Review by Drunky

Reviewed: 07/25/06

It may be a great console RTS game, but thats not saying much...

I’m sure many of you are doubting how well a real-time strategy game could possibly fare on a console, but rest assured, its really not that bad. I’m not exactly well informed about the Lord of the Rings trilogy, but I’ll do my best to explain the LotR based elements of the game.

The story is basically the war against good and evil in middle earth, with the elves and dwarves fighting against Mordor and whatnot, pretty basic Lord of the Rings tales. The missions are preceded by the progress of your armies, whether it be good or evil, followed by your (hopefully) victorious conquest, then another recap of the new progress.

The gameplay is basically that of many other real-time strategy games, you’ll be asked to build bases, train troops, micromanage the battles, and basically devastate the other team. Being based on the Lord of the Rings, you’ll be able to do so by commanding entire armies of Mordor soldiers, Dwarve Soldiers, etc. You’ll be able to command archers, warriors, trolls, giants, Mumakills and even heroes themselves. One battle even takes place in the sea, allowing you to use a small variety of ships. Along with massive armies at your disposal, you’ll have power abilities ranging from just harvesting resources to summoning powerful allies.

The main point of interest when it comes to this game, is how the controls function. Most believe RTS games do not fit on consoles, there is not enough buttons to give the player a full sense of control. Luckily the controls for Battle for Middle Earth II have been simplified enough to work great with just 8 buttons. You’ll be given full control of your builders and the ability to position and place structures using the left analog stick, you can select every visible unit on the screen by pressing LT, or just pick and choose individually. They even have the option of the “paint” tool, where you just drag the onscreen cursor over the units you want. I’d like to have seen a little more control over the units, such as just selecting a specific type like archers, warriors, cavalry, but if there is one, I didn’t find it. Plus, non combatant units cannot be selected with a group, they have to be individually clicked, and given that they are easily masked by buildings, trees and other units, it makes it frustrating. Some of the time it can be easily solved by moving the camera, this is where my biggest gripe about the controls lie. The camera controls. You can, of course, zoom in or out, with a full 360 degree view. The problem lies in actually keeping a proper navigation. The way it works is, if you move the camera from the default view, up is no longer up in the sense that’s it North. Now when you’ve moved the camera and need to go somewhere quickly, you have to navigate through the main map, the minimap will no longer function in up is North, left is West, etc. Maybe to most people its not as annoying, but just like most minor setbacks in games, a little practice will eventually fix it.

The one thing that really stands out in the game is the music, the soundtrack is just as epic as it was in the movies. An amazing score to compliment the game and the cut scenes. The voiceovers during the cut scenes and opening mission briefing were spot-on, just like watching a movie. The sound effects add to the game greatly, you can hear the grunts of the Mordor army or the elves battle cry, you can also hear the thwack of archers and the clanging of steel as the swordsman have it out. Unlike a few other RTS, their actual phrases and cries have little impact on the game itself, they don’t assess threats and seem to randomly yell out “The enemy approaches!” when they’re tucked away safely in the base.

The graphics are not that impressive, the environments from the birds eye view are great, but if you get close enough to look at the buildings and units, they have no features at all, they resemble a dated PC games blocks of color shaped in human form. The battles are no better, hardly any detail at all. You either see guys getting run over by other guys and vague swinging of weapons. Its understandable in an RTS game to cut back on whatever they can, but what is incredible, is that even with no discernible features on the hundreds of characters, they still have incredible frame rate issues in the middle of battle. Great console RTS controls don’t do much when you can barely move your cursor where you want it or select the units you want. You either have to do your best and hope the game doesn’t freeze or move your screen away and well, hope you don’t lose the battle. The upside is that the scenes between the missions are excellent, detailed artwork coupled with an excellent narration make it very enjoyable.

The replay ability is actually great, but not as long as you’d expect from a strategy game. There are a handful of missions for both the good and evil campaigns, but the fact is that most battles will take a half hour to an hour. Added to the fact that there are skirmish battles where you just duke it out with the computer, and there are online multiplayer games that can last upwards of an hour, there is a ton of life in the game. Huge variety of units to experiment with and varying difficulty levels even make the campaign mode replayable.

Gameplay: 8/10
Excellent controls for an RTS game make the battles and building easy to control, with the amount of control you have over your army, your powers and buildings, it’s an enjoyable game.
Graphics: 5/10
Incredibly vague characters, no detail up close or in battles, horrible frame rate issues.
Sound: 8/10
Amazing narration and voiceovers, and sound effects but random spouting from the armies can be confusing.
Replay: 7/10
Not as long as most strategy games, but definitely hours on end of entertainment. Online mode and skirmishes really add to the replay ability.
Overall: 6/10

Overall, I’d recommend a rental if you are a fan of real time strategy games, otherwise this might not be for you. Its by no means a great RTS game, but when it comes to consoles its not like gamers can afford to be choosey.

Rating:   3.0 - Fair

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