Resident Evil 3: Nemesis – Playstation, Dreamcast, Game Cube, MS Windows

RE3 - Logo

I think I remember him…he sat behind me in 10th grade Geometry.

 

Hah…sweet. I got Resident Evil 3 out on Valentine’s Day.

Five full games into the series, and I’ve reached a limit for the number of buildings I can reasonably believe have self-destruct mechanisms. A top-secret laboratory working on unethical experiments, maybe. A mansion with a similar laboratory underneath? You’re pushing it, but I guess I’ll give you that one. A municipal water-treatment-slash-weapons-factory? Nope. Not even you, Umbrella. Hell, the FBI launches an investigation every time someone buys fertilizer in large quantities. How is it that a drug company can buy self-destruct detonators by what I can only assume is the gross and no one suspects a think until someone’s brain gets eaten?

Or am I wrong about this? Are self-destruct mechanisms common? Is my house not up to code without one? Does my school have one? Should I ask where the button is and run self-destruct drills with my students? What if I have to trigger it? How do I know what emergencies demand the destruction of my place of work?

…meh.

RE3 - Jill Fashion

I think Jill is looking to make herself a sandwich…preferably with Lara Croft.

Resident Evil 3 follows Jill Valentine after she ditched the uniform of a high-class Bond villain’s henchman and dressed in something more sporty, more casual, better suited for picking up dashing young Hispanic mercenaries in a lively night club currently burning to the ground and filled with the living dead. But oh, someone else has a crush on her—or at least wants to crush her—and this charming bachelor just won’t take “no” and a grenade to the crotch for an answer! Yes, Umbrella gave Hodor their new line of flesh-eating-bacteria shaving cream and sent him out the door. Meanwhile, there’s also Russian Guyovich Villainski, who broadcasts the fact that he’s evil so strongly that every TV in Racoon City is only picking up silent movies of men tying women to railroad tracks. Seriously, I thought we left the anti-Russian sentiments in the rubble of the Berlin Wall.

RE3 - Nemesis

And listen to the music of the night!

Aside from the simultaneous outbreaks of both the T-virus and G-virus, we learn that Nemesis is a new model of tyrant caused by the NE-T virus. There are so many letters running wild around town that I think it would be reasonable to assume that Umbrella’s stockholders are likewise the sponsors of Sesame Street. (Ever wonder about Cookie monster’s insatiable hunger? That’s right: the C-virus. Or why Claire Redfield sounds suspiciously like the star of the Big Comfy Couch? Right again: competition for children’s television can get fierce.)

Still, I’m beginning to question the wisdom behind Umbrella’s bioweapons. I know it seems like inflicting your own soldiers with plague-level infectious disease seems like a sure-fire way to victory, and Nemesis does seem unstoppable, but if you have to create ten thousand zombies just for the off chance of creating a tyrant or super-powered mad scientist, maybe take a moment and ask yourself if you weren’t just doing fine with traditional guns and bullets. And who thought that the best medium for this would be a viral infection? Not cyborg implants? Not genetic engineering? Your first thought was to make a bunch of people sick? Typical American pharmaceutical philosophy: there’s money to be made in prolonging the problem.

RE3 - Goin to work

I often feel like this when I go to work.

What? The gameplay? Fuck, it’s like every other Resident Evil game to this point. Except the zombies move a little quicker, Jill has figured out how to walk up stairs on her own, and Nemesis reaches velociraptor intelligence by learning how to open doors. Here, Capcom further stretches the definition of “Resident.” Maybe they realized that no one actually resides in a police station, so they decided to make up for that by using an entire city—albeit a city that, for whatever reason, seems to connect all its streets and alleyways with doorways. By RE5, they’ll just assume Africa counts as a place people reside, and by RE6 they just drop all pretense completely and decide we’re all residents of the entire planet.

Results:

5:10:42

Grade E

Seriously? I played on hard mode and got a lower score than ever before? I guess that’s what you get when you save before anything difficult and after anything unpleasant.

