PS2’s Lord of the Rings: Two Towers game missed the point in the coolest way

In 2002, we had lots of questions on the upcoming blockbuster occasion, The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers.

2021 marks The Lord of the Rings films’ 20th anniversary, and we could not think about exploring the trilogy in only one story. So every Wednesday all through the 12 months, we’ll go there and again once more, analyzing how and why the movies have endured as trendy classics. This is Polygon’s Year of the Ring.

We knew {that a} fellowship of hobbits, males, an elf, and a dwarf had dispersed throughout the vacation season of 2001. Frodo the Ringbearer and his companion Sam had fled towards the western horizon in search of a mountain that would kill a chunk of jewellery. Aragorn, Legolas, and Gimli have been left to their very own units. Gandalf was useless. Everything was ripped into chaos.

Into this fray stepped EA Games’ The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers. A multiplatform game that first appeared in October of 2002 for the Playstation 2, it was launched two months earlier than the movie of the identical title. Bizarrely, its content material was half Fellowship of the Ring and half The Two Towers, however at the time we have been prepared to simply accept that. The game took the unusual route of combining live-action footage from the movies with in-engine cutscenes and gameplay, stitching these two mediums collectively “seamlessly” to make all of it one factor.

Viggo Mortensen could be on the display screen, after which he would morph right into a lumpy digital Aragorn who you could possibly management, in third-person motion gameplay that was slightly bit Gauntlet Legends and slightly bit Devil May Cry. What was so magical about The Two Towers is that the bending of the Lord of the Rings movies’ plot to video game tendencies felt each completely executed and someway missed the point of the total collection.

This partially has to do with the style that the game finds itself in. Movie tie-in video games have all the time been wild playing cards in the video game economic system. E.T. for the Atari was famously overproduced and bought so poorly that it was dumped in a landfill. The Lion King for the Super Nintendo was an iron-hard problem that functionally bullied 1000’s of kids. Goldeneye 64 outlined “social gaming” for a complete era. In between these low-and-high marks have been dozens of middling video games like the side-scrolling beat ‘em up Beverly Hills Cop or 1997’s The Crow: City of Angels for the PS1. These have been video games that have been functionally about making slightly extra cash off of some mental property, no extra, no much less.

And, look, I get it. It’s arduous as hell to adapt an current property right into a video game. Developers are handed a pre-baked set of concepts and informed to cram them into the framework of a video game. It’s arduous sufficient to make a video game with relative freedom, not to mention inside a restricted set of ideas that another person gave you.

Where The Two Towers succeeded the place so many others failed, although, is in the way it crammed. The game is exclusive as a result of it doesn’t attempt to inform a “side story” or a thematically comparable one. For instance, the video game Minority Report, additionally launched in 2002, selected to tread some of the identical floor as the movie, whereas clearly taking completely different approaches to sure plot components to succeed in roughly the identical narrative beats.

The Two Towers leaned into The Lord of the Rings movies, not pretending that they have been someway “something else,” however as a substitute placing footage of the movie proper in the game so that you just knew precisely the place you have been selecting up together with your favourite characters. This just isn’t a game that’s promoting you on the fantasy of the broad idea of The Lord of the Rings. This is a game that’s supplying you with the alternative to take management of Aragorn’s physique and study precisely how he does his finest orc-killing combos.

Aragorn swiping at an orc in the PS2 Two Towers game

Image: Stormfront Studios/EA Games

The game additionally depicts what is going on between the cuts of the movie. When you watch The Fellowship of the Ring, the magic of cinematic enhancing can take the movie’s setting from the snowy peak of Caradhras to the entrance to Moria in a single body. Time and house are compressed in the hole, and our acceptance of the visible language of cinema is what makes that “work” after we watch it.

The Two Towers video game makes a meal out of these gaps. We study precisely how the Fellowship fought its way to the gates of Moria: By carving via roughly 10 billion goblins that hounded them at each second between the begin and finish of the stage, topping it off with a boss battle towards the sea monster factor that smashes the doorways that entice them in Moria. I additionally assume that it ate Bill the Pony.

In 2002, and to some extent now, I like the concept of getting slightly extra of these characters. The highway the Fellowship took was a tough one, and whereas we noticed a lot of vital moments in the movie, there have been actually skirmishes and shut calls that the video games carry into the image. When that is mixed with the common issue of the hack-and-slash gameplay, it paints an image of a harrowing journey, and battles which are extra than simply their cinematic flash. If video video games can do one factor properly, it’s that they may give somebody a way of a hard-won victory. The Two Towers excels there.

But whereas combating 10 billion goblins might need been scrumptious, it wasn’t precisely nutritious. It was fairly clear to me then — and is totally crystal to me now — that The Lord of the Rings just isn’t actually a narrative about badass sword fights and dwarven axe throwing. Those issues occur, for positive, however they occur as a result of they must attributable to the nature of the battle that’s occurring. As far as I do know, Tolkien by no means wrote about Legolas studying new crucial assaults or meditating with all his may to extend the injury of his arrows. These ideas, of accruing energy for its personal sake and mastering issues merely to dominate one’s enemies, appear to be some actual Sauron issues to do, which actually throws the entire equipment of video video games into query.

the eye of sauron in The TWo Towers

Image: New Line Cinema

While taking part in via the game once more for this piece, I used to be hit with a pang of loss. For me, the way that The Two Towers places you into Tolkien’s world and duties you with enacting some of the most attention-grabbing elements of the first two movies places it on par with these movies. I can’t simply separate them from each other. Arguably, it was half of a golden age of tie-in video games, alongside Enter the Matrix’s official plot components that led on to the second movie of that trilogy and Spider-Man 2’s immaculate web-swinging mechanics which have solely just lately even been approximated by different video games. These early 2000s video video games understood that video games might function hand-in-hand with movies, not merely exist as one thing to shovel out the door to make a fast buck.

It may also be the final Lord of the Rings game to have any type of dignity or grace to it. The property has largely been lowered to a lore rubric that sticks like oil to any style of game you need to throw it at. From the blocks and self-parody of Lego video games to the Sexy Shelobs and enslavement mechanics of the Shadow video games, no matter cachet this universe had has been plowed below in the drive to make it a universally marketable motion franchise. When Amazon’s Tolkien collection lastly emerges, the finest we will hope for is a Match 3 game with a Rings story; the worst is a Call of Duty: Warzone tie in pack the place you may pay $20 to go well with up as Sauron and an AK-47 blueprint that melts folks with the the lava of Mount Doom while you rating the killing blow.

In 2002, we have been hungry for something to do with The Lord of the Rings, and The Two Towers was a feast, giving us the finest of what the film tie-in game might supply. It’s a excessive mark that Middle Earth is unlikely to see once more.

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