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Has there been a better video game special feature than Lord of the Rings: Return Of The King?

Has there been a better video game special feature than Lord of the Rings: Return Of The King?

The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King on GameCube, PS2 and Xbox ruled because it took the same approach to behind-the-scenes material as the extended edition DVDs did for the films. These massive four-disc sets were shaped like heavy tomes you’d find in a dusty corner of a library shelf, with two DVDs devoted to the film and two additional discs packed with more features than you could shake a severed hobbit finger at. I spent countless hours as a child watching documentaries about the process of Peter Jackson and his collaborators pitching the film, finding the actors to portray the Fellowship, and building the elaborate sets, props and miniatures that brought cinema’s most epic trilogy to life.

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The tiny GameCube disc couldn’t pack in all that information, but developers EA Redwood Shores (and Hypnos Entertainment who handled the GameCube port that I played) did their best. The game was packed with production stills, extra interviews with the film’s cast, and included live-action footage from the film (which was especially cool because the game hit store shelves two months before the film hit theaters).

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Overall, it’s a very good game. The hack-and-slash gameplay isn’t particularly deep, but with memorable levels based on the film’s setting, a large variety of characters, and RPG progression that awards more points depending on how well you fight your way through the endless waves of orcs, it was a game I happily returned to for years after I first played it.

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Dominic Monaghan does a mock impression of Billy Boyd looking for the X button on an imaginary controller.

But, it’s the interviews with many of the actors from the film that elevate it to an essential piece of media for people who love the trilogy. There’s less information here than on the extended edition discs, but there are plenty of fun moments. Like when Dominic Monaghan makes fun of Billy Boyd for not being able to find the X button on his controller during the ‘Hobbits on Gaming’ unlockable video. Or when Christopher Lee compares Saruman’s power to a skilled chess player who can be beaten with enough care. Or when (again in that Hobbits on Gaming featurette) Elijah Wood claims he’s so good at gaming that he occasionally enters a flow state that causes the controller to levitate off the table.

There are interviews with the other cast members as well, including behind-the-scenes footage of Christopher Lee recording his impressive voice work for the game and Sean Astin talking about how he likes that the game showcases Sam’s heroic side and that while playing, he actually gets stabbed the orcs instead of having to retreat for the stunt person’s safety.

Then there’s the concept art exclusive to this release, which shows sketches from the making of the game. It’s concept art from the making of the film, but you can get a lot more of that on the DVDs. Here you get peaks at various locations as the video pans over early depictions of Helm’s Deep, Shelob’s Lair and the ruins of Osgiliath, along with the heroes and enemies that would eventually populate them. Some of these images include arrows drawn over the art, so you can tell how the development team planned for players to move through the level, glimpses of the process they went through to transform iconic movie locations into explorable digital environments.

While the game doesn’t compare to the wealth of bonus material offered on the extended edition DVDs, the DVDs didn’t include all of this the first time either. The theatrical versions included some featurettes, but it wasn’t until New Line Cinema released the big box sets that we got most of the information we now know about the films’ productions. Even though the game is now 19 years old, I hope that one day (maybe because it’s approaching its 20th anniversary?) it gets the same treatment.

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