“It’s A Story About Journeys, The Journeys We Take To Prove Ourselves. It’s About Adventures…”
If Led Zeppelin arguably brought The Lord of the Rings to the big screen by mixing the fantastical mythology of Tolkien with good old fashioned rock and roll, then in a roundabout sort of way, we can all thank the South African born writer for influencing the greatest band of all time in the first place, and whilst there is unsurprisingly a significant lack of Robert Plant or Jimmy Page in the aptly named, Tolkien, this week, such a film would have actually suitably benefitted from the rock god wails of the latter or the chunky, heavy guitar riffs of the former. Directed by Finnish filmmaker, Dome Karukoski, the early life of J. R. R Tolkien marks his first venture into English language film, and whilst the experiences of one of the world’s most revered writers makes some sort of sense to be idolised in a cinematic capacity, Tolkien unfortunately fails to hold a candle to the incredible life of the titular war hero, a movie filled to the brim with many interesting ideas but one which ultimately fails to balance the weight of them effectively enough to be labelled a success, resulting in a jumbled mess of a drama which can’t make the executive decision to stay on one set path and thus annoyingly becomes stranded in no man’s land in a last ditch attempt to bring some sort of memorability to proceedings. Unfortunately for Karukoski and co, Tolkien is anything but memorable.
Planting the youthful, straight-headed figure of Nicholas Hoult (The Favourite) in the leading role, Karukoski’s movie begins proceedings by placing Tolkien in the heart of battle as he attempts to survive the disease and blood-ridden wastelands of trench warfare during the Battle of the Somme, and whilst the film’s trailers promised an intriguing blend of fantasy and biographical drama, the constant transition and wavering throughout Tolkien’s own early life chapters means that the movie can never really set its’ mind on what it ultimately wants to be. With the drama setting up early moments of loss and hardship as we witness the Tolkien brothers move into the confines of adoption, we are soon introduced to both fellow members of the Tolkien coined Tea Club and Barrovian Society and fellow orphan, Edith Bratt, as played by the wonderfully talented Lily Collins (Rules Don’t Apply) who continues to evoke her inner Audrey Hepburn with the best performance in the movie, one which radiates beauty and undeniable charm. Annoyingly however, the film takes these two differing subplots and puts them to battle against each other, and as we move through elements of coming-of-age style drama, romance and war, Tolkien doesn’t expand on any enough effectively to leave you feeling adequately rewarded, and add into the mix a yawn-inducing pace and a complete editorial nightmare, Karukoski’s movie is unfortunately not enjoyable enough as a standalone biographical drama or pleasing enough for those after an insight into anything The Hobbit related, and even with the excellence of Collins in one of the leading roles, Tolkien is unfortunately an opportunity missed.
Overall Score: 5/10
With one of the most low-key advertising campaigns and some of the worst adverts I’ve seen for a game in quite a while, Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor arrives to the masses. Prior to release day, I saw little to indicate anything about the game. Considering my only interaction other than pre-ordering it months ago was my recent trip to EGX London where I got to play Shadow of Mordor a whole week before its UK release. After getting a hands on, I left happy.
Set in between the events of the Hobbit and Lord of the Rings books & films, Shadow of Mordor follows the story of Talion. A ranger guardian of the Black Gate prior to its fall to Sauron and his forces. Its fall is where we meet Talion for the first time and watch him get sacrificed by a group of Sauron’s cronies called “The Black Hand”. Upon dying, the spirit of an elf lord whose identity is that of Celebrimbor. This may rings bells with many of those well versed in the lore of LOTR as Celebrimbor is the creator of the rings of power and the one ring. As for the rest of the lore, I know very little. When Talion was originally killed, he also lost his family. His role from this point is too find those who killed him and his family, cut their heads off and every other thing that spreads Sauron’s will. As you progress, it becomes more than revenge. It becomes a duty. With great power comes huge responsibility and you do this through saving slaves of the Uruks and Orcs, fending off the hordes of evil and finding out who and why you were chosen. In theory, the story is actually fairly short. The only reason I logged a total of 32 hours until completion was because I found myself wandering off to kill the relentless hordes and do a multitude of side quests. As much as I enjoyed the story and relished returning to one of my favourite worlds, the actual bones of the story didn’t engage me as well as they should have. Certain characters just appear and its only through collectible artefacts that you find more in-depth content as to who these characters are before they vanish, never to be seen again. The story does well to construct why you’re still alive and the combat, collectibles and side missions give the game sufficient length.
Developed by Monolith and WB Games, you may recognize the combat and movement features as they originated from the Batman Arkham games. Was this good?, in a way. Having played all of the Batman games, it felt quite a common experience. Unfortunately the controls can be finicky. Rather than impaling a dude with your sword, you often end up diving around like a dog with a bag on its head and there often feels like a few seconds delay that means counters don’t take effect and ends your combo. Its parkour can be unbelievably infuriating due to item borders that are bigger than the visual object. As someone who enjoys a good bit of button mashing hack and slash games, its combat was really fun. Dramatic combat finishers with enough blood to satisfy Dracula’s thirst and have me giggling with glee. Sure, its a little repetitive and the variation of combat finishers isn’t particularly vast, especially considering that you can counter 2 people at once but for some reason no dual execution. Another disappointment is the boss fights. In all honesty, there should have been 4-5. It only felt like 2 because the rest were so short, it didn’t require much combat and those that did became quite tedious after a while of dealing with the finicky controls. What pulls it back for me if the Sauron’s Army section. Although erratic, it is great fun. These Captains and Warchiefs are the leaders of the Orc army plaguing Middle Earth and you need to wipe them out before they become too powerful. Leave them and they grow stronger and become a huge pain in the ass if you stumble upon them on a merry trot around. Its a relatively simple thing to learn and full of achievements that can be done through the story without trouble.
For many gamers, one name pops up fairly regularly and has voiced some of the best and most iconic characters in recent years. His name is Troy Baker. Troy voices Talion this time around and I have to be honest, I didn’t realise it was him until I looked it up. His ability to shift into these different persona are phenomenal and to actually witness him do it, sits heavily on my bucket list (sad, right?). If there’s any Dragon Age fans reading, you will also be happy to hear that Claudia Black is also lending her voice for another spooky witch. Futurama’s Bender also voices, courtesy of John DiMaggio alongside quite a substantial cast of names. The voice acting was right on par. Troy Baker nails the voice creating yet another gritty voice for another badass. Variation between Orcs are obvious but continual conflict means that you get through them in a short period of time but otherwise, everyone did a fantastic job and killed it.
The game looks wonderful. Playing on an Xbox One, the resolution is lower than its PS4 counterpart but I’ve never been one to see such a huge difference between HD resolutions. The only issue I can honestly pick is that the rain looks a bit dated and occasionally characters look more like wax rather than flesh. I’ve also mentioned about item borders but in total, it doesn’t really affect the most important factor which is the story.
So, we have a hack and slash Lord of the Rings game with characters voiced by Troy Baker, Morrigan and Bender with a story that is meaty and gameplay that hooks you for longer than 6 hours. What’s not too love? Straight off the bat I can say this game stands as one of the best I’ve played in quite a while. Pure fun for everyone, even if you aren’t a Lotr fan! Probably one of the best games this year, Shadow of Mordor stands upon the graves of lesser games. Although, we haven’t had a great year in gaming in reality. Overall, I feel that the game is great and it deserves all the praise it has been getting. 8/10 for a wonderful cast and story but its controls really agitate me and the boss fights were a huge disappointment. Worth the trip too your local game store…or Amazon…