OneWord

Stars

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Resident Evil – Game Cube, PS4

 

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Jill and the zombie are actually big Simpsons fans, and are just recreating a scene between Homer and Bart

Yeah, there’s no way Chris and Rebecca aren’t fucking like porn stars after this game. This remake turns the frantic-yet-spunky kid-sister type into an all-business, straight-talking Stars team medic. Except whenever she turns to Chris and asks, “Do you want me to treat your wounds?” At which point she sounds like a wanton anime girl ready to cream her panties so much she could churn butter from it. You have to wonder what went on in the recording booth to get such a severe character disconnect.

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Oh, Chris-kun!

Anyway, the Resident Evil remake for the game cube is like playing the original game hammered off your ass; it’s a lot more attractive than you remember, but you’re quite disoriented and don’t really remember where your keys are or which one goes to your front door. Also, you remember you weren’t supposed to say something about Jill sandwiches or a master of unlocking, but that really doesn’t stop you from saying any other stupid shit that comes to mind:

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…you know. If you were interested. I mean, my wife is cool with it…

“You’re alive!”
“That’s what I was going to say!”

You changed TWO lines! That doesn’t count as a revision! If a student turned in this script, it would still be a failing grade! I’ve heard better dialogue from cockatiels!

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Personally it seems like a sink that’s eight feet high and the size of a Volkswagen would not be useful for someone of Jill’s stature. Maybe Umbrella employs giants.

They also dressed up the set a bit so it doesn’t look like Umbrella is in the process of moving out. But running with the alcohol metaphor, there are quite a few blackouts. I know it’s supposed to be uncertain and scary, but it just feels like they didn’t finish drawing the backgrounds. The scary thing about the dark is it forces you to rely on senses that most people only use once in a while (You know…like the Rush Marine from Mega Man). But in a video game, with the only other sense being stimulated by a speaker coming from straight in front of you, turning the brightness down only results in the player awkwardly glancing around their brightly lit reality while their character runs headlong into a wall and just keeps going.

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Because it just wouldn’t be Resident Evil if your character didn’t just randomly shove disgusting objects into their pockets.

They actually revised the gameplay quite a bit. Certain enemies can now follow you from room to room. All the puzzles were revamped, and they added some random subplot about a special needs child roaming the mansion grounds.

All in all, it’s a worthwhile remake, even if the full-on panic attack I had while playing it actually came from a side-effect of a medication I was taking, and not from being swallowed whole by a shark that previously didn’t have enough power to rival a fifteen-year-old girl’s first attempt at a blow job.

Final results:

Jill 8:35:39

Chris: 6:18:05

Resident Evil Zero – Game Cube, Wii, PS3, PS4

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Rebecca’s hot, but you have to take Billy too if you want the handcuffs.

“Traaaainnsss! TRRRAAAAIIINNNS!” God…a zombie game that starts on a train. What’s next? Fighting ghouls in an open field of grains? Perhaps being stalked through a hospital full of the creatures hungry for sprains. Oh! I got a good one: Resident Evil 8, opening on the Raccoon City Stock Exchange, where the living dead are on the move for capital gains.

Hey, Capcom took my idea for Resident Evil 6 starring a grown-up Sherry Birkin.

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Zoinks! I sure hope we don’t get lost in this creepy train, Scoob!

My favorite thing about the first section of this game has got to be picking up a map for the train. I mean, it’s a train. Who maps a fucking train? It’s practically a one-dimensional vehicle. You know what? Let me draw a map of the train right now: ————— Mischief managed, there, Harry Potter. You know where everyone is? On the train. Right there. Look, not to be judgmental, but if you’re the kind of person who needs a map for a train, maybe we should just chalk up your being slaughtered by leeches as nature taking its course. Survival of the fittest.

Anyway, Resident Evil Zero: Aptly named because that’s how much ammo I had by the end of the first section. Have you ever tried going after a shambling hoard of corpses in one of the old-school RE games with just the crappy knife they give you? I’ve never felt so much like a post-op hernia patient than when I’m systematically trying to plunge my arm into those fetid, rotting garbage disposals.

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Step one: work together to find a way around a train. Step two: team up to fight leeches.

