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The Lord of the Rings: The Battle for Middle-Earth PC DVD-ROM

Published by EA Games
Developed by Electronic Arts LA
Release Date: Out Now
Price: £34.99

Electronic Arts have certainly made a great use of The Lord of the Rings movie franchise. We've had a couple of great action games that captured the flavour of the movies and a RPG game that whilst it was directly based on the movies managed to create an enjoyable side story. Now we have a RTS that captures the epic scenes from the movie trilogy. Don't think for one minute that The Lord of the Rings: The Battle for Middle-Earth is simply a quickly thrown together RTS with a few Tolkien style units. The game is steeped in the movie in every which way possible and is a first class example of what can be done with a movie licence other than an action game.

The Battle for Middle-Earth gives you two single player campaigns, a skirmish mode and multiplayer for LAN or online. There's a good and evil campaign so you get to play out events of the three films from both angles. The good campaign allows you to control the Rohan and Gondor armies in addition to the central characters such as Gandalf, Aragorn, Frodo etc. The action begins in Moria and it's not long before Gandalf will take on the mighty Balrog. The game gives you the chance to make changes to the story and it's possible for Gandalf to defeat the Balrog and leave the mines of Moria safely. This first mission has you controlling the fellowship of the ring (Gandalf, Aragorn, Boromir, Gimli, Legolas, Frodo, Pippin, Merry, Sam) who are classed as hero characters. For most of the game though you'll have control over standard Rohan and Gondor units in addition to these hero characters. Likewise the evil campaign will have you controlling Saruman, Nazgul and Lurtz heroes as well as standard Mordor and Isengard units such as Orc Archers, Haradrim Lancers etc. These hero units all have their special abilities. Gandalf for instance has multiple magic attacks and has leadership bonuses. Boromir can blow the Horn of Gondor which inspires fear in his enemies. Saruman has the mighty Wizard Blast which can destroy many enemies. These hero units will gain experience and level up. Leveling up will give them extra powers (which you can choose) and make them increasingly valuable. As you can see then keeping your heroes alive is crucial because as the game progresses they become much stronger units.

Generally speaking The Battle for Middle-Earth is enjoyable for anyone who wants to play through the main events of the film. However there are some disappointments with the game. Whilst some missions in the campaigns are excellent others are mediocre, dull affairs that fail to inspire the imagination. The single player skirmish mode and the multiplayer game are also lacklustre offering nothing that hasn't been done before. Take a look underneath the movie licence and assessing the game purely on it's RTS credentials it has to be said that The Battle for Middle-Earth is not the deepest of strategy games. In fact things have been kept simple in many ways. Base building doesn't play a major part in the game and the focus has been kept on the battles which might irk those RTS veterans out there that were expecting a game much more in depth but what the developers have done is to make the game to appeal to as many gamers as possible rather than create a game that appealed to seasoned RTS players. Unit caps are fairly low so you won't be having thousands of units on the screen at any one time. This is disappointing, especially if you wanted to create some of the scenes from the films where the amount of enemies seems limitless. The game has a World Map that allows you to pick which territory to attack. It looks as though it adds a strategic layer to the game but really it's just a vehicle to move from one battle to the next. A World Builder has been included to create your own maps but at present it's a little too buggy to be useful.

Graphically, The Battle for Middle-Earth looks good. The games uses an enhanced version of the Sage 3D engine that was first used in Command & Conquer Generals. The game has some terrific lighting effects, particularly for the magic spells, which help to make some of the levels especially good. The hero units are all instantly recognisable by both their appearance and animations. You can zoom in and rotate the camera but most of the time it's not necessary to do this. The graphical detail can be customised but with it being set to Ultra High the game can be very demanding but it certainly does look good at this setting. The game wouldn't let me set a screen resolution of 1280x1024 in the options menu but by altering a text file it's possible to make the game run at this resolution which is great news if you play your games on a 17" or 19" TFT.

The Battle for Middle-Earth really captures the essence of the movie trilogy, there's no doubt about it. Unfortunately for deaf gamers there is a heavy reliance on sound in the game and there's no subtitles at all so most of this movie feel is not going to be accessible to deaf gamers. The games introduction and other cutscenes are not subtitled which means you don't have access to the games story. Of course you probably know it all by now but that's not the point. The characters in the game regularly speak and none of this speech is subtitled so you'll be completely unaware of it. Your objectives are shown in text and can be recalled at any time by pressing the Tab key. Even the tutorials in the Battle School are not subtitled so in effect they are useless for deaf gamers. In short for deaf gamers it's a big disappointment.

If you're a fan of The Lord of the Rings then you're almost certainly going to want The Battle for Middle-Earth. The developers have managed to successfully capture the look and feel of the films in just about every way possible with today's technology. It's a shame that subtitles haven't been included though and this does take away a huge slice of the atmosphere for deaf gamers. If you were expecting a top quality RTS though you are going to be disappointed. In many ways it's a run of the mill RTS experience that will leave seasoned RTS gamers wondering why more advanced concepts hadn't been included. In fact if you aren't a fan of Tolkien then it's probably wise to go for another game with much more to the game. As we've said though Tolkien fans will really enjoy the game and will appreciate the superb campaign missions and overlook the ones which aren't so good.

Overall Game Rating: 7.9/10
The Battle for Middle-Earth is a superb example what can be done with a movie licence. It's very disappointing the game isn't subtitled though. Some of the dull campaign missions and the lacklustre skirmish mode also take some of the shine off the game.

Deaf Gamers comment:
A rather large slice of the movies' atmosphere is lost because the game isn't subtitled.