It’s what the world has been waiting a whole 12 months
for. “The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King” is
finally here … in the videogame format.

Janna Hutz
Forty-two, a respectable number for a young elvish princling like yourself. (Courtesy of Electronic Arts)

While the interactive account of ROTK has not been as eagerly
anticipated as Peter Jackson’s cinematic version by all
Tolkien fanatics, the newest hack-and-slash LOTR adventure is not
only a major upgrade on last year’s two-movies-in-one
“The Two Towers” videogame but also adds to the already
overwhelming plethora of special features the LOTR filmmakers have
provided for fans.

ROTK begins with an extended clip from last year’s Oscar
nominee, and then, without any menu introduction, puts the gamer
right into the action of Helm’s Deep as the white wizard
Gandalf. The majority of levels begin this way with cinematics from
TTT and ROTK (trailer footage only) leading the way as a delight
for the LOTR-obsessed, but an all-too-long annoyance for those
simply wanting to kill the countless orcs and Uruk-Hai that impede
the One Ring’s destruction in Mordor.

Unlike the last installment’s videogame version, the full
Fellowship is at the gamer’s hands here; TTT’s kingly
triumvirate (Aragorn, Gimli and fan-favorite Legolas) returns on
one optional path with Gandalf singularly leading a second and
“warrior by necessity” Samwise leading the third
(Gollum merely follows and Frodo is only playable on the
game’s final, anti-climactic level). Howard Shore’s
resounding filmic score — heard here along with booming sound
effects in all their THX glory — and a beautifully
cinematic-like camera accompany the journey, from protecting a
tree-Ent as he floods Isengard to defending the walls of Minas
Tirith.

The replay value, while not overtly high, is helped by co-op
play, particularly with its online capability — although it
is for PS2 only. Along the way, you can build up experience points,
unlocking (much-needed) upgraded moves, behind-the-scenes
interviews and short featurettes. Three locked avatars (Merry,
Pippin and Faramir) become available only upon completion of the
last level, but with this, all characters can then play each
other’s stages as well.

Besides an overall improvement in the detailed graphics of
characters and surroundings, the newly added interaction with the
environment (launching cannons, throwing spears, dropping torches)
makes ROTK an even greater action production. With the real
actors’ voices prevalent throughout your trip
(Gollum’s, of course, remains the most fun to run around
with), LOTR-followers have never been so in on the action-packed
battle against the dark lord Sauron.

Rating: 4 stars.

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