Slight disclaimer here (because I know there’ll be pitchforks): I’ve never watched the Lord of the Rings films. Tried the books, managed to get to the third one, but it wasn’t for me. But I respect the lineage, so I thought I would give The Lord of the Rings: Gollum a try when it came in.
Set after the events of The Hobbit but before The Fellowship, Gollum sees players take the titular mantle as he strives to get The One Ring back from Bilbo. A third person adventure from the perspective of a kind-of-anti-hero, Gollum looks to bridge that gap nicely.
But does it hold up to the scrutiny people hold for the series, or should it slink back into the darkness and be forgotten? Let’s find out, shall we?
Something About A Ring?
So, that disclaimer I made at the start? I wasn’t exaggerating, I don’t actually know much about Lord of the Rings. I mean, I get the general premise: ragtag crew takes powerful trinket into enemy lands to slam dunk it into lava. Broad strokes, I know, but the intricate details are absolutely lost on me. So when I saw that Gollum (I’m not putting the full title each time) starts with him in jail, I couldn’t tell you when that canonically is.
What is does set the scene for, however, is a framing device. One that sees Gandalf, voiced not by Sir Ian McKellen but someone trying hard, interrogate our slippery antihero. Having been caught and handed to the elves, Gandalf is here to question Gollum as to the whereabouts of the One Ring.
Recounting his actions of the last five years between losing said ring and trying to find it, Gollum (the game) has players relive those moments. Starting at Mount Doom, the adventure starts properly with Gollum (the character) forced into slavery by the Orcs.
This is where, strangely, the bulk of the game is set. Rather than a multi-biome, country spanning adventure, it spends a lot of time watching Gollum do… well, slavery things whilst eventually planning to escape.
I suppose to some that might seem interesting enough to fill in those story blanks, but for me the repetition got stale quite early on.
Slippery When Held
So with a rather lacklustre story in place, surely the gameplay of Gollum would make up for it? Perhaps it has an engaging and exciting platforming mechanic that will counteract the blandness? Well, that’s wishful thinking, unfortunately. On paper, it plays like a mash-up of the Styx games, Enslaved and, weirdly enough, that old PS2 Hobbit game that was also a comic-like spin-off.
It’s third person, with players steering the cowed little once-Hobbit around various Mount Doom locales. Climbing and Uncharted-style platforming are the norm here, navigating Gollum around rocky, dismal locations. He’s quite spry when it comes to climbing, but has stamina so bad that Alan Wake could outrun him when it comes to sprints.
It terms of combat… there isn’t really any. Gollum isn’t built for fighting, or defending, so stealth is more a preferred choice here. But again, he’s not a killer, so even subduing anything feels like an exercise in torture. Most stealth games have players do one, maybe two buttons presses. Here, one has to hold the subdue button until a gauge fills, which doesn’t really gel with the gameplay.
Again, it’s not completely out of sorts given that Gollum is a creature used to slinking in the shadows. But to a player, wanting something a bit more fluid and fun to play, it’s not fun. But surely the visuals and graphical fidelity makes up for it, right? Surely Daedalic have created gorgeous vistas to envelop players… right?
As Ugly As An Orc
Sometimes there are games that have that… endearing charm about that. A little bit rough around the edges, but has an overall aesthetic that shines bright, like a diamond in the rough. Shadow of the Colossus, back in its PS2 inception had a roughness about it, but was overall beautiful. The same cannot be said for Gollum, if you thought I was going down that route.
No, Gollum is a very unattractive game, and not just because of its protagonist. Daedalic has at least tried branching out from point and click games, but it’s fair to say this was an ambitious start. People hold this license with revere, to see it done dirty would be a travesty. But that’s what’s happened. Mount Doom should be vibrant with fire and forge, not some ugly grey-stone mess before us.
Likewise the characters: the orcs look like half formed clay potatoes on legs. Gollum himself looks bland, like if Morph had been left to melt on a windowsill (the UK readers will get that reference). It’s a very ugly, uninspired game riddled with screen tearing and unflattering imagery throughout.
Fun fact: this review was almost going to be 0/10 because a hair simulation setting was causing the game to crash incessantly. That’s right, it can’t even handle Gollum having wavy hair, and has since been removed as an option.
Like A Wild Beast
This far in, I’ve already criticised the look of the game and the story. Are they any redeeming factors to this, this mess of a game? Perhaps the platforming or the general action/sneaky parts will redeem it from the firey pits of Mount Doom? Well, if you know my writing and that I’m asking these kind of rhetorical questions, you probably know the answer:
Playing Gollum is, in the nicest sense, not very fun. What started off as light and airy platforming for a creature so spry soon became an exercise in frustration. It wasn’t long before I was clipping through walls and dying, misjudging ledges that were prompted to be there, and dying. Or even worse, brushing Gollum’s leg on a designed piece of rock… and dying.
It doesn’t help that the checkpoint system is massively flawed. I’ve mentioned before about hand-holding in games, but this is quite the opposite on unfairness. If you’ve got players descending several levels to pick up fallen slave tags, restart them at the level they died at. Sending them back to the dialogue before the mission is pretty much where I gave up caring on this game.
Don’t Put A Ring On It
Which, I suppose, is a sufficient way to end my review. Sure, I could wax lyrical about the differences in performance over graphics modes. I could even go into the sound design, or the background audio, or other fancy terms to make this game sound interesting. But there’s no point.
This isn’t going to be a recommendation at all. More of a cautionary tale of a studio that tried too hard, too radical a departure from their norm that it backfired. It can be done, as Guerrilla did from Killzone to Horizon. But there’s a difference: Guerrilla had done big areas and skyboxes. Daedalic, however, went from static to full 3D gaming, and just haven’t managed as smooth a transition.
I was hoping this would be a charmer, like Peter Jackson films before The Lord of the Rings. Something to get excited in, to make me potentially revisit the trilogy. Alas no, all this has made me want to is play something better than this… like NeverDead.
What could have been Daedalic’s chance to break into mainstream has ultimately backfired. A waste of a license, riddled with performance issues and just downright ugly gameplay, Gollum should be cast into any nearest fire, let alone a wasted trip to Mount Doom.
Gollum is available now on PlayStation 4 & 5 (reviewed on latter), Xbox One and Series S|X, Nintendo Switch and PC via Steam.
Disclaimer: In order to complete this review, we were provided with a promotional copy of the game. For our full review policy, please go here.
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