When the Sony PlayStation launched in the mid-1990s, developers utilized larger memory capacities in a multitude of ways. In addition to creating longer games with more depth and complicated control schemes, companies like Electronic Arts began accompanying their games with video clips. Specifically, some of the Madden NFL titles that released during the decade contained highlights and video commentary that showed off the video power of the PSOne. Similarly, in the early years of the Sony Play Station Portable console, Electronic Arts dipped into the video bag of tricks to form the narrative basis of their Lord of the Rings: Tactics game. While displaying many scenes of video may have impressed the PlayStation One generation, modern audiences may be bored by the barrage of movie clips that dominate Lord of the Rings: Tactics.
Lord of the Rings: Tactics begins with the player having to choose to fight for either the fellowship or as the followers of Sauron. From this point, the plot is largely centered around licensed video from New Line Cinema’s and Peter Jackson’s Academy Award Winning Lord of the Rings trilogy. As the player moves through the various battles, interspersed are famous clips that provide the backbone of the story. So, if you are fan of seeing Gandalf saying “Fly, you fools,” for the hundredth time on your tiny PSP console, this may be just the ticket to keep you entertained on a plane ride.
The gameplay revolves around taking some standard tactical RPG elements and making enough amendments to keep the game interesting for role playing veterans. Each battle contains specific battle conditions (which seem to play greatest homage to the Final Fantasy tactics series) and the difficulty level you chose at the beginning of the game determines the amount of protagonists or antagonists that are on the screen.
Battle functions on the following cycle: Player decides where to move, AI decides where to move, game engine moves both parties at the same time. As a result of this interesting dynamic, once both sides chose their movements, you see a field full of characters moving all over the place, which is at times both jarring and exhilarating. If two combatants come into contact with each other, they enter a “Zone of Control” with each other. What this basically means is that when two people are locked in the zone of control, they must stop and fight and are unable to run free or even chose to fight someone else.
Battles themselves are fairly engaging. There are numerous types of attacks that you would imagine with the Lord of the Rings license. Gandalf (Saruman) can use various types of magic, Legolas (Goblins) can hit from a distance with projectile weapons, and Gimli (Orcs) are tremendous in hand-to-hand combat. In addition, players can expect to get standard deductions or bonuses based on elevation, land terrain, or other supporting characters in the area. In summation, while the Zone of Control adds an interesting twist to the boilerplate tactics RPG formula, nothing else about combat seems that new.
Outside of battle, Lord of the Rings: Tactics really fails in providing the player with interesting customization possibilities. While certain battles insist that Frodo is used for example, it really doesn’t behoove the player to maintain a balanced team. Instead, it is most wise to forget about Samwise Gamgee and to load up on power stats for Aragorn and healing stats for Gandalf. This lack of importance placed toward characterization is heightened with the lack of interchangeable weapons in the game. Instead of finding new weapons on the battlefield (or, say, in a world map?), players simply buy the “power up sword +1” option.
While many people have complained about the camera controls of the game, I had other issues that caused frustration. For example, I am not a fan of a game that allows you to skip a cut scene without having to push a non-descript button (start or select for example). Lord of the Rings: Tactics does not oblige here. Simply by pushing the circle button, players can accidently skip the cut scene that is the foundation for the story. In addition, some of the button sequences in battle are clunky and cause playing the tutorial a necessity.
From my point of view, the graphics are the highlights of Lord of the Rings: Tactics, especially considering its proximity to the PSP launch window. Even taking out the cinema cut scenes (of which there are a bunch), the game really does a good job bringing the player into the Shire or Mordor. The color palettes are bright and lively, and the ambience screams Lord of the Rings at every turn. To top it all off, all of the characters are easily recognizable as all of your favorite heroes. EA should be applauded for this solid graphical effort.
Like the graphics, the audio accompanying this title is a worthy effort. Taking riffs from the New Line trilogy, and reprising some songs into original songs, each battle has its own flare based on which side you are controlling and what scenario you are in. The music varies greatly and LOTR fans will be happy hacking and slashing their way. Finally, it is crucial to note that the sound effects of swords clanking and bows pulling are sharp and strong, especially when listened through the headphone jack.
Lord of the Rings: Tactics is a solid, albeit totally ordinary strategy RPG released in the first six months of the PSP life cycle. Even though it introduces some new facets into the typical strategy formula, its adherence to the movie license may be its downfall. Like Sméagol’s obsession with “The One Ring,” Electronic Arts’ devotion to making an exact replica of the Lord of the Rings universe makes the game eminently predictable, and ultimately forgettable.