A camera pans up from the evil wizard Saruman’s factories, past his foreboding tower, and focuses on the distant region of Mordor, where the dark lord Sauron rebuilds his strength. All of this is detailed and rendered so convincingly that you forget it’s been built with Lego.
This is how you make a movie game that sticks to the source material while remaining a ton of fun to play. The Lego Lord of the Rings demo wisely doesn’t bother with subtlety, dumping the player into The Two Towers’ pivotal conflict at the besieged fortress of Helm’s Deep and quickly introducing not one but three player characters: the ranger Aragorn, who wields his signature blade and fells enemies with ease; Legolas, the bowman who attacks distant targets and enemies and who wields dual swords in melee; and Gimli, the lovable axe-wielding dwarf who retains his distinct comic personality from the films. Lego Lord of the Rings uses music and voice acting straight from the movies, and the characters emote very convincingly as they deliver their lines.
The demo starts off with the three characters inside Helm’s Deep as they try to make their way to the top, and in an impressive move, the player is given only a minimum of guidance–the game mentions only the most necessary controls, such as attacking, switching characters, using environmental objects, and nothing more. (A full list of controls is available from the pause menu, but the player is smartly left to discover what to do next on his or her own.) To use Legolas’ bow to attack distant enemies and targets, the player holds down the X button, on the Xbox 360 version of the game, and moves a cursor over those targets: this is simple enough of a mechanic in itself, but in a gutsy move for a children’s title, the game doesn’t pause to give you time to do this or to select your characters from a character wheel. Death carries as light a penalty as it ever did in Lego games, with only a slight deduction from the player’s score before respawning, but as this title is geared for a slightly older audience than other games such as Lego Star Wars (from what I’ve played of that), the game is willing to place additional demands on the player.
After the characters make their way to the tops of the walls, the game truly begins to flex its technical and artistic muscles. Hundreds upon hundreds of Uruk-hai enemies rush toward the fortress in the rain. Massed archers atop the walls fire huge volleys of arrows toward the attackers, many of whom are carrying lit torches as they run. All of this looks fantastic, but you’ve no time to watch. Uruk-hai are setting up siege ladders and climbing the walls, and you’ve got to knock the ladders down by alternating between your various player characters.
The demo later moves to another section of the wall, which introduces additional climbing mechanics: Legolas can swing on wall poles and jump off, and tall characters such as Aragorn can literally toss Gimli and have Legolas catch him. You eventually reach a section where you destroy a battering ram and slaughter the enemies using it by yourself, but it’s not enough. The game makes only slight reductions to the level of violence seen in the movies: arrows bounce off of enemies’ heads in cutscenes, and a torch is thrown at a weak section of Helm’s Deep instead of having the walls be suicide-bombed. The end result is the same, however, and huge chunks of the wall (and the men standing on it) go flying in a spectacularly rendered display. (Parents may wish to note that just as they always have, Lego characters fall apart when hit, but because of the crimson armor the Uruk-hai wear, they look as though they’re bursting into bloody chunks, even though they’re really not.)
The three player heroes are trapped, fighting off an unending wave of Uruk-hai, and it’s all they can do to make their retreat. They eventually do, and in an absurdly awesome climax, Aragorn and many other heroes mount their horses (which run forward automatically but can be steered left and right on a rail), cutting down enemies and running past cave trolls as the music swells over a beautiful morning dawn.
The Lego Lord of the Rings demo is available on Xbox Live (no longer a subscription-exclusive download) and the PlayStation Network, and a 3DS demo is apparently on the North American eShop as well. The Steam version of the game does not have a demo at this time.
(Image courtesy of xbox360cybermondaydeals.us)
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