See it in Action!
Last year's adaptation of The Fellowship of the Ring to the big screen sparked newfound interest in J.R.R. Tolkien's classic literary works for an entirely new generation of people. While Tolkien's The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings trilogy have been standard reading material for any fan of fantasy for decades, his work has caught the attention of a much more mainstream audience since the movie's release. Spurring that mainstream craze for all things Tolkien will be a flurry of upcoming games from Sierra Studios, Vivendi Universal, and Electronic Arts. While the first two publishers are currently working on PC and video game adaptations of Tolkien's books, EA is the sole possessor of the movie license. And just as director Peter Jackson and New Line Cinema brought the world of Middle-earth and all its characters to life on the silver screen, so too will EA take Jackson's creation and adapt it to a medium that even Tolkien himself couldn't have imagined.
The first of several Lord of the Rings games from Electronic Arts is The Two Towers, which is being codeveloped by Stormfront Studios and an internal design team at EA for the PlayStation 2. Like New Line's upcoming movie of the same name, The Two Towers will tell tale of the fellowship--Frodo, Aragorn, Gimli, Legolas, and Gandalf--and its struggle to destroy The One Ring and overcome the dark lord Sauron's evil minions. The game will actually start during the events of The Fellowship of the Ring--it opens up with the attack of the ring wraiths on Weathertop, covers some of the movie's other battle sequences, and then re-creates the events of the forthcoming The Two Towers, finally closing with the climactic clash of forces at Helm's Deep, a battle that's so huge that it spans the length of three in-game levels.
It's these dramatic and all-encompassing battles from The Fellowship of the Ring and The Two Towers that EA and Stormfront hope to capture with this game. The Two Towers first went into development about 20 months ago, but its planning stages started even earlier. "We received our first script of Fellowship in February of 2000, and we instantly knew that it was going to be a spectacular movie," said producer Scott Evans, who sought to re-create those same spectacular scenes in the game. "We also saw some of Peter Jackson's storyboards and a few early trailers at that time." With the general idea of the movies in mind, Stormfront and EA went to work on The Two Towers, though their consultations with Jackson and New Line were far from over. In June of 2001, members of the two design teams traveled to New Zealand to spend a week on the movie sets and take a close look at the WETA studios, where all the special effects for the films are being made. They've been back several times since, and even this late in the game's development stage, they are still regularly consulting with Jackson's team in order to ensure that the line that separates game and movie is as fine as possible.
To say that the game resembles the movie would be an understatement. Not only are EA and Stormfront re-creating the numerous locales of Middle-earth like the Rohan Plains and Fangorn Forest with the utmost level of detail, but the game itself will contain full-motion video footage from the actual movie. What's the big deal? The Two Towers the game comes out six weeks before The Two Towers the movie, which means that you'll get to beat those obsessed fans who'll camp out in front of box offices all over the country by a full month and a half. How's that for bragging rights? You'll have the inside skinny on all the movie's new locations, monsters, and plot twists.
And what about spoilers? Evans is quick to point out that The Two Towers won't ruin any of the movie's plot elements--there will be no character deaths in the game, and the movie's ending will only be alluded to, not revealed. However, the game does resolve one of the cliffhangers from The Fellowship of the Ring: Gandalf is back, though he's donning malevolent white robes instead of the gray ones he wore in the first movie. Again, Evan points out that recent trailers from New Line have already revealed the wizard's rise from the ashes. What about the other characters from the movie? Let's take a look.
Playing the Movie
The Two Towers is an action game, with a suggestion of RPG elements thrown in for good measure. You'll get to play as Aragorn, the powerful ranger; Gimli, the stout dwarf, or Legolas, the graceful and quick elf. Other characters, such as the aforementioned Gandalf, will make an appearance in the game and sometimes even fight by your side, though only those three are actually playable. "You choose which of the these three you want to play as before that start of every level," Evans explained. "And even though you only play one character at a time, you'll always feel the presence of the fellowship around you." Nowhere is this more clearly illustrated than in Helm's Deep, a massive battle wherein you'll be vastly outnumbered by a horde of invading orcs who'll stop at nothing to scale the castle you're defending and claim The One Ring as their own. No matter who you choose to play as on this level, the other members of your party will fight alongside your character in a seemingly futile attempt at knocking down siege ladders, dodging flaming arrows, and parrying attacks from countless wicked blades.
To make fighting the overwhelming odds of Sauron's evil minions possible, The Two Towers makes use of a fairly complex yet intuitive combat system. Each character in the game has the ability to execute four different types of attack: ranged, speed, fierce, and killing blow. Some of these attacks are mapped to specific buttons on the Dual Shock 2 controller, and others can be executed by pressing several buttons at once. A ranged attack, for example, is performed by holding down R1 while pressing the X button. Some attacks aren't effective against certain types of enemies. Many orcs, for instance, will carry wooden shields that cannot be penetrated by normal speed attacks. A fierce attack, which takes longer to execute and leaves you vulnerable for a few seconds, is required to shatter these shields before you can continue your assault. All three characters in the game have different variations of these four core attacks--while Legolas attacks enemies at a distance with his bow and arrow, Gimli will hurl his hand ax at faraway foes.
This combat system is central to The Two Towers' simple RPG elements. Attacking any enemy will give you a certain number of experience points, and those points are tallied up at the end of every level. However, executing your various types of attacks on a single enemy will give you more points than attacking with the same move over and over again. "The combat system allows for players to kick an enemy backwards, shoot an arrow into its chest, and then finish it off with a killing move," Evans said. And these kinds of spectacular attacks won't just give you more experience points, but they'll also give the game a cinematic look--it'll be like playing the movie.
At the end of every battle, you'll be able to use your experience points to "purchase" upgrades like more powerful weapons, increased health, and new combat moves for your character. And while you'll be able to switch characters at any time, Evans gave a word of warning against doing so: "Constant switching between Legolas, Aragorn, and Gimli won't let you build up the strengths of any one character, and you'll need those strengths in order to fight in some of the later levels." But not all the levels in The Two Towers will be frantic, epic battles. Fangorn Forest, one of the areas that will be showcased in the forthcoming movie, is an ambush sequence that's purposely designed to be slower than other areas in the game. "We want to relate a strong sense of tension to the player," Evans explained. "The focus will be on surprise." Your journey through this wooded area will be a methodical one, with sporadic fights with groups or orcs, as well as an uruk-hai berserker and a forest troll, a close relative of the cave troll from The Fellowship of the Ring.
The Two Towers is no substitute for seeing the actual movie, but with its painstakingly re-created worlds, intuitive combat system, characters voiced by the actual actors, and bona fide movie footage, it's a perfect companion to the film, and it's shaping up to be worthy action game on its own right--with or without the Lords of the Rings license. The Two Towers will be available for the PlayStation 2 in early November, and Electronic Arts has hinted at GameCube and Xbox ports to follow in early 2003. We'll have more on this game in the coming months.