The Lord Of The Rings: Gollum (PS5) Game Review – A tedious slog through Middle Earth

lord of the rings gollum

A tedious slog through Middle Earth

Due to his dual-sided personality, Gollum is one of the more interesting characters in J. R. R. Tolkien’s fantasy universe. He’s neither good nor bad – he’s simply conflicted, a product of the time he spent wielding the One Ring that had been imbued with Sauron’s dark power.

When Daedilic Entertainment announced they were creating a video game featuring this corrupted character, it was hoped that this would be the one game to rule over all other Lord Of The Rings games. Sadly, as you will no doubt have heard by now, this game is far from precious. It’s not completely awful – it does have a couple of redeeming features, a little like the titular character himself –  but due to its outdated visuals, boring gameplay elements, and game-breaking glitches, this is still a title that should be thrown into the fires of Mount Doom and never to be heard from again!

The game takes place in the year 3012, several years before Frodo left his home in the Shire to embark on his quest to Mordor. After a brief prologue, in which Aragorn captures Gollum and hands him over to Gandalf, the game’s narrative rewinds into the past when the sniveling Hobbit retells the events of the past five years to the bearded wizard. During this time, he was captured by the forces of Sauron and imprisoned in the dungeons beneath Barad-dûr. This is where the first few chapters of the game take place before Gollum escapes and makes his way to the Elven Lands of Mirkwood and other areas within Middle Earth.

The game’s opening cutscenes, while unremarkable, still offer hope for a grand adventure but the game is anything but. It’s tedious, frustrating and, despite the extended development time that caused the game’s release to be delayed, unpolished to an unbelievable degree. No developer sets out to make a bad game but the team at Daedlilic Entertainment, who is most well-known for creating enjoyable point-and-click adventures, didn’t have the ability to create the fantastical adventure title that many of us were expecting. At best, it’s an overly-familiar platformer. At worst, it’s a broken mess of a game that needed a few more months in development to make it look and play better than the title we sadly ended up with.

The greatest achievement in the game is the character of Gollum himself. He looks, moves, and sounds exactly like we would expect after reading Tolkien’s books and seeing Peter Jackson’s films, so kudos to the people in charge of motion capture and voicework because they did a fine job creating the whimpering Hobbit. Admittedly, the character model isn’t quite as impressive as that shown in early game footage but it’s still the Gollum that fans will recognize.

Sticking with the positives, I was impressed with the ‘choice system’ the developers created. At various times during the game, players are asked to make decisions that reflect the goodness of Sméagol or the wickedness of Gollum. This involves a short gameplay sequence wherein the player must successfully argue with the other half of the Hobbit’s fractured mind to ensure they receive the right moral outcome. These choices don’t amount to very much but at least the game’s developer tried to evoke those scenes from Jackson’s films when Gollum and Sméagol, the two halves of the same character, furiously argued with one another.

Unfortunately, that’s it for positives as the rest of the game is uninteresting and a chore to play. Much of the gameplay is busywork, wherein the player must scamper around the levels completing menial tasks for one character or another. These take the form of platforming sections where the player climbs up walls, jumps over gaps, and swings on bars, to get from point A to point B.

After completing the required task, the story moves forward, incorporating more platforming elements and a stealth section, wherein Gollum moves around in the shadows, watches enemy patrol patterns, and throws stones to distract his foes.

To break up the platforming and stealth sections, there are puzzles to solve, as well as the occasional chase sequences, including one scene when Gollum must run, Crash Bandicoot style, towards the screen and away from Shelob, the giant spider that is in pursuit of him.

The gameplay might not sound that bad, even though it borrows elements from better titles, such as Prince of Persia and A Plague Tale, but the game’s sections offer little scope for any fun.

The platforming sections are unnecessarily difficult due to unresponsive controls that will see players falling to their death due to no real fault of their own. The stealth sequences do much to frustrate as, more often than not, it’s a case of ‘game over’ once players are sighted by the enemy. And the puzzles, of which there aren’t very many, are far from being the brain teasers that they could have been. The chase scenes do add some excitement but they aren’t enough to save a game that few players will want to see through to the end.

Graphically, the game is not up to next-generation standards, even in resolution mode. Textures are flat and lacking in detail when seen up close, and the lighting effects aren’t quite as dazzling as those seen in other PS5 titles, such as the recent Resident Evil 4 remake that frequently impressed in this area. As mentioned, Gollum looks the part so the graphics aren’t all bad, but aside from our protagonist, the other character models are indistinct and not as well drawn as the miserable Hobbit.

At times, you could be forgiven for thinking you were playing a late-in-the-day PS3 game or an early PS4 title, with its outdated graphics and overly-familiar gameplay tropes, but these aren’t the game’s biggest faults. While the game has been patched, I still encountered a number of bugs and graphical glitches that caused me to restart the game several times during my playthrough. If the game was fun to play, reloading an earlier save wouldn’t have been such a major problem but as most levels are a chore to get through, having to replay them again is a source of much frustration. This is compounded by Gollum’s slow movement speed as he quickly runs out of breath when trying to make him move faster.

Unless you’re a die-hard LOTR fan or a lover of bad games, this can’t be recommended. The sound design and motion capture work are both excellent but the game’s negatives far outweigh its positives. One day, we will get a game that rules over all LOTR games. But for now, we have a game, that, to misquote Gandalf, DOES NOT PASS!!


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