The Lord of the Rings: The Battle for Middle-earth II
Developed and Published by EA Games
Available Now for PC and Xbox 360
Ever since I started playing videogames, I've been doing so on consoles rather than computers. Okay, true: Just as any self-respecting nerdling in the early '90s, I played the LucasArts PC classics Maniac Mansion, Day of the Tentacle, and Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis. But with the PlayStation, price and convenience took over: It seemed foolhardy to continually update a PC when one could get console games for a fraction of the cost.
But as consoles took over videogaming, some games—and genres—fell by the wayside. Like real-time strategy (RTS) games, a genre in which players manage entire armies to wage wars. Smart and challenging, RTS games were one of the only PC game genres that hadn't made the jump to consoles.
Enter EA's The Lord of the Rings: The Battle for Middle-earth II (BFME II), which hit PCs last March and was released for the Xbox 360 a few weeks ago. BFME II uses aspects of J.R.R. Tolkien's novels and Peter Jackson's films to create a rich approximation of Middle-earth, one crammed with cave trolls and elves who clash on battlefields from Rivendell to Mirkwood. Canonical quibbles about EA's interpretation of Tolkien aside, it's really fun stuff—commanding an army of elves to charge a group of mountain giants is unexpectedly exhilarating.
Which isn't to say that BFME II is perfect: In squeezing the PC game onto the 360, EA's had to cram keyboard-and-mouse controls onto the 360's gamepad, making menus tricky to navigate. And once you figure out the basic commands, it's easy and tempting to eschew strategy and just make your soldiers smash shit up. (Another thing, in light of how much goes on onscreen: Woe be unto whoever who tries to play BFME II on a non-HD TV.)
But by and large, the 360 version of The Lord of the Rings: The Battle for Middle-earth II works surprisingly well, opening up a whole genre for most console gamers. Even if you're not into strategizing how to use Hobbits to kill giant spiders, anything that broadens the scope and accessibility of gaming is a good thing.