By Geoff Keighley
October 25, 2002 at 04:00 AM EDT

Developed with the cooperation of director Peter Jackson, The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers represents something of a milestone in the realm of licensed, movie-themed videogames: It’s actually pretty good. But more important, it also hints at what’s possible when a filmmaker works hand in hand with a game developer. At least in this case, the result is a gaming experience that works with — rather than exploits — the source material. The game even functions as a nifty promotional tie-in, incorporating footage from the movie, including scenes from the epic set-piece siege at Helm’s Deep.

The core game is a straight-up hack-and-slash action-adventure set in J.R.R. Tolkien’s Middle-earth. (We should point out that the title is a bit misleading, since 5 of the game’s 13 battles are taken from The Fellowship of the Ring, including a claustrophobic confrontation in the Mines of Moria.) On each level you can play as Gimli, Aragorn, or Legolas, button-mashing your way to victory against hordes of Sauron’s evil minions. Over time, these three members of the fellowship gain experience points that upgrade their abilities.

The game is not without its flaws. It presupposes a measure of familiarity with Tolkien’s universe. And we couldn’t help but notice that its narrative seems to tiptoe around some of what we expect to be the upcoming movie’s plotlines. (Gollum, for example, is nowhere to be found.)

But these are minor quibbles, more than made up for by the game’s look and play — which is set to composer Howard Shore’s film score. Sure, some may complain that it offers nothing more than a series of action sequences lifted from the two movies. But in fact, the execution of these epic battles is so phenomenal that you’re immediately drawn into this computer-generated world. Jackson’s influence is evident in the game’s cinematic look, particularly in the beautiful scene transitions, in which footage from the upcoming film morphs seamlessly into the game. Tolkien fans who had justifiable concerns about the title should be relieved: In a genre filled with Middle-quality efforts, this game Towers above the rest.