are some chores to take care of such as finding the Deeds to Bag End and doing a couple of little 'favours' that bear no relation to the literary works. This first part of the game also tests your sneaking skills but after that it's time to sharpen your blade.

Home, Sweet Home
The game opens in The Shire. The graphics are impressive and I thoroughly enjoyed exploring Bag End and Hobbiton, I only missed being able to interact with more things. On the whole I thought these locations and others such as Bree, the Barrow Downs and the Mines of Moria did a pretty good job of representing Middle Earth. The ambient sounds and music are also very good with howling wolves, chirping crickets at night, hollow footsteps on stone, and the music pulsing (or whispering as the case may be) to suit the situation. And some of the creatures will give you a fright. I jumped out of my skin at Weathertop after confronting my first troll, and every one after that set my heart racing. The Dark Riders, too, made an impression, especially when Frodo slipped on the Ring and revealed their demonic faces.

Then there are the cut scenes, of course, all of them excellent although the characters are a bit rigid. The voice acting is fairly respectable, I have no serious complaints. The first scene with Gandalf and Frodo worked well although I had to make some allowances for the meeting with Tom Bombadil. He didn't fit perfectly with my vision of the character but I was quite content with Frodo and his Hobbit friends. All in all I was comfortable in Middle Earth and, allowing for the stiff competition of the characters already painted in my imagination, they averaged out extremely well.

Triple action
This is a third person perspective game and you begin playing as Frodo but as the story continues you slip in and out of the shoes of Aragorn and Gandalf. It is subtitled throughout except for the introduction.

There is a learning curve for the game controls. Unless you change it, the default for combat is assigned to mouse buttons, then it's on to the keyboard for everything else. As well as keys for navigation and for saving and loading, for accessing the map (not very useful), and for your quest log and inventory, there are a number of others to remember. These include the key to use things, to jump, block, kick sneak, and several more. Sometimes different characters will perform alternative actions at the same keystroke, for instance Frodo will jump whereas Aragorn will kick. And Gandalf has a store of spells that are assigned to the number keys or you can access them through your inventory.

More action
It sounds complicated, and there is a lot to remember for players who are used to point and click games. I'm one of those players, but I managed using the minimum of commands. The fighting isn't hard so I just pointed and clicked away and it worked, I didn't need to bother with fancy moves. Also, for a good proportion of the time you are with fellow travellers such as Sam, Merry and Pippin or Gimli, etc, and they are invincible. You can hang back, stay healthy, and let them do the dirty work.

To aid you there are plenty of restorative agents; mushrooms, cram and lembas, and Gandalf will find the mirovor handy to replenish his magic supply. I never even looked like running out of these goodies and it's impossible to miss them, or any other item that you can pick up, because they sparkle brilliantly and scream out for you to come and get 'em. At any time during a fight you can press the key to open your inventory and gulp down a restorative, so although the combat gets more difficult, it's never too bad. As mentioned, you can sometimes sit back and let others fight for you (or you can put your head down and run as I did with Frodo on a couple of occasions). Also, there's always the Ring to make you disappear, although wear it for too long and its corrupting powers diminish your 'purity' and the game ends.

So all in all the fighting isn't too arduous. It's probably not to the taste of serious fighting fans. This is one of those games that will most likely appeal to those who tread the narrow path between action and adventure and dabble in a bit of both. Although having said that it doesn't really fit into the adventure genre. Apart from the restoratives there are very few items to collect, and otherwise there are just a few levers and ladders in the mines to vary the fighting. In fact my immediate impression after the opening sequence, when the objectives for the first portion of the story were clearly communicated to the player as on screen instructions, was that this game was for younger players. With this helpful practice continuing, coupled with the simple fighting and the way you are lead through the game, this is the impression I retained to the end.

Fun for the young
In conclusion this game isn't really for literary critics. If you expect to see the book exclusively then you'll be wondering about Frodo fixing windmills, collecting lilies and forever fighting. But that seems to be the nature of the beast when it comes to computer/video game incarnations of popular literature. In the Harry Potter books I never came across Harry jumping so much as he does in the games either. Also, it was odd that Frodo's purity meter strengthened as a reward for completing tasks. It should have been steadily decreasing no matter what.

So because of its simplicity and relative shortness I'd say this game is more for the teenage player, which is not surprising as it is a PC and console game release. As a younger persons game it does quite a good job of introducing The Lord of the Rings because it tells the basic story clearly in small chunks interspersed with action.

Screenshots taken from the Official Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the Ring Website. rating:  

Copyright © Rosemary Young 2003. All rights reserved.

System Requirements:
Pentium(R) III 600 MHz Processor, Windows 98/2000/Me/XP, 128 MB RAM, DirectX 8 compliant Video Card (32 MB with single pass, multi-texturing and T&L), DirectX 8 compliant Sound Card, DirectX 8.1b or higher, 4X CD-ROM Drive 
Keyboard and mouse, 800 MB Hard Drive Space

Pentium(R) III 750 MHz Processor, Windows 98/2000/Me/XP, 128 MB RAM, GeForce 2 or greater, DirectX 8 compliant Sound Card, DirectX 8.1b or higher 
8x CD-ROM Drive, Keyboard and Mouse, 800 MB Hard Drive Space