The gaming world asked, and the gaming world got. After a teasing wait Lego Lord of the Rings has arrived, bringing with it an experience far closer to the films than any Lego game has gone before. Most people who know what’s good for them will have played a Lego game at some point in the past; with some great licenses used including Star Wars, Batman and Indiana Jones amongst others there’s been no shortage of choice after all, so what’s new in Lord of the Rings?
In terms of gameplay mechanics Lego Lord of the Rings doesn’t change a huge amount from Lego Batman 2; you still have a semi-open world between missions where you can have a wander round and find things to do, which in this case lets you find and unlock various things to help you on your way. There’s a lot to find, whether it’s items to craft at the blacksmiths or red bricks which give you special abilities to switch on and off at will, and it’ll keep you busy between the main levels. There isn’t quite as much as you first think, but it’s nice to know it’s there. It does, however, give all the more reason to play through levels in free play mode later on, offering the chance of using whichever character you want at any point of the level – essential for digging up some of the harder to reach pickups.
The biggest change though this time round is the main story levels themselves. After the brave (but ultimately brilliant) decision to add voices to the characters in Batman 2, Lord of the Rings goes one step further by using actual lines from the trilogy of films. That means you’ll get all of the charm from the frightened hobbitsies, through to Gollum’s creepy ramblings and the badass shouts from Gandalf. It gives this game a much darker edge, and means it follows the films so closely that you’ll remember sections that you might’ve forgotten since watching them. It’s another bold step for the series and one that won’t sit well with everyone, but personally I found it added something pretty spectacular to the standard gameplay which hasn’t changed much since the very first Lego title.
This doesn’t stray from the standard formula of smashing things made of Lego, rebuilding blocks into handy bridges and suchlike then collecting all of the pips scattered around in order to buy new characters later on. The very nature of the story means you’ll be travelling in larger groups on occasion, giving you the chance to try out several characters at once. While this works very well most of the time and opens up opportunities for some more complex puzzles, it can get a bit confusing and frantic when you’re in the middle of a big battle and trying desperately to quickly switch to a specific character – a problem made tougher when characters aren’t always in the same place on the selection wheel from one level to the next, or there are 9 selectable characters on the wheel with 8 slots. But it’s an unavoidable challenge – there’s no way you could give a good experience of these films without travelling in the same groups as those found in the movies.
One thing that definitely works amazingly is the environments. Every inch of the scenery and visuals has been gorgeously rebuilt in Lego, and the characters manage to keep their Lego charm despite looking uncannily similar to the real life counterparts. The humour is spot on too, something that has never failed to hit the sweet spot in a Lego title. While the main gameplay itself sticks to the largely serious themes, and the cut scenes also stick closely to the what you’d find in the films, there are some genius comedy touches that had me laughing at the most unexpected of places. Boromir’s heart-breaking pledge as he dies is still as powerful as before, even though he’s been killed by a banana instead of an arrow – this just moments after he managed to fight on despite being skewered by a chicken. I very much suspect some people won’t appreciate this type of thing, looking upon it instead as ruining a great story with childish humour, but personally I’d say that’s totally missing the point of what has been achieved here.
So is this the best Lego game so far? Well there are some very nice touches… Using actual dialogue from the films gives things a nice novelty, the character wheel allows for a much more complex set of challenges and the open world setting does give a little freedom between the levels. That said, the camera issues that have caused the odd problem previously are still in effect every now and then, making some jumps far tougher than they’d need to be. In addition, the multiplayer is still limited to offline play only, so you can’t team up with a friend online to enjoy the campaign between you – something of a shame considering it’s great fun to play through as a team.
But despite these qualms Lego Lord of the Rings is still a great game, and if you’re a fan of the films or just can’t get enough of the Lego series you’ll love every second of this. I’m excited to see what they come up with next – my vote goes to Back to the Future, but whatever it is I’m pretty sure it’ll be great.
Reviewed on PS3