While E.A's game, the Two Towers on PS2 concentrates on pure action and cinematic prowess (And mostly the second film), Vivendi and Black Label games take on the whole Tolkien thing is a far more adventurous affair than action. Based on the book rather than the film and with a bit of poetic license to make a more enjoyable game, the Xbox version of the FotR takes events from Tolkien's book and tries to present a coherent story, leading from Gandalf's discovery of the One Ring, to Frodo selling Bag End and heading off into the wilds of Middle Earth - the only problem is that while you can play Frodo, Aragorn and Gandalf you never feel quite pulled into the magnificent story that is the Lord of the Rings.
The graphics are quite nice with fairly detailed locations and characters, but nothing overly compelling. The game suffers at times from bad character collision, tedious puzzles and a frustrating section in the Great Forest where Frodo must try and use stealth rather than brute force to overcome the level, and gather lilies for Goldberry, at least here they did see fit to include Tom Bombadil at last. However this section suffers from bad camera angles and jittering at times, it also suffers from annoying bees that the less than intuitive combat system doesn't help you tackle. Between the bees, the spiders and other things that the game throws at you in this level - it might be time for a new joypad as the old one gets hurled out of the window. The animations are quite good, nothing really stands out, but nothing really falls into the depths of the mire either, which elevates the score quite a lot.
The problem with the game is that Black Label have tried to combine various styles of gameplay into one game, and slightly missed the mark with it. Frodo has the One Ring, which can corrupt him if he uses it to enter secret places and to remain invisible from his enemies (barring the Black Riders, who are drawn to the Ring and will usually capture Frodo the moment he puts it on). He has purity that slowly decreases while he wears the Ring, he can regain this by completing simple quests. There's a fair bit to do in the Shire if you spend your time nosing around it, and do all the little quests for each character.
Aragorn has his sword and he spends all his time running around from place to place hacking and slaying all monsters that cross his path. Again, the game is let down by the poor controls and lack of a decent combat system. And while Frodo can climb, shimmy and act like Lara Croft in the Tomb Raideresque Mines of Moria - Strider does just exactly that, stride, stride, stride - he might run as well, but then he'd have to be called Runner, or Speedy Gonzales. My point is that it should have been a similar control method for each character, so that the game felt more cohesive, at best it feels like a cobbled together mishmash of several game types.
Gandalf has his spells, none of which are particularly keeping within the idea of Tolkien's wizards at all. But I can forgive them in wanting to make Gandalf appear as any other fantasy wizard type, but only just. He has his mighty sword, Glamdring which seems to be about as much use as a toothpick to be honest, and before you go saying but wizard's do not use swords - I suggest you go and read the whole series of books which I grew up with, yes they do, and the old git kicks arse.
Gameplay can be summed up with this paragraph. None of it is particularly engaging but none of it is particularly poor. It's kind of middle of the road to be honest and at least they did try and pull elements of Tolkien's world together, it's quite interesting seeing the Shire brought to life, the Barrow Downs or the House of Tom Bombadil. The Mines of Moria are not too bad, but I still feel much more could have been done with this licence than was done. It had the potential to be greater than it was.
Sound and music are adequate, some of the music is quite nice and quite atmospheric but again it could have been done a lot better than it was. The voice work runs from the poor to the mediocre to be honest and the cast never quite feel as though they're immersing themselves in the roll, so the all important suspension of disbelief is lost at points and you're brought crashing back to earth like Gandalf falling into the abyss.
But with all that said, we have to remember that this is the first 3d adventure set in Tolkien's universe and they have to make mistakes and get feedback until they get it right. So I'm hoping that they do listen to all the negative and positive comments alike about the game they created, take them onboard and put them to use in the sequel which should be coming - the Two Towers, because I would hate for them to leave it at just one book.