Here’s an idea, guys: everyone on the planet has seen zombie movies—they’re not going to bleed out if you slash them enough. GO FOR THE GODDAMNED HEAD! They’re zombies! For the love of all that is Rebecca Chambers fan hentai, they TELL YOU WHERE TO AIM! “Braaains! Braaains!” (You ever see a zombie movie where they actually, specifically eat brains? No!)

Knife combat seems to be less a thoughtful inclusion in the game and more some rogue coder’s attempt to overcome the deep-seated scars after a childhood encounter with a drunken mohel.

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The innovative partner system allows you to waste ammo at an all new rate as your dumb-ass partner blasts a bird with a grenade launcher you forgot you had equipped.

Ahem. Anyway, I suppose if I’m going to play through all the RE games (give or take), I ought to say something about each one specifically. Okay, “Resident Evil Zero is Capcom’s first attempt to introduce a partner mechanic that no one ever asked for or wanted.”

The plot follows Rebecca, the hot, kid-sister type who serves as Chris’s sidekick in the original, as she works her way to the Spencer Mansion. She teams up with Billy, the mistaken-criminal with the heart of gold. He pulls a daring jailbreak, cleverly spying his chance to escape when his guards are devoured by monsters. It turns out Umbrella was pulling experiments on prisoners and he was likely on h is way to be given the full Albert Wesker beauty makeover. That was kind of a cool element.

re0 leeches

Ah hell yeah! Who could say no to free leeches?

The villain is obviously auditioning for a better role in a Final Fantasy game. Picture the standard disgruntled employee type. Except when you work for a grocery store and your boss shortchanges your time card, you steal a few grapes and walk out with a few office supplies. When you work for Umbrella, they assassinate you, and you get revenge by stuffing a few dozen genetically engineered leeches into your pockets and wreak bloody havoc with a biblical-style plauge.

Seriously…I wish I could wreak bloody havoc when I was mad.

The game follows the series’ usual formula in Capcom’s unerring, Mega-Man-style manner. However, they do get rid of the magic boxes to store extraneous items. Instead you just scatter your junk on the floor like some redneck family’s lawn.

Final Rank:

Wait…what? Did I miss something? I didn’t get a grade. What the hell!

Fire Emblem – Path of Radiance

Fire Emblem 1

Uh, yeah, do I really have to write another entry about Fire Emblem? Just play the damn game already.

But while I’m here, we need to talk. Every time you defeat an enemy in, well, just about any game, the corpse goes through some dying animation, then digi-mortis sets in and they vanish from the screen. Evil is punished and the hero goes on with his quest. Everyone is satisfied, right?

Fire Emblem 2

Like independent contractors on the death star, a horse’s personal politics deeply influence which riders it will bear.

Except I noticed something this time around. If you’re fighting against a mounted unit, the enemy soldier slumps down on his horse, and then both of them vanish. That poor, innocent horse! Just shoved still-breathing into the grave like the horse of some deceased pharaoh. What happens to it? Where does it go?

Fire Emblem HorseApparently this was a big enough issue that the game had to weigh in on the ethics of mount loyalty. At the very end after felling the evil king, there’s a lengthy (unasked for) cut scene involving an extremely minor sub character being in love with the king’s mount (both pictured to the right). This runs on in Fire Emblem’s traditional style of half National Geographic documentary and half verbal dysentery.

While the game was true to form and well worth playing, I think I cared more about high school history exams than the ending to the game, which felt like it resolved nothing at all and was just trying to sell you the $90 sequel for the Wii. (Is that a Dolphin I hear chattering in the distance?)

Fire Emblem 3

Dear god, will someone just take Twitter away from Trump already?

Tales of Symphonia – Game Cube, PS2, PS3

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A game so bland the best screenshot is the box art.

Some games end not with a bang, but with a whimper. And then some games end with a string of texted excuses why I can’t play tonight, but I promise to turn it on in a few days if I find the time, until eventually it just stops calling to me and I can move on with my life. Such is the way with Tales of Symphonia. Honestly, I’ve heard so many great things about the Tales series, that I really wanted it to turn into a heated love affair, but I felt like I went in expecting a blind date with Natalie Portman and ended up with Dora the Explorer.

