PC/Mac/Linux
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Publisher: EA Developer: EA Los Angeles OS: Windows XP or 2000 CPU: 1.3 GHz RAM: 256 MB or more HD: 4 GB or more free space VIDEO CARD: NVIDIA GeForce 2 GTS or greater, or ATI Radeon 7500 or greater; 32 MB or more RATING: T
Publisher Summary ?Decide the fate of Middle-earth as you lead the forces of good or evil in the epic battles from all three films. Control legendary heroes from the film trilogy and earn experience and rank for them on the battlefield. Command the armies of Rohan, Gondor, Isengard, and Mordor, each with their own unique resources and strategies. Re-envision the legendary battles from all three The Lord of the Rings movies ? the outcome is in your hands.?

Story

If you?ve seen the Lord of the Rings movie trilogy, then you know the story already: as Frodo the hobbit struggles to destroy the One Ring of the Dark Lord Sauron, Sauron unleashes his hordes to try to conquer all Middle-Earth first. You control the massive armies involved in the battles that ensue ? Rohan?s cavalry, Gondor?s disciplined troops and massive fortifications, Mordor?s overwhelming and disorganized hordes, or Isengard?s brutal Uruk-Hai.

Graphics

Fully zoomed out, the environments and unit models are very sharp and varied; they get pretty blocky as you zoom in, but it?s easiest to control the action zoomed out anyway. Fire effects, such as from flaming arrows or burning balls of pitch fired from a catapult, look great, as do the hero units? special powers ? especially Gandalf and Saruman?s.

Sound

This game really shines in the sound department. The thunder of hooves as you guide a battalion of cavalry, or the twang of bows and the impact of arrows from Elven archers, or the scream of a Nazgul, sound almost like you were listening to the movies. Ian McKellen (who plays Gandalf in the movies) and Christopher Lee (who plays Saruman) sound great narrating the game, depending on whether you?re playing the good or evil campaign. The voices of the various heroes in-game usually sound very good as well; you can tell that one or two of them weren?t voiced by the original actors, but even they don?t sound too bad. My biggest gripe with the game?s audio was the repetitious responses from units every time you select them or give them a command.

Game play

There are several different ways of playing this game. You can choose to play the main campaign, either as the good side (Rohan and Gondor, along with their elven and entish allies) or the evil side (Isengard and Mordor, along with their Haradrim and Rhun allies). This involves you trying to conquer all of Middle Earth, one region at a time; sometimes you can choose a specific region to conquer, or sometimes ? usually for the most important battles ? you must fight in a specific location. You can also play a ?skirmish? mode; you choose your civilization, the map you want to play on, and the details of enemy civilizations, and battle for supremacy. Multiplayer mode is the same, except, of course, opponents are controlled by other human beings, rather than the computer. The game?s basic structure and techniques are very similar to those of Microsoft?s ?Age of Empires? games, with some notable differences. For example, you cannot pay to upgrade structures; they upgrade automatically after a certain amount of use. Once upgraded, they may unlock more powerful units or unit upgrades, gain the ability to defend themselves or produce units more quickly, etc. So, if you build an army of mostly archers, your archery range will become your most valuable structure. Also, you can only build structures on specific sites on the map, ranging from ?castles? to ?settlements?. As you conquer these areas, you will be able to erect more buildings, gather more resources, and create units faster. Resources can be gathered by building farms, lumber camps, slaughterhouses, blacksmiths, etc., depending on the player?s civilization; or by finding treasure on the map ? generally inside the lairs of wild wargs, trolls or goblins not affiliated with any civilization. All units gain experience as they defeat opponents, and can level up once they?ve won enough fights. They become more powerful as they level up, and they also gain a banner carrier for their battalion, which further increases their combat abilities. Over the course of the game, you?ll create several different armies; those units that survive one battle will appear again next time you use that army. For example: shortly after Faramir and his rangers destroy the Southron army as it approaches Mordor, you will have to defend Osgiliath; at some point in the fight Faramir?s troops will show up to help, and the more the troops he had left at the end of the last battle, the more you?ll have to help with the next. Each civilization has several especially powerful hero units, which are most of the major characters from the movies. They gain experience during combat as ordinary units do; heroes, however, gain special powers and abilities as they level up. Most of these powers, such as Eomer?s ability to hurl a spear with tremendous force, or Saruman?s ability to throw a massive fireball, are a reference to an action on that character?s part at some point in the films. Some of the heroes, once they?re fully leveled up and possess all their special powers, can take out whole battalions of enemy troops; which is as it should be. Reaching that point, however, is a pretty slow process, so the heroes don?t feel overpowered. You can?t rely solely on them; but the well-timed use of a hero?s ability can sometimes turn the tide of battle in a moment, which is pretty exciting. As your troops win battles and conquer territories, you will gain ?power points?; these can be used to purchase special powers, range from healing all units within a certain area, to summoning the Army of the Dead, to summoning a Balrog, depending on your civilization. At different points in the game, a clip from the movies will play inside the control panel (called the Palantir) in the corner of the screen, reminding you of the point in the films that you?re playing at that moment. The game does not exactly parallel the movies, however; you have the freedom to, for example, save Boromir; help Gandalf defeat the Balrog, then continue with the Fellowship out of Moria; or, of course, if you?re playing the evil campaign, to overwhelm the forces of good and conquer all Middle-Earth for Sauron. To summarize, some players may be disappointed at the lack of micro-managing capabilities, while others will appreciate being able to focus on creating their armies and defeating those of the enemy.

Performance

Beyond having to drop a few of the settings to improve my frame rates during the biggest battles, I had no major performance issues.

Appropriateness

Basically, if you enjoyed the film trilogy, you shouldn?t have any problems with the appropriateness level of this title. You?ll be directing the course of some pretty massive battles, obviously, but corpses disappear fairly quickly, and I never spotted any blood or gore. If you wish, you can control the armies of evil, but you?re not required to do so. Overall, then, the appropriateness issues are quite mild.

Final Ratings

Graphics: A- Sound: A Game play: A Appropriateness: B

Overall 90%

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Christ Centered Gamer looks at video games from two view points. We analyze games on a secular level which will break down a game based on its graphics, sound, stability and overall gaming experience. If you’re concerned about the family friendliness of a game, we have a separate moral score which looks at violence, language, sexual content, occult references and other ethical issues.

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