Game Review: Lego Lord of the Rings (PS3)
JUST in time for the start of the Hobbit movie trilogy comes the Lego version of adventures in Middle Earth.
It's canny marketing by the plastic building-block people as this game actually trails Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings trilogy by a decade. But the time has been well spent. Instead of being thrown together between the director's final cut and the world premiere - which is why most "game of the movie" titles are so execrable - the Lego series are games first, movie tie-ins second.
Developer Traveller's Tales has made some brave changes with Lord of the Rings compared to previous Lego games. Firstly, there's a hint of open sandbox to it. Just a hint, mind, not enough to scare the horses.
There are the usual 18 levels, with the opportunity to replay each as many times as you want to find all the things you missed the first dozen times. But there's a map (putting Middle Earth into geographical perspective, which is a bonus for Tolkien fans), and the ability to free roam between missions. While you're exploring the world in free roam, several non-playing characters give you extra quests, which adds to your need to go back and explore all those levels again.
It is probably wiser to do a straight run-through first, just following the story line, so that you don't end up repeating levels as often. But to me, it just adds to the fun. There are several interconnecting layers of collectibles. You earn or find mithril blocks to take to the blacksmith to work into an item - if you have found the design for it - which can be the answer to a quest, or a vital part of completing one.
The quests add an extra dimension, as in many games replaying sections just to find the collectibles (and the trophies that go with them) can be a drudge.
Not all of the changes come off, though.
Because of the vast scope, it's probably the least Lego-like game so far. Some of the broader landscapes lose that dimpled look, which is part of the charm of the series.
The huge cast of unlockable characters seems unnecessary - I suspect having two versions of Gandalf and two of Frodo is more about increasing figurine sales than anything else.
Lord of the Rings is a creditable addition to the Lego series that includes the wonderful Star Wars and Batman. It's a beautifully constructed game, faithful to the books and movies, which plays like an old-fashioned fantasy RPG. In an era of ever-bigger, more realistic game weaponry, it's a relief to thwack everything with a little plastic sword (or trowel). Keep an eye out for Lego Peter Jackson, tossing his Oscar at the bad guys.
The dialogue isn't up to the series' standard and Gollum is a rare Lego flop. Having the Fellowship of the Ring as your game party makes for a lot of on-screen muddle. Too many dumpy little figures, not enough room to swing a frying pan. But Tolkien's to blame for that. The game glitches if you play for too long at a time. I'm far too old for a nanny, even if it's a cute, squat one.