Sconversation

Like many, I am often troubled by games that try to portray pertinent information in well-written moments within the story. Fortunately, Tales of Symphonia babbles on like a fucking schizophrenic on open mic night.

The story opens in the world of Sylvarant, a pleasant, green thriving fantasy world that apparently needs to be saved from wasting away. Colette is a young girl chosen to lead the quest to restore mana to the world, which will save it from a perilous lack of questing, if nothing else. But instead we’re going to follow her friend Lloyd, who has no major effect on the plot at least 75% of the way through the game, and doesn’t seem important in any way other than he’s voiced by the most recognizable actor. Together with a cast of characters too bland to be generic anime archetypes, Lloyd and Colette travel the world, fighting their way through…literal tourist destinations. (But don’t let that fool you. This is less “Indiana Jones and the Temple of Niagara Falls” and more “Visit the Mystery Spot: Exit 255 at Chernoble.”) Anyway, the whole quest turns out more sinister than the entire world believes and Lloyd, Colette, and company take steps to upend the whole thing. I have to be honest, I didn’t get to the end, but I’m willing to put good money on “the power of friendship” being a major theme at the end.

Yes, you heard me right. I couldn’t get through this game, even though it dangled enough potentially interesting plot lines to keep me invested like a Nigerian Prince asking for just one more good-faith payment. Unfortunately, the Chibi-anime art style makes even the adult characters look like ten-year-olds. Outside of pre-teen players, there’s a very special group of people who get invested in a cast like that, a group that includes Michael Jackson and Jared from the Subway commercials. One character I found particularly obnoxious, Raine, one of the few adults and Lloyd and Colette’s teacher. If you combine the worst qualities of a know-it-all pedant with the insufferable nature of someone who you know is just pulling things out of her ass, that’s Raine. Then make her a chronic child abuser who beats the shit out of her (actual) ten-year-old brother whenever he strings together enough words to best Groot in a verbal debate.

sheenaunicorn

So uh…we gonna do this or do I have to buy you dinner first?

Just when I thought I couldn’t despise Raine more, there was a scene that required the characters to approach a unicorn trapped in a lake. Now, having written my masters thesis on the significance of eviscerating a unicorn in T.H. White’s “The Once and Future King” (no, I’m not joking. You can look up the article), I happen to know what the game refused to state outright lest it lose it’s G-rating: only virginal women can approach a unicorn. By this point, the party had three female characters, Raine, Colette, and Sheena. Sheena, one of the side characters who ends up being the most important character in the game (even though they never acknowledge it or treat her as such) just happens to be the only character with even a little bit of charm or enough cleavage to still have a good time when everything below the waist is off-limits. She had just joined our party, though, so Raine knew nothing about her except she was a summoner and prone to clumsiness, and yet she still had the nerve to say, “Well, I can’t approach the unicorn because I’m an adult, and Colette is certainly not going to approach the unicorn alone.” So yes, ladies and gentlemen, Raine, in this children’s game, is now slut-shaming strange teen girls, all the while claiming that premarital sex is her personal privilege.

Sheena

Sheena, the only character in two worlds to own breasts.

Tales of Symphonia wears its influences on its sleeve. By itself, that’s not a bad thing. I’m a huge fan of J.R.R. Tolkien, and he basically wrote Medieval fan fiction. The problem is, like everything else in the game, it’s watered down for a pre-teen audience. The developers just took Final Fantasy IX, X, a dash of V, and Xenogears, chucked them in a blender, then filtered out everything that didn’t fit into their juvenile, young-adult novelization schema of a video game. That would be like doing a remake of Silence of the Lambs where Hannibal Lecter is in rehab for his Kit Kat addiction and Buffalo Bill is sneaking up on farms and shearing sheep in the middle of the night. Yes, it’s kid-friendly, but if it’s supposed to be “disturbing and horrifying,” it kind of misses the mark…then flies hundreds of meters past it, nearly misses “comical parody” and buries itself by pure accident between the ass cheeks of “hackneyed mess of writing” and “just did this for a paycheck.” Why would anyone care about Final Fantasy X if we never had to worry about the value of summoner’s lives? What use is Xenogears if they cut out the question of humanity’s struggles and desires versus God’s arbitrary plans for us?

