WAR IN MIDDLE EARTH
Just last year, my six-and seven-year-olds and I, reading night after night, finally finished J. R. R. Tolkien's nearly 1200-page saga, The Lord of the Rings. In the right hands, I thought, this would make a fantastic computer game.
Now comes War in Middle Earth, a strategy game that's a happy mixture of The Lord of the Rings and Balance of Power. What better way to revisit Middle Earth than to entice my boys away from their familiar realms of split-second joystick fluency and lure them back to the peculiar narrative, legend, folk-lore, and geography we'd discovered with Tolkien?
The instruction manual has been compiled with articulate care, with only a few typos to the contrary, and with admiration for Tolkien. It includes an alphabetical listing of the place names you'll find on the accompanying grid map and of the people and races of Middle Earth. You'll need to know, for instance, something about hobbits, rangers, orcs, trolls, dwarves, elves, and the fell force of Nazguls and Balrogs.
To win the game, you must guide the hobbit Frodo to Mount Doom, where he must destroy a magic ring of great power before the evil Wizard Sauron gets it. The Ring can only be destroyed within the Crack of Doom, where it was forged by Sauron himself.
If Sauron's minions capture any three of the good forces' fortresses or seize the Ring and return it to their stronghold at Barad-Dur, it's all over for Middle Earth. But if you can bring the Ring to Mount Doom, you win.
You control the game using the mouse, joystick, or arrow keys. You can watch the game in three views: animation, where you see 80 animated monsters, heroes, and armies close up against thousands of digitized backgrounds; campaign, a detailed scrollable map with forces identified as figures or shields; and full map, allowing you to pinpoint power positions (your forces arc blinking blue dots, evil powers blink red, and neutral powers blink green).
You begin in the animation view, where you see Frodo walking east of the Shire with Sam and Pippin. Since Gandalf, the magician, isn't there to meet (and protect) the hobbits, it's best to head east to Rivendell, where you can catch up with him. As you meet friends and strangers along the way, you can stop and talk to them or continue on.
Onscreen icons let you control game speed, save and restore games, reveal positions of troops, indicate evil forces, direct soldiers under your command, view character status, and move from one map view to another.
It doesn't take a genius to discover that your armies will do better on neutral territory than they will at enemy strongholds. Main characters can fight even after they've been wounded, but armies either survive or die as a unit. You may manually decide when to charge, engage, withdraw, or retreat; or you may allow the computer to randomly control combat.
If you do win, don't expect any fireworks. The anticlimax is surprising considering me dazzling animation and artwork in the rest of the game.
But this is an exception in an otherwise impressive game. This is not only an excellent strategy/adventure game, but it's also a faithful addition to the Middle Earth story line. It's obvious that the folks at Melbourne House know what they're Tolkien about.
IBM and compatibles—$49.99