Traveller’s Tales’ last game – the sequel to LEGO Batman, released just five months ago – came as a brilliant surprise. Not only did the game make a wholly successful first stab at creating a sandbox world, but it was also the first LEGO game to feature an original script: an original script which lifted the game into some pretty rarefied air. Stuffed to the hilt with fantastic jokes, LEGO Batman 2 was easily the best LEGO game to date, and the fact that LEGO Lord of the Rings doesn’t quite scale the same heights doesn’t mean that it shouldn’t be loudly celebrated. This is a hugely confident (and surprisingly gripping) outing that progresses the series ever closer to that ageless Pixar sweet spot. LEGO LOTR comes recommended regardless of how old you are.
This is a big production, perfectly mimicking the expanse and grandeur of Peter Jackson’s trilogy of films, seemingly with no expense spared. The lack of an original script – all dialogue is taken directly from the movies themselves – means that there’s a renewed emphasis on slapstick humour. But in addition to that, the series-best facial animation also successfully mines a few ripe situations for broad comedy. Watching a prominent character meet his maker via a broomstick and a banana (in place of arrows) is the kind of thing you expect to see in a LEGO game; watching Sir Ian McKellen’s character of Gandalf hilariously depicted as a preening old ham most definitely isn’t.
Local co-operative multiplayer continues to be a joy (and is still the best way to play these games) but LEGO Lord of the Rings is a formidable proposition alone too. There are prolonged sequences in which you have access to as many as nine different characters; all onscreen at once, and all with different skills and attributes for solving their own set of dedicated puzzles. And across the board, the puzzles are ingenious. Not ingenious because they’re especially complex or involved – every problem has a very straightforward solution – but ingenious because they’re so cleverly wrapped around eachother. Solving problems this simple can become interminable very quickly, but TT force you to observe, experiment and endlessly bounce between characters in order to nail the problem at hand.
There are Uncharted-style foot chases toward the screen, lengthy stealth set-pieces and a spectacular recreation of the Battle of Pelennor Fields (the third film’s most jaw-dropping action sequence) that frankly has to be seen to be believed. The world is neither open nor completely linear, with the game choosing to periodically offer up a bit both, depending on which part of the world you’re in. It’s much more sombre of tone than most LEGO games but that comes with the territory, and devout Tolkien fans may be slightly disappointed to find that it’s a little bit front-loaded, with The Fellowship of the Ring given easily the most attention of the three stories. Nevertheless, this is utterly, predictably sublime. Don’t miss it.