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Toad in the Super Mario franchise. Alfred the Butler from the world of Batman. Dudley Dursley from Harry Potter. Oh, what am I doing? I’m listing characters that would be just as likely to be the protagonist of a AAA feature game as Gollum from Lord of the Rings.
It’s not often I can begin a review from a starting position where I simply cannot fathom how or why the game came to exist.
Somewhere, somehow, this idea to give players the ability to play as the most abominable, decrepit, and loathable character within the LOTR franchise was given the green light, and as you probably know, before even arriving for this review. It turned out about as well as anyone could have hoped for. A steaming pile of Orc S**t.
This arduous task of making this threadbare concept a reality was firmly placed in the hands of Daedalic Games, a studio most well known for its work on the modestly-successful Deponia series.
With respect to Daedalic, this decision to entrust this studio who had zero experience producing AA games, let alone proposed AAA titles, was like handing a toddler a hammer and chisel and then expecting them to create a work of art from a lump of marble.
I suppose it is technically possible, but it’s much more likely that they’ll just accidentally bludgeon themselves to death in the process, and bludgeon they did.
LOTR: Gollum is a game that no one asked for, which failed to meet fans’ extremely low expectations, and as a result, is now in danger of being inducted into the ‘worst games of all time’ shortlist.
Well, if this review does one thing, it should be this. It should showcase that it probably isn’t the worst game ever made, and the treatment it’s getting is mainly a product of gamers aiming to rightly vilify AAA development at the moment.
Following a long line of supposed ‘worst games ever’ in the form of Redfall and Forspoken. However, it should be on the shortlist for sure!
This is a terrible game; you shouldn’t waste your money on it, even if you are the biggest LOTR nut on the planet, and here’s why. This is RPG Informer’s The Lord of The Rings: Gollum Review, conducted on PS5.
The Generation Game
Let’s kick things off with the overall presentation of this game, which, to call laughably bad, would be all too generous. LOTR Gollum, at least from the promotional material, promised a gritty and sinister re-imagining of Mordor and beyond, rich in lore, full of action, and brought to life with current-gen visuals.
However, what we got is something that doesn’t even come close to topping the best graphical showcases of the PS3 era. This led to a wonderful activity that kept me sane throughout the title’s run, the generation game.
I would regularly take myself out of proceedings to establish, would this segment of the game pass as a PS2, PS3, or a PS4 game. The answer tended to be an even mix of the oldest gens.
For the price tag this game has strapped to it, it’s simply not acceptable, but I pushed on, hoping that the developers at least did something commendable with the low-grade assets.
Which, of course, they didn’t. It’s actually commendable in a morbid and tragic sort of way that the studio manages to take such strong source material as LOTR and then subsequently makes each area of the game look so dull, uninteresting, and repetitive.
Whether lurking around Mount Doom, skulking in The Dark Tower, or the Elvish land of Rivendell, you’ll be treated to god-awful textures, character models who don’t look much better than the crowds in a Gran Turismo game, and areas without any points of interest worth checking out.
Making each section a straightforward task of getting from A to B and nothing more.
Then to add insult to the previous insults, and the ones that are yet to come, the game can’t even make these antiquated assets work as they should. The characters snap in and out of facial expressions as if they have no control over their emotions.
Their hairdos look and behave like they have a whole can of hairspray in there, which I don’t believe they had invented in the Third age.
Animations are about as basic as The Simpsons were on the Tracy Ullman show, and overall, the game fails at every turn to provide a setting that can even begin to do justice to the franchise it aims to emulate.
I could rattle off countless shortcomings in the visual department for this game, and could probably write an essay on Gollum’s rubbery, bug-eyed appearance alone. However, I have a shortcut for all of you. Simply look back to 2014 at Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor.
A game awarded game of the year by many publications, and one that featured Gollum no less. Just take a handful of screenshots and hold them side by side.
If you’d had told me that almost a decade later, LOTR fans would have to endure the dross on show in LOTR Gollum, I would have laughed you out of The Shire.
However, in the end, it was the rubbery orcs and Gollum’s demented-looking cellmates who had the last laugh as I stumbled awkwardly through their world.
