Gollum, or Sméagol, is a character from The Lord of the Rings that even non fans recognise instantly. Everyone knows his raspy voice thanks to Andy Serkis’ stand out performance in Peter Jackson’s movie trilogy.
The LOTR franchise is one of the most iconic movie franchises of all time, and JRR Tolkien’s original books are timeless classics. Does The Lord of the Rings: Gollum set a new standard for LOTR video games?
What is a “Gollum”? For those who have never read the books or watched the movies, Gollum is actually – a hobbit. Yes, those cute little short guys with hairy feet. The most well known hobbit is – for some – Frodo Baggins and for others, Bilbo Baggins. These happy creatures of comfort live in the luscious green countryside of the Shire.
So you may be wondering why Gollum isn’t quite as cheerful and content as the majority of his people. The reason for this is the poisoning of his mind, something that has come about after coming into contact with The One Ring. Yes, that one. A hobbit named Sméagol found the ring and devoted his life to keeping the precious to himself, even if that meant he had to kill fellow hobbits and others in the pursuit of sole ownership. The corruption of his mind by the ring split his personality in two, creating the evil Gollum persona.
The Lord of the Rings: Gollum takes place between the books The Hobbit and The Fellowship of the Ring, when Gollum spent time as a prisoner in Mordor. This is not a bad thing for me, mostly as I love a good prison based game. Prison Break The Game on 360?. I loved the idea. Splinter Cell: Double Agent? Give me more time, governor! Riddick Escape from Butchers Bay was incredible and A Way Out, well… that game crashed for me and would never work so I can’t count it. But I do love the old clink in games.
Luckily, in Gollum, you spend many chapters in prison. Yep, the orcs catch old Sméagol and lock him up, and I couldn’t have been happier. That is until I had progressed further and platforming became the main game type, mixed up with some stealth. Usually I love a good platform game or stealth game, but, when I have to actually quit and restart after an hour of trying to figure out the trigger point to continue the story? Yeah, the game starts to lose me.
Gollum’s biggest issue isn’t the care for the world. It’s there. It isn’t disregard for the lore. It is shown. It isn’t even lack of love for the character, Gollum. It’s very much front and centre. No, the problem is that the game isn’t ready to be released. It’s just unfinished, and what a disappointment it is.
Platforming sections are just broken, puzzle sections not registering being complete, and stealth that is of the style from when stealth games first appeared in 3D. Tired, broken and dated is the only way to describe the lands of Mordor where The Lord of the Rings: Gollum takes place.
The story actually made me care about Gollum as a character. It made me intrigued in what happened to him during this time period. It even went out its way to tell a half decent story, but that is no use when the game is released as an unfinished mess. I feel sorry for the team that had to apologise to us, the players. They clearly spent love and time to make a really great game and made even me care about Gollum. But the game wasn’t ready to come out when it did.
Sometimes objectives may seem simple, but once you try and get to where it wants you to be, it isn’t as easy as just waiting around. This isn’t any sort of tip of the hat to say that Gollum is tricky and fun to figure out. No my friends, this game simply is broken. While the marker system for where to go functions, following the yellow dot usually took me to my goal. Once you get there, sometimes there is a very particular point on the map, it wishes you to be situated before you can progress… yep.
There actually was a point in the game where I had to find out what “the daughter” was up to. Simple enough I thought: move in the shadows, avoid the orcs… and then… well, I don’t know. I managed to luck my way into progressing the story, as for half an hour I sneaked right up to the waypoint only to have it fail for no apparent reason. Truly a disappointment in a game that functions on a playable level only at best.
On occasion a cutscene may kick off, with some delightful story. The problem is due to The Lord of the Rings: Gollum being truly unfinished, those story points may cut off halfway, and never explain the rest of the story or conversation. That is really disheartening when you are trying to be engrossed in what would otherwise be a decently told tale.
Periodically Gollum will have arguments with Smeagol, and these sections require you to win two out of three points to convince one or the other to make your decision. The screen presented to make these arguments is basic, standing out compared to the rest of the game. Luckily the arguments are extremely easy to win; swaying the other personality is usually as simple as playing towards whatever their response is. You could say that this is a neat system but not very well implemented; had it been tweaked and used better, it could have been an excellent feature.
There are collectibles in each area that can be found and added to Gollum’s horde of useless things. No reward comes from picking up the secret items, so there isn’t really an incentive to do so. There is no skill tree or move set available to unlock either and Gollum can really only run, jump, climb and occasionally strangle smaller orcs without helmets. Movement of Gollum – and the sound of his wet pads hitting the floor – is actually done well, whilst the low camera angle brings a unique perspective and fits the character.
The thing is, I reckon there’s a really good game somewhere in The Lord of the Rings: Gollum. Sadly they have given us a rough, early build and presented it as a full version. I’m a big supporter of waiting till something is cooked before pulling it out of the oven and serving it and that should have been the case here – Gollum could have done with some extra time, regardless of what happens to be the reason for us being served this dish semi raw. Studio heads and decision makers really should start thinking more about the quality of their games rather than asking if it’s playable and shipping it regardless.
A sadly undercooked game that shows sparks of promise and a real passion for the source material. Unfortunately it is tough to recommend The Lord of the Rings: Gollum in its current form, especially at full price.