Lord of the Rings, vol. 1. (game software) (evaluation)
by Steve Hudson
Hobbits are good guys, honest and tough, the kind of folks you wouldn't mind having next door. One of them, Bilbo Baggins, found a ring of unimaginable power and gave it to his nephew Frodo. Now Frodo must destroy the ring, but its creator, the dread Sauron, wants it back.
Are these the makings of adventure? You bet! Author J. R. R. Tolkien used these very ingredients to create his celebrated fantasy, Lord of the Rings. Now Interplay Productions has adapted them to the phosphor screen with Lord of the Rings, Vol. I, a computer-based version of the Tolkien classic.
Interplay has done a good job of equipping you for your quest. You move with your mouse (highly recommended) or keyboard (awkward), and the interface is icon-based, allowing you to readily procure and use objects, cast magic spells, and attack enemies. You can recruit some characters to help you in your quest and talk with others to ge information you need. Depending on where you are, you can acquire new weapons, learn new spells, or eat food to restore lost life points. You can even put the ring on your finger, rendering yourself invisible. But be careful if you do; the ring drains your will, and if your will falls to zero, you are, for all practical purposes, dead.
Icons initiate action, and you'll see plenty of that, but you'll need information, too, and information comes from written words. Some of those words are written on neat little yellowed scrolls that magically appear and then automatically unfurl whenever the need arises. These may, for example, give you the lowdown on what's in a room. As you explore, the ever-helpful scroll also tells you if there are desirable items to be found wherever you happen to be. It works like this: As you enter a room, the scroll may pop up and roll down and notify you that there are items of interest nearby. Sure enough, when you call up the Get icon, you'll find that there are indeed worthwhile objects waiting for you, but you'd never know it by looking, since there's no visual hint. Don't real adventurers always depend on their eyes?
Other words are printed in your Lord of the Rings play manual, where you'll find 259 numbered blocks of text. From time to time, the yellowed scroll will prompt you to refer to paragraph such and such, and you've got to open the manual and locate the paragraph. Is this the poor man's text adventure? Admittedly, the paragraphs add depth to the game, but why not just put the information on the screen?
The program has other quirks, too. For example, you can pick up something useful and then discard it, but if you try to pick it up again, it may not be there. Another thing that's puzzling: Since wearing the ring makes you invisible, you'd expect you cohorts not to notice you when you slip it on. But even when you wear it, they'll still dutifully follow you around.
Another problem lies with the scrolling screen itself. It's good, not great. When you move, your character stays more or less stationary on the screen while the background scrolls past. The scrolling is jerky, and with more than 9000 screens worth of Middle Earth terrain to explore, eyestrain is inevitable.
How effective is this translation of a fantasy classic into the language of microprocessors? I'm caught in the middle, loving the gameplay but disappointed by visuals that could never live up to those of my imagination. Interplay's Middle Earth citizens are remarkable in VGA, but some of them seem to be a cross between Elvis Presley and Mr. Spock. If you're a reader of Tolkien, this computer-granted glimpse of the land the Hobbits call home may or may not match your own mental image, but even if it doesn't, don't let that keep you from enjoying Interplay's Lord of the Rings. Rest assured that those little guys will keep you on the road to adventure for a long time to come.