But hey, good gameplay can make up for this second-hand, watered-down beer pissed out of a drunken game developer before passing out in his kid’s bedroom, right? Well, that’s true, but Tales of Symphonia doesn’t have any. Despite being an RPG, leveling up and equipment raise your offensive and defensive capabilities about the same as suddenly sprouting an eleventh fingernail in your armpit. At one point I realized I had been playing for three hours with a character who didn’t have any equipment, and I just couldn’t tell based on his performance in battle. The game throws a lot of information at you about combo attacks, techniques, cooking skills, switching active characters, etc, but skills and techniques take time to charge and cost tech points, so it’s literally always a better strategy to run straight at the monsters, mashing the basic attack like you’re trying to exact vengeance on the A button for murdering your family.

Stales

And yeah…here’s another screenshot. Look, I gotta be somewhere. We done yet?

Even exploring the map is frustrating. The camera zooms in close enough to bill your insurance for a colonoscopy, making navigation a little challenging. And it isn’t an oversight, either, since they’ve added a function for zooming the camera out to see where you’re going, but only if you find a magic rock in each area of the map. I’m sorry, but that much dick move from developers who are obviously closet pedophiles makes me just a wee bit uncomfortable. It’s like going 75 on the freeway and suddenly you realize a nest of wolf spiders are crawling out of the defrost vent of your car, it doesn’t matter where you are or what you’re doing, you really want out. Fortunately, Tales of Symphonia commits the cardinal sin of reminding me of a far superior game and makes me wonder why I don’t just go play that one…so in short, look out in the next few weeks for a review of Xenogears.

Mega Man X4 – Playstation, Sega Saturn (PS2 and Game Cube as part of Mega Man X Collection)

Mega Man X4 (USA)-180303-224651

Let’s add “fire-bot and ice-bot” in same lineup to the list of things Sigma probably should stop doing.

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Why, praytell, would a robot need shapely breasts? Unless that’s a special place to store her double-D cell batteries, I’d say the real drama behind the X series is the use of sexbots, hereafter known as “sexploids.”

I haven’t reviewed many Mega Man games, even though I talk about them I’m bringing up an old flame to make the games I do play frequently jealous. Truth is, they’re wonderful, but a little difficult to write about. For the purposes of a humor blog, the games are comic gold. Dr. Wiley, one of the most brilliant minds of all time, has a distinct recipe for his schemes—build a team of eight robots, each with a rock-paper-scissors Achilles heel that will rip each other open like a pinata in a batting cage—and he refuses to deviate from that plan for fear of breaking his streak of inevitable failure. A hundred years later, the ultimate reploid Sigma shows a sense of learning from history rivaled only by the United States Congress, and launches his wars against X using the exact same tactics. Still, writing these blog entries entirely with the copy-paste keyboard shortcut feels a bit like cheating, hence the reason I’ve avoided most Mega Man games.

Mega Man X4 (USA)-180303-233149

No, no. It’s totally reasonable that you want to build a ten-meter tall robot with giant hulk hands out of solid gold. Aren’t the practical applications obvious? Oh, wait! Let’s make him fly!

Mega Man X4 tackles the familiar formula with the free thought, creativity, and the deviance of an 80-year-old woman attending mass on a Tuesday morning. The game opens with a cut scene introducing Repliforce, an organized militia of Reploids designed to hunt Mavericks. Perhaps if you live in a world where reploids tend to turn maverick and become threats to humanity, it might not be wise to let them unionize. In the first stage, Sigma hijacks some Repliforce soldiers, pulls a false flag attack on the Sky Lagoon. Again, I have to question the wisdom of the people who welded a handful of battleships together and suspended them over an inhabited city like an anvil over Wile E. Coyote’s head, but perhaps in the future, Congress has passed some sort of MacGuffin Act to move plots along expediently. The Repliforce Colonel shows up in the wake of the attack and decides that rather than disarm and sort out the confusion with reason, diplomacy and grace, he’ll spit out some NRA “cold dead hands” vitriol, thus dooming the entire Repliforce to be branded as Mavericks. Even so, the General decides to peacefully take his army off-planet to found his own colony where they may live in peace, stressing that such an act is neither about rebellion nor insurrection against the humans. So naturally, the maverick hunters do the only logical thing and hunt them down to wreak bloody, bloody justice on their rusting corpses.

