…Walk into a Lego game.
Oh, alright – yes, one does. After all, Lego has something of a reputation now for picking up licences and turning them into cool (if increasingly expensive) toys and highly enjoyable computer games. And to be honest, there’s not a lot new here that we haven’t already seen before.
There is, however, something we’ve not heard before: actual film dialogue spoken by the mini-figs during cut scenes. I must admit, I was incredibly sceptical that this was going to add anything to the gaming experience, and was quite frankly concerned it would lead to a degree of programming laziness if the designers no longer had to rely on visual gags and some clever lateral thinking to get the point across.
Fortunately, I needn’t have worried: there are still some warped moments of silent comedy joy (Boromir’s death scene being one of the highlights, along with Peter Jackson’s cameo appearance), and the overlaid dialogue is kept to a minimum. They’ve also done remarkably well in getting people who can grunt and argh in convincing impersonations of the original movie cast.
There are, as ever, two methods of play: story and free, along with an incredible open world that you can smash to buggery. The backgrounds are beautifully rendered and there’s plenty to break in your quest for cash and glory (trust me, there’s something deeply satisfying about wrecking Tom Bombadil’s domicile and beating the bejeebers out of Rivendell). Fortunately, everything’s quite close together, so you won’t have to walk too far to satisfy your thirst for wanton destruction.
There’s also a rather fascinating split-screen technique in two-player mode that enables you to handle the action when things begin to fall apart. And I don’t mean split-screen in the way it’s worked in previous games (although that’s still there, too): no, in this version, the story literally splits, with Player One on the left hand side controlling a character running through a completely different (though often parallel) storyline to Player Two’s on the right hand side. The only downside to this is that you inevitably end up missing part of the plot because you have too much to concentrate on on your side of the screen, but you can always swap over during freeplay and see what you were missing.
Lego has a tried and tested formula which they really haven’t altered for this latest release; after all, they dealt with the worst glitch in the Star Wars games fairly early on (the one where one player could drag the other player off the screen to their death if you got too far apart). Sadly, this means that the hit-and-miss jumping issues still remain, and until you buy the Fall Rescue red brick, you’re at the mercy of dodgy camera angles and falling off things because you weren’t pixel perfect in your aim. And it’s probably best if you’re really nice and calm before going through the Dead Marshes in the open world, because there are some truly evil bits of jumping that will have you cursing lily pads for the rest of your days, otherwise.
As well as completing the story, quite a major part of the game is questing for mithril bricks and blacksmith’s plans, from which the baldy dwarf in Bree will make you allsorts of insane weapons and toys, including a carrot bow, a squeak sword and a disco light phial that makes anyone near you dance to what is a truly terrifying theme tune dialogue rap mash-up. Many of these items are required to get access to the red bricks which give you extra powers, all the way from the very useful (Fall Rescue and Invincibility) to the downright silly (8-bit music and animals pooing studs when you ride them).
All in all, this is another fun game from Lego and Traveller’s Tales. It’s so much fun, in fact, that for the first time ever we kept on coming back to it until we’d won all of the in-game and X-box achievements (including the almost obligatory Boromir meme one). There is DLC available: 2 character packs (one includes a miniature Balrog, which I really hope is as cute as mini-Sauron) and a weapons and magic pack, with possibly another character pack on the way. I’m not sure I entirely approve of Lego DLC, but I suppose you can’t blame them for trying to rake as much cash as possible from our tiny, battered hands…