Melbourne House's first game based on JRR Tolkien's fiction was one of the most popular adventures ever, and a classic of computing game. The follow up to The Hobbit was something of a sleeper, despite The Lord Of The Rings getting 9 out of 10 in Issue 26. For their third Tolkien game the software house has changed genres and produced a strategy game. The game is based on events detailed in Tolkien's Lord Of The Rings Trilogy. You play the parts Frodo the Hobbit, who has recently inherited The One Ring from his uncle Bilbo Baggins. This ring is the most powerful evil magic item in existence and was created by the evil necromancer Sauron.
Sauron made 19 other such rings and gave them to the leaders of the Elves, Dwarves and Humans. Once these rings were placed on the fingers of the recipients, they came under the power of The One Ring.
Due to a long series of events, the ring has come into your hands and you must destroy it by dropping it in a volcano situated in the middle of Sauron's evil realm. So you must muster your troops and friends to dispose of the evil artefact.
When the game is loaded you are presented with a map of all the known lands In Middle Earth. In the centre of the map is a gauntleted hand and to the left are three command options; File, Memo and Time.
You control the gauntlet via either the keyboard or the joystick and by pressing fire on the map you get a more detailed view. Here you can see which units of troops and which individuals are hanging around. Friendly personnel are displayed as shields and it is possible for a large group of both individuals and units to be present in the same location.
You can find out full details of who is in this group - called a stack - by accessing your controls again. Here you are given a full rundown of your forces on a group by group, or Individual by individual, basis. The details include such basic information as name and commander, as well as Energy, Determination, Steadfastness and Virtue. The level of these factors decides how well your forces move, fight and remain loyal.
It you press your fire button twice you obtain a sub-menu with four commands. This enables you to either set a specific destination for your troops, order one group to follow another, Jan your units together or return to the main menu.
Once you have given them your orders you return to the main map. Here you can either choose File (save the game and set various options), Memo (state of the game info) or Time (which sets the game in action and make your troops obey your preset orders).
The aim is to move your troops to strategic forts, castles and the like so they're not decimated by Sauron's forces. When Sauron's troops attack yours, the game time is stopped again (as you make your orders) and the screen displays the campaign map with a pair of crossed swords representing battles.
The game then moves over to a special combat screen depicting every person in the battle. Soldiers are represented by small, animated figures and you can scroll across the battlefield to see them all.
You can control individuals by moving a cursor onto them and pressing fire. You can then either take direct control over them, or merely select an enemy for them to attack.
If combat is going badly - and it often does - you have the option of letting the ring-bearer wear the ring. This enables you to disappear from the sight of ordinary opponents and sneak away. There are disadvantages to this, though - your Virtue decreases at an alarming rate (so that you run the risk of becoming a servant of darkness, losing the game) and The Nine Nazgul can easily see you. The latter are very powerful magical servants of Sauron, who can all too easily defeat you, stealing the ring and returning it to Sauron.
Overall, the game's graphics are generally average - sound is nonexistent - and the combat sequences are pretty hard to control. That said, War In The Middle Earth goes to prove that if a games concept is sound and has the ability to capture your imagination - which this product certainly does - you don't need lots of flashy graphics to produce an enjoyable computer game.
Stylish packaging and comprehensive scenario set the scene.
Informative and interesting.
Icon-driven control system easy to use, but the battles soon become repetitive.
Mostly pretty dull, but interesting combat scenes.
An ambitious and intriguing game.
Preparing your forces for the onslaught of Sauron's warriors.
Map of all Middle Earth together with options.