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X gets this weapon after beating Grady in the Overlook Hotel.

That is, for those of you keeping score, more story than in the entirety of the classic Mega Man series, and also a wonderful justification for never having attempted anything more in-depth than “mad scientist steals robots, programs for evil, hides in castle.” Fortunately, it doesn’t have to have a strong story; it has to be a good game. And Capcom sticks to its Mega Busters on this one, with the tried-and-true formula of an octet of rampaging robots running weaponry hardware that is 100% compatible with X’s systems. You’d think they’d learn and switch from Mac to Linux. It might run a little more successfully, cost less, and at the very least force X to program his own drivers. I suppose they could switch to Windows, but X would have to read the EULA before each boss fight, and they’d only get one or two good shots on him before crashing and needing a hard reboot.

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Zero got this technique after defeating my garage roof in February.

X4 adds its own unique touch on the formula, though. Rather than having Zero make cameo appearances as a playable character, the player can choose to play through the whole game as either X or Zero. X does his normal routine, blasting his way through an army of small robots who, I don’t think we’ve ever established, may or may not be sentient, and also searching for the upgrade capsules that Dr. Light spread around the planet like his own Gap chain. Zero, however, functions differently. Rather than gaining mobility through capsules and weapons from enemies, each maverick defeated augments either abilities slightly through the use of special moves. It’s amazing how such a minor change can make it feel like X4 is essentially two games, with the same bosses requiring different weaknesses to beat, some becoming easier and others harder, and level order requiring new strategies and opening new possibilities. In this, X4 introduces a brilliant new feature to the series that cracks the series formula wide open, adding layers of depth to the old formula heading into the future! So naturally, Capcom never did this again.

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Dying reploids look an awful lot like a spyrograph design.

Lord of the Rings: The Third Age – PS2, Game Cube, XBox

LoTR Watcher

Batting cleanup for Gandalf, who really needs to employ the “double tap” philosophy. No use being stingy with ammo when fell beasts roam the land.

Movie licensed games are like hot dogs; absolutely fucking disgusting and probably lethal if you have more than two or three per year, but somehow they still sell enough that the industry thrives like cockroaches. And yes, in spite of my declared hatred toward them, a quick glance through the menu to the right reveals that I do, occasionally, indulge in these games myself (notably unlike hot dogs). So clearly, you can swallow gold dust and shit out something sparkly enough to catch my attention, but I’ve stepped in enough piles by now that it takes an exceptionally shiny dump to get me past the smell. Clearly I’m writing about a Lord of the Rings licensed game today, so something must have gotten me to stifle my gag reflex. Whatever could have inspired that, you ask? Turning the game into an RPG. But much like a Tide Pod, it turns out that swallowing a tasty-looking package might leave you with horrible, life-threatening internal chemical burns.

LoTR Balrog

My bet? Gandalf Plows past Balrog, but loses to M. Bison in the first two rounds.

So if the thought of liquefying your organs hasn’t dissuaded you from playing Lord of the Rings: The Third Age, let me explain the story, which as best I can describe, is the J.R.R. Tolkien equivalent to Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead. Except with out the witty dialogue. Or compelling storyline. Or philosophical overtones. In fact, it’s less like Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, and more like you’re playing as Gandalf’s cleanup crew. The action opens just after the Council of Elrond names the members of the Fellowship of the Ring—not in the same place, of course. God forbid you have any outcome on the plot. After Gandalf gets a commitment out of the Fellowship and puts a ring on them, he immediately starts two-timing the party for Berethor, errant knight of Gondor, contacting him psychically, telling him to follow the Fellowship so the wizard might meet him on the side. And while he entrusts Frodo with no more than a single quest—save Middle Earth and the world of men from magical enslavement by destroying the final vestige of the Lieutenant of the evil god Morgoth—Berethor gets countless tasks such as “kill three wargs,” “find a dwarf,” “rescue five elves from Uruks.” Clearly, we know who the important party is here. Especially when Gandalf faces the balrog, the foe beyond the abilities of any of the indispensable fellowship, he beckons Berethor and company to stand beside him in slaying—and getting slain by—the ancient evil.

