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Many a gamer loved the fast-paced cooperative action in "Star Wars: Battlefront" and enjoyed chopping orcs in the games based on the "Lord of the Rings" movies.

Merging the two concepts seems like a great idea, which prompted Pandemic and Electronic Arts to give us the T-rated "The Lord of the Rings: Conquest."

The mix comes off pretty well in the areas where "Battlefront" shined — massive co-op battles — but doesn’t stand up as well where the old "Rings" games were strong — interesting characters and single-player action.

"Conquest" lets you play a single-player campaign, split-screen co-op, split-screen head-to-head or online. Although you can play on either the good or the evil side in any of these modes, you’ll have to finish the good fight before you unleash your nastier impulses in the evil campaign.

Whether you play as good or evil, you can fight as one of four character types. The warrior wields a sword that can burst into flame to cause extra damage. The archer can opt for poisoned or flaming arrows. The mage can hurl lightning bolts or flames or heal comrades. And the scout can cloak himself and make some nifty maneuvers with his blade or hurl a satchel charge. And if that’s not enough, you can fire a catapult or ballista or climb on to a gigantic Oliphaunt or Ent and pound your foes into dust. When you’ve met certain criteria in a battle, you can also spawn as a hero, such as Aragorn, Legolas or Saruman — but these are basically pumped-up versions of the standard characters.

The game play isn’t exactly deep. Each character class has some basic attacks that can be modified when you’ve gathered enough power. There are also a few combos available. However, you’ll spend a lot of your time simply mashing buttons, especially if you lean toward the warrior class. It can get a little too repetitive when you’re facing only computer-controlled foes.

In the good campaign, the action roughly follows the movie, incorporating familiar locations and characters and adding a few new ones. The evil campaign begins with the premise that Gollum failed to chew off Frodo’s finger after the Hobbit succumbed to the temptations of the One Ring. Sauron then regains control of the all-powerful bauble. The following battles follow the Dark Lord’s quest to conquer all of Middle Earth. It puts a very interesting spin on the tale — especially for Hobbit haters.

Online matches, which can accommodate up to 16 players, will seem very familiar to "Battlefront" fans. Players can compete in a team death match, vie to see who can capture the most control points, play capture-the-ring or face off in a combination of these modes.

The problem is that the battles all tend to devolve into chaotic chopfests. Unless you’re a caffeine addict with a dozen fingers — or a 12-year-old — you’re unlikely to find them very appealing.

With single-player a little too tame and online a little too wild, what’s left? Split-screen.

The game comes into its own in split-screen co-op or competitive play. The standard challenges are a lot more enjoyable when you can share them with a friend or try tactics that aren’t really possible in the single-player mode.

Things get even more fun in a four-player match, with two players taking each side. Although these are built around the same options as online matches, the fact that the number of competitors is limited and you’re in the same rooms multiplies the fun.

In the end, "Conquest" is a good game if you’re Gimli, who has plenty of friends and enjoys a bit of trash talk.

However, it’s not so hot if you’re Gollum, a loner looking for something precious.

Platforms: Xbox 360 (tested), PlayStation 3, PC

On the Web:www.pandemicstudios.com/conquest/gateway.php


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