I knew even before I started playing that The Lord of the Rings: Gollum wasn’t going to be a Game of the Year contender, but I had hoped that the wealth of history and stories that make up Middle-earth and JRR Tolkien’s fantasy world would carry this stealth platformer through the weaker elements. Many would probably say that Gollum isn’t a compelling enough character to base an entire video game on, and for this one will decide to create an entire story on what Peter Jackson’s The Fellowship of the Ring managed to tell in a single scene (the one where we first meet Gollum briefly in the Mines of Moria and when Gandalf tells Frodo what had happened to Gollum in Mordor), which means that the actual story really isn’t anything to beat about, even if it has lots of nods and references to other events from Middle-earth.
The story explores, as I just mentioned, the years (yes, years) Gollum spent as a slave to the Orcs in Mordor, and then as a prisoner to the Elves in Mirkwood. The first six of the ten chapters are all devoted to exploring roughly the same dark and gloomy landscape of Mordor, as Gollum as a slave is confined to the same areas for the most part. And while Gollum isn’t a slave in the Mirkwood sections of the game, the same repetitive track design applies.
The latter is also strangely primitive. You’ll encounter several instances where Gollum is stuck in a prison wagon and basically unable to move, all before being thrown into a loading screen. It makes you wonder why the 40 second travel time is even in the adventure, and why it’s used so often because it kills any momentum the title is starting to generate. There are a few moments that use different gameplay methods, such as a Crash Bandicoot-style running segment when trying to escape Shelob, but these are few and far between. For a title that aims to captivate with an engaging story, one would expect something more of the same caliber as Uncharted, where the plot is always moving forward and taking us to new areas and places – but there is no such thing.
This is an ad:
But at least the story has interesting twists and turns, right? Well, if you don’t expect to stare at the screen when Gandalf, Sauron, Shelob, Thranduil or other iconic characters from Middle-earth appear, there isn’t really much going on. It’s just Gollum trying to survive and do what it takes to get the One Ring back, which in itself is the exact same Gollum story we’ve seen every other time the character has appeared in the media. The title at least tries to add compelling gameplay elements to the whole Gollum/Smeagol (split personality) dynamic, and this serves as a sort of debating dialogue suite, but in practice it’s incredibly hollow and very rarely used.
Since the story and dialogue options aren’t very well executed, it puts a huge strain on its actual gameplay, and this is unfortunately one of the most frustrating parts. Gollum isn’t a strong or brave character, which means you’re always sneaking around and trying to use cunning to outwit the dangers that stand against you. As you might guess, stealth is a big part of this adventure, but it’s not like in Hitman or even The Last of Us, it’s very basic and hardly feels like a serious game feature. You can hide in shadows and under specific objects, you can interact with rare items and throw rocks to briefly distract enemies, and when the moment is right you can overwhelm and strangle single enemies to death – although it takes a little time and makes a lot of noise . Since the enemy NPCs are incredibly stupid, you don’t have to get creative with how you approach stealth segments, which is counterintuitive to how stealth is really supposed to work.
This is an ad:
Then there are the platform pieces. The platforming sections remind me of an Uncharted game, and if there was a better stealth or combat scheme matched with a more compelling story, well… then you have the core pieces of a Middle-earth version of Uncharted. But Gollum misses the latter points entirely, and in return you get a game that is 80% jumping and dashing over ledges, and as you can imagine, this gets increasingly boring the more time you spend with it. The biggest problem with the platforming bits though is that the game controls are shockingly poor and will routinely be the reason you die in those segments. It feels clunky and messy, and makes you want to throw your controller at the wall as Gollum leaps over a hole that any platformer character could have effectively danced over. I can’t for the life of me figure out why this game is so lousy to control when there are so few mechanics and unique elements.
This brings me to the next big problem with The Lord of the Rings: Gollum that is hard to digest: there is no character development. During the course of the story, Gollum does not gain any new movement abilities or items. How the game starts is how the game ends in a purely mechanical sense, and that means there are basically no surprises for you along the way. Well… other than the companion system which lets you tell a companion what to do (like activating a lever) – and even this isn’t used very often.
Not even when I venture off the intended path, there is very much to offer. The Lord of the Rings: Gollum is a very, very linear adventure, and all exploration opportunities are usually tied to a collectible that is placed in a section of a track. These collectibles are frankly not worth your time either, as they offer no story or meaning worthy of the name and do nothing to enhance the game in any way. The fact that there isn’t even a difficulty level says a lot about how stripped down it is.
Then we have the performance. In terms of frame rate, there were some dips for PC, but nothing major, and overall the presentation of the game is actually quite good. The character models are terrible though, and Daedalic has moved heaven and earth to make Gollum look as ugly as possible in cutscenes, making you question why we ever see the character like this. But otherwise, The Lord of the Rings: Gollum is filled with minor and weird bugs and issues. Whether it’s characters opening doors without any interaction, NPCs walking through objects, textures popping up, cutscenes losing their sense of perspective and camera placement, there’s a whole host of smaller things that make it even harder to find some bright moments.
I wish I could tell you that Daedalic has created a winner with this game, because I’m tired of titles that disappoint me. But The Lord of the Rings: Gollum is sometimes shockingly bad. It’s flat and repetitive, the stealth poorly implemented, the story boring, the character development non-existent, the character models ugly, the bugs abundant and the list just goes on. This is a game that feels like it belongs in the 21st century given how its super linear design and limited gameplay mechanics work in practice. Someone should throw it back into the fires of Mt. Doom – where it probably came from as well.