LoTR Drums

Berethor breaks up his neighbor’s cave troll drum circle, complaining of the noise, but we all know it’s just him being racist.

At the very least, Berethor and his lower-case-f fellowship are like Rosencrantz and Guildenstern in that they’re completely expendable and inconsequential to the main story. But Berethor doesn’t even seem to have a story of his own. The game forgoes traditional character conflict and development in exchange for Gandalf filling Berethor’s head with bad student films cut from the original film and dubbed with his own Tolkien-esque voice overs. Dude, even Michael Bay shows more generic diversity than you. If you’re going to do 108 short films, why not throw in a cut from Star Wars or Pulp Fiction or something? Or better yet, explain why the hell we care about the characters we’re playing as. If Frodo manages to get to Mt. Doom without his help, is there some reason to focus on Berethor? Was he pulling strings behind the scene? Did he struggle to find his purpose in a world torn by inter-species war? Did he adventure with the Eagles to the edge of Middle Earth to keep Voldemort from teaming up with Palpatine and George W Bush in order to invade the Shire while the hobbits were away? Nope. In fact, he seems to change tasks, warping from place to place like Doctor Who in Middle Earth.

LoTR Bow Legged

I’m not sure this is what they mean by “bow legged.”

It turns out there’s a reason the story sucks more than a battle between a hoover and truck stop whore, as EA Games did not hold the legal rights to use anything from Tolkien’s books that were not explicitly part of the films. And since fans’ idea of “enforcing the canon” means they feel that any deviation from the story means they get to shoot you with a canon, this story was received about as well as a gay nephew coming out at an Alabama Thanksgiving dinner. But hey, lousy stories can easily be overcome by good gameplay, right? Spoiler alert: not in this case.

LoTR Discount Characters

Discount Aragorn talks to second-rate Boromir, while shoddy immitation Arwen looks on.

For a company so worried about copyright infringement that they’d crap out a story like this, it’s surprising that they lifted the battle system so blatantly from Final Fantasy X that it’s a wonder they didn’t name the characters Yunalas, Kimharimir, Gimlulu and Wakkagorn. On the surface, I’m fine with that. Final Fantasy X was an awesome game and the combat was part of the reason for that. But while battles in FFX were fast-paced and zippy, Third Age animations are reminiscent of yoga instructors on Ambien. Characters are sluggish, skill points are awarded like birthday money from your grandma who hasn’t adjusted for inflation since 1953, and attacks connect with the striking accuracy of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra keeping time using an incoming Morse code signal.

LoTR - MoreLembasAnd…that’s it. That’s all there is to the game. There are no towns. No NPCs to talk to. No shops to buy items or equipment. I’d say there are no safe zones at all, but the game has a method for random encounters that feels like you can’t bribe enemies to attack you if you waved a raw, juicy shank of man flesh under their noses. So the game gives you a series of disjointed locales with the occasional story battle that takes place in a pool of clam chowder. The lack of shops means treasure chests inundate you with basic healing items, but since leveling up and saving both restore full HP and AP, you end up with a backpack full of lembas bread in full fungal bloom. There’s also a crafting system wherein you can make items—but only in battle. Personally, I’d like to tell my dwarf that facing down a hoard of murderous Uruk-hai may not be the best time to knead your dough and wait for the loaf to rise, but the game tells me I have to bake 125 loaves of lembas bread in order to gain the eloquently named “elf medicine,” then I’m just going to have to take out Saruman’s hoards with delicious bread smells. I haven’t been this bored since role-playing as the merchant in Dragon Quest IV. But maybe that’s it…maybe The Third Age wants you to role-play as a baker. God knows that’s exactly why I’ve always wanted to live in Middle Earth.