The Lord of the Rings: Gollum Review – Not As Precious as We’d Hope
Title: The Lord of the Rings: Gollum
Developer: Daedalic Entertainment
Release Date: May 25, 2023
Reviewed On: PS5
Publisher: Daedalic Entertainment
Genre: Adventure Platformer
The Gollum project was initially announced in 2019 and suffered a few delays since. However, our precious is now here for us to immerse ourselves in the world of J. R. R. Tolkien as the hatable or likely protagonist, Gollum. Except, well, that should have been the case, but this is one adventure that you’d probably want to skip to live the rest of your life in the shire in naivety that this game ever existed.
Playing The Lord of the Rings: Gollum never feels right. In fact, it feels like I’m playing a remastered PS2 release of some obscure adventure platformer. The story’s opening is slow and confusing, as Gollum gets himself imprisoned for most of the first four chapters, only to get thrown into jail again. Sure, we all know that guy suffered, but why does this have to be a game?
As you’re in captivity by the Orcs, you’re made to do tasks that increase the strength of Sauron and his army. However, you’ll never really know why you’re doing anything or the purpose of all this. Next thing I knew, I was trying to hatch a bird egg, which I could command to retrieve items, but why?
I’ve typically been a fan of Daedalic’s writing and world-building, but every moment of text just feels like they’re holding themselves back. Every exchange between characters is surface levels and leaves little room for any understanding of the actual plot.
Things just happen, such as Gollum not being selected for execution, which leads the man in charge to teach him various skills, but then there’s this power struggle, and…Okay, I promise the story of The Lord of the Rings: Gollum is just as messy as this review. Because then the story gets the Elves involved, and it’s all over from there.
The story is also not as significant as I’d hoped. There’s a feature that has Gollum arguing with himself to make certain choices, but this is only because prominent in later chapters, causing me to forget it was a feature during some moments. Depending on your desired outcome, you’ll choose to side with either Smegal or Gollum. These responses affect the overall narrative, but sometimes the result wasn’t what I expected.
Still, I found the voice acting of Gollum, in particular, to be quite good. I enjoyed his exchanges and altering mood as he walked through the environment. Hearing him talk to himself became so commonplace that the game felt weird when I had to walk down a long hall, and no one was talking. Odd moments of gameplay like this happen all the time, such as rooms that lead to nothing but cardboard stand-ins for NPCs or moments when your stamina drains extremely fast, and other times when you seem to have an unlimited pool of it.
There are no upgrades, no reason to explore, and no motivation for the player to continue. I never cared about the conclusion, outside of the hope of seeing Bilbo Baggins before the credits roll. And yet, I painfully continued my journey. I think the developers did what they could with Gollum; I mean, he kind of sucks as a protagonist. He talks a lot and has no real strength for combat but is pretty agile, and that’s where the team decided to fill in the gameplay portion of this experience.
As much as no one will mention it, this is an adventure platformer that features PS1 and PS2 levels of mechanics. So most of your time playing will be spent jumping around levels, climbing walls, being stealthy, getting lost, and dying a lot. There’s even a feature I haven’t seen since, maybe Soul Reaver, where you enter a room, and the camera takes off slowly to tell you where you need to go and the path to the destination.
These platforming sections are incredibly surface-level. You have your wall climbs, wall hangs, run jumps, and a wall run. Unfortunately, your skill set with navigating the world doesn’t improve, making it challenging to pinpoint where you are in the story or why you’re actually doing anything. I guess the developers really wanted to nail the immersive experience where you lose track of time and follow orders just because some orc or elf says to do something.
Surprisingly, you’re never really blocked out of progressing. No matter how often you see a Game Over screen, tons of checkpoints give you a speedy second chance. This means I was constantly moving forward through the game. I began to master the floaty jumps of Smegal’s floaty and haphazard movements and respond with the correct choices to shape the narrative in my favor. I was slowly becoming one with Gollum, with the light of the precious just outside my grasp. Ah, but those sneaky Hobbitses are always one step ahead. Anyway, let’s get back on track.
Regardless of the dated platforming and gameplay features, the soundtrack is way too good. Each scene has a track backing it that mirrors the music you’d hear in the film. Unfortunately, when it comes to presentation, this is not a pretty game. It’s tough to understand what the team was going for during development because everything comes off as dated. From platforming sections to character design, I thought I was playing a remastered release of a 15-year-old game. Still, some environments are nice, but you’re given no incentive to explore them because there are no collectibles.
Sadly, The Lord of the Rings: Gollum is not the precious that we were looking for. Gollum’s inner battle mechanics are fun but aren’t a prominent feature in a game consumed by terrible platforming sections and dated visuals. Voice acting adds promise to the experience along with a stellar soundtrack, but there’s no real reason for you to play this game unless you yearn for a retro platforming experience or simply love Gollum.
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