The Two Towers: The Lord of the Rings, Volume II. (computer game) (Software Review) (Evaluation)
by Alfred C. Giovetti
J. R. R. Tolkien's epic trilogy has seen many licensees come and go. Interplay is one that seems to be making the most of the rights to these classic books; it has just translated the second book into a computer role-playing adventure game called The Two Towers.
The Two Towers is much improved over the first Interplay interpretation of the masterpiece, The Fellowship of the Ring. Many of the users' criticisms of the first game have been addressed in the second game, though it maintains the excellent planning and story skills exhibited in the first work. Use of skills, items, and spells is much easier, since you can switch from character to character within the appropriate subdirectory.
The Two Towers has an automapping system that allows game players to orient themselves to their surroundings. The scale of the game has been reduced to 40 percent of that of the first game, making it easier to get around and to identify landmarks. Combat now provides background action to the main plot of the story and characterization.
The Two Towers is the story of the journey of the members of the fellowship after the death of Boromir. Frodo and Sam venture on from the Falls of Rauros to Cirith Ungol, the gates of Mordor. The other characters from the original fellowship unite the Ents, a race of tree-men; the Rohirrim, the riders of Middle Earth; and the inhabitants of the other lands that border Mordor in the fight against the evil wizard Sauron. Interplay has incorporated virtually every Tolkien character, town, fortress, and geographical feature to give the story a rich and detailed set of circumstances and choices for the game player's enjoyment. Cliffhangers give the game more suspense by switching among the three groups of adventures. When one group reaches a particular place on the maps, the story picks up with another group. The cliffhangers go a long way toward making the story more interesting, but they can disorient the game player, who has no control over when the game will shift to another group.
The third-person, overhead, oblique perspective maps were drawn with terrain tiles. The animation gives much detail to the characters as they move over the landscape and participate in combat. Rounded combat adds dynamic commands of swing, block, aim, and dodge. Character portraits are more personalized than those in the first game. Nonplayer characters no longer run away; they wait for you to engage them in the keyboard-input keyword conversation. Some replies are contained in 42 pages of paragraphs in the well-written game manual. The interface is driven by both hot key and icon. The small ten-item inventory requires careful planning, since dropped items and items offered the group when there are no open inventory slots are lost forever.
The richness of detail, plot, and characterization of Tolkien's classic work is just as likely to receive accolades from those who recognize the beauty of Interplay's interpretation as it is to receive criticism from those Tolkien purists who can accept no variation from the original work. The intuitive interface works well. The music incorporates more than 45 minutes of an entertaining musical score. The graphics for The Two Towers are well done, if not state-of-the-art.
Interplay has a likable adaptation of a masterwork, which I hope will lead to a computer version of the last book of the trilogy.