War In Middle Earth
By Melbourne House
Spectrum 48K

Published in Computer & Video Games #89

War In Middle Earth

Tolkien has proved a fertile ground for game designers. Not just the various officially licensed games from Melbourne House either - the Tolkienesque world of hobbits, elves, wizards, and monsters battling it out in mythical lands has been ripped off for countless adventure games.

Now Melbourne launch a new Tolkien game - five years after their original Hobbit adventure topped the Spectrum charts for literally months on end.

War In Middle Earth is a world away from that original Hobbit adventure, with its lateral thinking puzzles and slowly filling in graphics beside certain locations.

War In Middle Earth

War In Middle Earth is much more of a war-game-cum-rule-playing game than the earlier Tolkien adventures.

As in the great book itself - the Lord of the Rings - the object in War In Middle Earth is to retrieve the ring - and keep it from the evil Sauron.

You play the part of Frodo Baggins - whose uncle Bilbo Baggins is well known in the Shire for his adventures - the most famous of which saw him discover a ring with strange powers.

In your quest for the ring you are accompanied by three fellow Hobbits, Sam, Merry and Pippin, Aragorn the Ranger, Boromir of Gondor, Legolas, Gimil a dwarf and the great white wizard Gandalf.

The game is played out on a massive scrolling map of the land of Middle Earth.

To examine any area of the map in detail you move the finger cursor to the required location. Press fire and time is suspended whilst you make your move.

The game uses a neat window system to provide additional information about your units. These are represented by shields. You are told several important pieces of information about each unit - and it is important in the game to try and know who is where, what their strength is and where they are going.

Windows also open during the battle sequences - to provide you with information on the enemy and your options. It is not always wise to stand and fight it out.

A further window can be made to open by depressing the fire button twice. This enables you to give instructions to your unit. You have four possible options: Return, Set to Destination - which enables you to send the troop to a specific destination, Set To Join - this orders the unit to join another one, and Set to Follow to follow you.

What makes Middle Earth more than just a Tolkien war game is the battle sequences. There is no sitting back and watching the computer work out the relative strengths and weaknesses whilst your warrior thrash around. You can directly influence the outcome by skillfully positioning your warriors - picking them up and moving them to skirmishes where your men are losing the edge. It is close hand-to-hand fighting - just as Tolkien describes it in the books.

War In Middle Earth is as much a race against time as a strategic challenge. You have to win time to discover the ring and destroy it by flinging it into the Cracks of Doom where it was forged.

In order to win the time to carry out the mission you have to keep the forces of evil at bay. To do this you need to mobilise an army by enlisting the support of the men of Dale, the Nations of the West, the Elves of Lorien and Mirkwood, the Dwarves of Erebor and the Iron Hills.

The campaign is lost if the forces of evil win back the ring and return it to Barad-Dur or Isenguard.

The graphics and on-screeen presentation of War In Middle Earth are superb. All of the icons, the various scrolls, and windows information systems are neatly implemented.

The game has all the hallmarks of a game which has been crafted slowly and painstakingly. I can thoroughly recommend this game to Tolkien fans and anyone who enjoys a strategic challenge. Great stuff.

As a special treat to all Tolkien fans we have a bumper package to give away to the first person to write it and tell us the name of the third book in the Trilogy Lord of the Rings.

The winner will receive a copy of the game and also a copy of the board game - Middle Earth Role Playing System - as featured in AGM News.