Lost in the Chaos
Putting the abysmal visuals to one side, the game isn’t without merit in the presentation department. I can see you cocking your head to one side in complete bemusement, but I’m really trying to highlight any positives this game has, and believe me, It’s a tough ask.
When we look at the overall sound design, the game actually has a pretty great assortment of atmospheric, ambient tracks, some intense action overtures, and some very credible vocal performances.
If you don’t believe me, just take a listen to the soundtrack without the gameplay and visuals marring the experience.
It’s not Mozart, but in a well-made game, it would act as the neat bow tying everything together. The problem is that it’s pretty hard to slap a bow on a flaming pile of trash and make it look good.
With this layer of quality present, the game fails to use it to good effect. The game’s soundtrack is often poorly mixed, leading to it getting lost in the chaos of cheap deaths, shoddy gameplay, and chuckle-worthy visuals on screen.
Then in other moments when you could really use something to fill the silence, the game employs no music or ambient sound at all. Which left me alone with my thoughts, and as you would expect, they were mainly negative ones pertaining to the sh*tshow I was forced to endure.
I also mentioned that there were some decent vocal performances, and that is true. However, when you can’t take the setting, the appearance of the character, or the scenario they are in seriously, it’s quite hard to praise their efforts on this occasion.
The only person in a position to bring the script to life and add value to this threadbare story would have been Wayne Forrester, the man tasked with matching Andy Serkis’ ability to portray the depravity and frantic energy Gollum brings.
Sadly, due to the game’s need to cast Gollum as a likable and mistreated character instead of the immoral, corrupt, and unredeemable figure from the movies, Forrester’s performance fails to do more than offer a vague impression of the titular character.
Then add in the fact that the game’s dialogue regularly runs on top of itself, usually at differing volumes, or the fact that Gollum’s frantic panting and moaning will play practically every time you run, jump or complete any action, and you have an auditory display which is about as much fun to listen to as nails on a chalkboard.
I’d much rather listen to the ten-hour loop of ‘They’re Taking the Hobbits to Isengard.’ Then again, that’s an unfair comparison, because that’s a belter.
They Doesn’t Respect Us, My Precious
The story. Where do you even begin? If that was something that Daedelic Studios had asked themselves at the start of this project, I can’t imagine this game would have got made at all, because the game tells an untold story that has no business being told at all.
There’s no substance, no interesting plot points, and so much bloat you’d think the game just indulged in a Sunday carvery. To boil it down, this game bridges the gap between The Hobbit and The Fellowship of the Ring, happening between the two stories.
The basis of this tale is to fill us in on what happened to Gollum during this time, which is something we knew before this game was even a figment of someone’s twisted imagination.
Gollum is captured by Sauron’s goons and serves as a slave at The Dark Tower for four years; then, upon his escape, he is then captured by Aragorn and Gandalf, and that’s really all you need to know.
However, this game works off the logic that, at that time, Gollum could have been up to all sorts of antics. Which I suppose could have been true if someone capable of forging a creative narrative was at the helm here.
But sadly, the game is split in two, with one half serving as a flashback where you will complete basic chores, inexplicably imprint on a bird companion, and meet a series of pointless characters.
Then in the second half, you basically repeat the process again, only this time, there are elves, foliage, and you swim a lot more.
None of the plot points feel cohesive, none of your interactions feel important, often the scenarios you are placed in make little to no sense, and it’s also very hard to gauge the passing of time as four years pass as if it were a handful of days.
This seems to be a result of cut content that would have helped frame the story better, but we can’t say for sure.
To put it plainly, as the game does all too well, it’s a story that doesn’t expand at all on the existing LOTR lore, and almost seems scared to put any sort of unique stamp on proceedings, out of fear that they might sully the franchise further than they already have.
It’s not something that will add to the game’s final score, but I have to praise their self-restraint on that front, because I fear anything they would have tried would have been a much bigger trainwreck than what we got.
The story takes no swings, has you complete menial tasks which you never feel motivated to complete, you can’t connect with any character around you, let alone your own player-character.
The world around you is a pitiful attempt to bring the source material to life, and the game mercilessly stretches the runtime to twenty hours in an attempt to justify the ludicrous price tag.
I could talk about the mass of escort missions, the horrible stealth and the platforming that will have you repeat sections countless times, or the sprint button that has next to no stamina and is regularly toggled off, so you can’t rush through areas.
