“The Lord of the Rings: The Battle for Middle-Earth” is one of those movie tie-in games that does what most others can’t; it floats seamlessly between the awe-inspiring direction and production of what may be the defining films of our generation and the tactful precision of a solid real-time strategy game. The game results in a unique chance for fans of Tolkien’s trilogy to take the helm as either friend or foe and choose their own destiny in the realm of Middle-Earth.

The game’s beautiful presentation is easily its best selling point; “Middle-Earth” faithfully recreates the environments and follows the storyline of the “Lord of the Rings.” Both art and voice direction are dead-on since the majority of the main cast returns to provide their voices for the game, most notably Ian McKellen and Christopher Lee as Gandalf and Saruman, respectively.

Though it is dubbed a “strategy” game, “Middle-Earth” has stripped down its strategic elements to a bare minimum. There are still resources to build, but the heart of the game is in its action components. Characters level up as they gain experience much like they do in role-playing games. This, combined with the very distinct locales where the characters battle, move the game along at the same kind of pace as the films, keeping the gamer’s attention focused on the action at hand, rather than on the mundane micromanagement of resource gathering and army acquisition.

Unfortunately, one of the downfalls of “Middle-Earth” is that, unlike games like “Rome: Total War,” army size seems to be limiting. That means that battle recreations — such as the skirmish at Helm’s Deep — don’t have nearly the visual and kinetic impact as they do on film. However, unlike “Rome,” each of the in-game characters in “Middle-Earth” has a far greater geometric complexity and a larger range of animations, making them more fluid and life like.

The beautiful art direction and integrated storyline are enough to keep fans of the series satisfied, and the sheer scope of the project combined with the engaging gameplay should be enough to keep hard core real-time strategists busy. It’s a unique take on the strategy genre, but “Middle-Earth” pulls it off well.

Rating: 4/5 stars

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