- Developer: Traveller's Tales
- Publisher: Warner Bros.
- Platform: PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, Wii, DS, 3DS, PC, Mac, Vita
- Release date: 23 November
- Price: TBA
LEGO The Lord of the Rings
In keeping with GameCity's conceit that computer games are for everybody, the big exclusive launch at this year's festival was LEGO The Lord of the Rings (LOTR), a gorgeous looking, playful twist on the iconic film series, and a huge leap forward in Traveller's Tale's beloved LEGO game franchise. Presented in the UK live for the first time, LEGO LOTR was talked up by Jonathan Smith, Traveller's Tale's head of production:
"We think our games are very good at helping children investigate, experiment, discover and learn" explained Smith, who was accompanied on stage by two of his sons. "But they're also about really cool fights.
"We created the whole of Middle Earth as it exists in our imagination...but we want you to explore things and mess around, because that's something you can do in a LEGO game."
Smith, or rather, his children took us through exactly what messing around will mean in LEGO The Lord of the Rings, pottering around the game's version of The Shire as Sam and Frodo, collecting LEGO studs and playing minigames. Like the Mos Eisley Cantina in LEGO Star Wars, The Shire acts as a kind of hub, where you can track in-game achievements, swap characters (there are more than sixty to unlock) or just muck about. It's a neat distraction from the drive of the main story, which takes place across all the film's major battle scenes.
These fights are surprisingly convincing. Despite the cutesy LEGO aesthetic, Peter Jackson's epic, choreographed battles, between armies of elves, humans and orcs have been recreated to scale, the prologue section to Fellowship of the Ring making a great, first example.
LEGO bad guys spill in from every direction, creating a bigger, busier and more impressive action sequence than ever seen in the LEGO franchise. The music, too, comes straight from the film, Howard Shore's booming orchestral soundtrack managing to add drama even to a fight between LEGO people.
In any hack and slash 'em up, battles of this magnitude would be impressive; for the LEGO franchise, which is commonly associated with playful, Mario-style platforming, they're unprecedented.
It's all part of the big idea of LEGO The Lord of the Rings, which promises more fidelity to its base material than any game in the series so far. For the first time, your characters talk, spewing the best lines from the films to help carry the sprawling, epic narrative:
"LEGO game characters used to communicate with grunts" explained Smith "and we tried to use as little talking as possible in LEGO The Lord of the Rings. So, we've only got the most important lines, the best lines to help distil then exaggerate the characters."
And despite the added drama of big battles and dialogue, the trademark LEGO game slapstick humour still prevails; one of the nine men collecting his ring of power in the prologue, clumsily drops it and scoops it back up, grinning coyly at the camera.
At it's heart, LEGO Lord of the Rings is a kid's game, the colourful graphics, simple mechanics and prat falling characters making for weeks of fun for any red blooded 3-12 year old. Smith's heart-warming presentational style communicated as much, with him inviting children from the audience to come try the game on stage, and giving them free LEGO sets. As he explained to the GameCity audience, LEGO games are great for kids:
"Learning is one good thing about playing games, but teaching is even better...a lot of the action in our games is about puzzle solving, exploration and learning and discovery. Parents will know that their kids show each other how to play LEGO games and we think that's really cool."
But although kids come first with LEGO The Lord of the Rings, the enormous battle scenes, loyalty to the movies and authentic dialogue make it the meatiest LEGO game to date, potentially offering enough action and substance to get adults to sit with their kids and play, too.
GameCity and the LEGO game franchise go hand-in-hand as a computer game show and a computer game that everyone can enjoy. With its blend of full-scale action and unadulterated belly laughs, LEGO Lord of the Rings looks set to epitomise that universal appeal.
Simplicity, immensely popular source material and Smith's family-orientated floor show notwithstanding, LEGO Lord of the Rings' universal appeal is glaringly apparent, with a balanced mix of lighthearted giggles and straight-faced action beats. It's on every console, too, out on 23 November for Mac, PC, PS3, 360, Vita, DS, 3DS and Wii.