However, if you want to see bloat in its most primal form, you’ll see it when the game simply says wait. On multiple occasions, the game will just ask you to wait for a character to reach you, wait until someone has finished talking, or wait for the sake of waiting.
Tactics like this are employed all over to take a game that could have been wrapped up in five hours and make it into an intolerable twenty-hour slog. So, in short, the game has no respect for the LOTR franchise, and it has no respect for you, the player.
Gamer vs Game
With visuals akin to a PS2 licensed movie tie-in, piss-poor sound design, and a bloated, pointless narrative, you would think that the gameplay could be amazing, and it still wouldn’t matter. That could be true, but we will never know, because the gameplay is ridiculously bad too.
So bad, in fact, that anything I have to say will fall short of the pain and anguish of having the first-hand experience of playing. I’ll give it a shot though, beginning with the core mechanics, which are effectively run, jump and climb, making it about as complex as a mascot platformer, but sadly, nowhere near as zany and fun.
The game will eventually throw in little token puzzles here and there, but that’s about all there is to mention. It’s immediately apparent that the game is shooting for something along the lines of Jedi Survivor or Uncharted, with lots of wall-running, platforming, and climbing.
However, what the game fails to realize is that, without a gun or a lightsaber, those games would be really dull.
This may sound like a hilarious joke, but I genuinely believe that the game’s content is frontloaded, with the most polished stuff first, because in the first two chapters, I thought the game was bad, but not awful. It was a pretty unrefined platformer making use of tropes from RPGs gone by.
However, as the game goes on, it only gets worse with time. The platforming will have you wrestling with an awkward camera to navigate poorly mapped-out pathways, usually with Gollum all too keen to leap to his death rather than grab a ledge within arms reach.
The jumping isn’t consistent, so you’ll sail over platforms, or fall short of them through no fault of your own.
Bits of the environment will trap you in place or knock you off course; the fall damage is inconsistent, leading to Gollum collapsing in a heap from a one-story drop, and worst of all, the game doesn’t offer generous checkpoints, meaning you’ll have to use trial and error to circumnavigate the latest piece of poor game design that stops you in your tracks over and over again.
Nowhere to Hide
So what does the player do if they aren’t endlessly impersonating Nathan Drake and climbing some sort of facade with lava underneath? Well, as mentioned above, you hide.
This is where the game tries to offer an experience not unlike A Plague’s Tale: Requiem or The Last of Us, where you can use Gollum’s heightened senses to see hostile enemies and sneak around them as best you can.
The problem is that the stealth mechanics are so unreliable that it rarely plays out that way. Even with the most optimized path, you’ll likely get caught, as throwing stones or hiding in the shadows won’t really create suitable windows to sneak through unseen.
That being said, the AI is dumb as rocks, so if you make a mistake, you can usually hide and wait until they lose interest.
If you do somehow finish this review and wind up playing this game, here’s a tip. Just burst on through at full speed and use the game’s shortcomings against it. Use Gollum’s ridiculous jump height to evade enemies, or hang off ledges with them watching overhead so they can’t trigger a fail state.
Truthfully, you have more luck running full speed through stealth sections than actually playing as intended, which speaks volumes.
There are some sections where you can assassinate enemies if you sneak up on them, but you could count these opportunities on one hand. The game is constantly working against you, and usually, it is through dumb luck that you break through.
The Hodgepodge In-Between
As you would expect, the game couldn’t just endlessly have you repeatedly climbing and sneaking. It really did its best to make that the case, but there are some things the game does to break it up. Don’t get it twisted, though; none of them are enjoyable.
First, you have the fetch quests, which effectively have you play a LOTR Slave Simulator as you complete a bundle of boring chores which, surprise, surprise, have you running and climbing.
Then you have a number of horrendously long sequences where you will have to walk through your prison area to get to your cell. In these moments, the game will try to place events on your path that add some flavor to proceedings but only serve to double down on the generic theme and the lack of ideas present.
Then as you push through the game you will be treated to a number of one-time token puzzles where players will need to use levers to raise and lower water levels to reach platforms, guide your companion through beast-filled chambers or endure horrible chase scenes akin to running away from a boulder in Crash Bandicoot.
However, nothing seemed quite as uninspired and tacked on as the moral system within the game.
The player, on a number of occasions, would be asked to respond to scenarios as Smeagol or Gollum, which essentially means making a good or an evil decision.
Now, if we ignore how tone-deaf this is, as Gollum is a detestable character and should be depicted as such, and just look at the mechanic itself, it isn’t even a good version of a moral system mechanic.
Due to Gollum’s dual personality, players will make their choice and then have to convince the other entity to side with them.
So effectively, you have to earn the right to roleplay as you choose, and on most occasions, I would lose that argument as the options were so arbitrary. So effectively, if you want to roleplay in this game, you would be better off making the opposite decision and then purposefully messing up.
No matter what aspect of the gameplay you highlight, there is absolutely nothing worth praising at all.
LOTR Gollum borrows and proceeds to butcher some of the staple mechanics present in RPGs throughout the last decade, and with no unique or inherently fun additions, this game just feels like a paint-by-numbers action RPG. Albeit with none of the colors painted as instructed.
Let’s wrap this thing up and try to forget that this game ever happened. But if you want to take a look at some other horrible games I would class as ‘just as bad’ as this one, here are some comparable games listed below:
- Sonic The Hedgehog 2006
- Aliens: Colonial Marines
- Tomb Raider: The Angel of Darkness
- Rogue Warrior
- Postal III
- Balan Wonderworld
Overall, Lord of the Rings Gollum is a game that truly misses the park in every single way. From a graphical standpoint, the game struggles to maintain the polish of a mid-tier Playstation 3 relic, and often drops in quality to sit on par with some licensed PS2 shovelware.
Taking aim at the plot of the game, it’s about as gripping as my arthritic nan, with a threadbare story that has absolutely no respect for the rich lore of the LOTR franchise.
The game also fails to truly capture the essence of Gollum, opting to humanize him rather than offer an authentic depiction of the character that could have turned the dark, twisted nature of Smeagol up to eleven.
The gameplay is a bunch of borrowed tropes from action RPG titles of the last decade, none of which implemented with any level of quality.
To the point that the game feels like a bargain bin licensed game that were a dime-a-dozen in the 2000s. Then to top it all off, the game runs about as well as me when I’m twelve pints deep and late for the bus home.
The only reason the game is getting any points from us is, to defend it slightly.
It is a complete and relatively unbugged experience that can be played from start to end; it has a reasonably competent soundtrack and some reasonable vocal performances, albeit not mixed or implemented correctly, and the game does have a 20-hour runtime, and although it is largely bloated out with mind-numbing fetch quests, lackluster platforming, and inane puzzles, it will still keep you busy for the length of most AAA games on the market. The bar is well and truly on the floor.
Gollum is a laughable title that epitomizes the lack of vision and foresight that publishers with deep pockets seem to have.
A shameless cash grab aiming aim at the loyal fans of the LOTR franchise, which will forever be remembered as a game that never should have existed in the first place. Someone do me a favor. Take a copy of this one to Mount Doom and chuck it in.
- Surprisingly good sound design
- The game can be played from start to end with no game-breaking bugs (based on my experience)
- No RPG trope menus
- PS2 era graphics, and the game still runs poorly
- A story that does nothing interesting with one of the most notable literary works ever
- Gameplay that is unenjoyable, tedious, unpolished, frustrating
- Incredibly bloated runtime
Callum suffered through the entire campaign for this game, choosing every Gollum action in Gollum vs Smeagol encounters, dying innumerable times due to shoddy controls and platforming mechanics, and taking regular breaks to rant about the game’s shortcomings to his spouse.
Question: How Long is LOTR Gollum?
Answer: The game is roughly 15-20 hours long. However, the main reason for this elongated run time is due to the amount of shoddy mechanics that will have you fail and retry sections multiple times through no fault of your own.
Question: When is LOTR Gollum Set?
Answer: The game is set in the year 3012, seventy-six years after the events of The Hobbit, and six years before the beginning of The Fellowship of the Ring.
Question: Is Gollum Still Alive?
Answer: No, in The Return of the King, Gollum manages to obtain the ring from Frodo Baggins, but subsequently falls into Mount Doom, destroying the ring and killing Gollum.
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