“The Lord Of The Rings: Gollum” Review
Of all the questions I had after reading J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit and The Lord Of The Rings, not once did I ever wonder what Gollum was up to in the years between them. Mostly because I just assumed he’d spent them in his cave, eating sushi, listening to Led Zeppelin, and lamenting the loss of his precious. But having played the deeply flawed third-person stealth action game The Lord Of The Rings: Gollum (PlayStation 5, PlayStation 4, Xbox Series X/S, Xbox One, Switch, PC), which covers this time period, but is a complete fabrication and not based on anything Tolkien wrote, I find myself even less interested in Gollum’s sad little life.
Set eight years before…
The Lord Of The Rings: Gollum follows the hobbit formerly known as Sméagol as he recounts to Gandalf how he once explored Middle-earth looking for the One Ring at the behest of Sauron.
Except that unlike Aragorn, Legolas, and Gandalf, Gollum doesn’t have a sword, a bow, or a magic staff, or even the upper body strength or mental acuity to use them effectively in combat. Which is why, in this adventure, he relies on his ability to be sneaky, underhanded, and agile to get past any enemies he comes across. And when that doesn’t work, he’ll choke them to death.
At first — by which I mean the first level — it seems like The Lord Of The Rings: Gollum may be on to something. By making Gollum be sneaky, but by having that sneakiness predominantly be about climbing and jumping, it makes this feel kind of like Star Wars Jedi: Survivor if Cal Kestis lost his lightsaber and his connection to The Force (and his sanity, and a ton of weight…). Or Horizon Forbidden West if Aloy lost all of her weapons, so had to sneak from one patch of tall grass to another, and occasionally distract a robot gazelle by throwing a rock, all so she could get free climb up the side of a cliff.
But it’s when you get to the second chapter,
in which Gollum is imprisoned in the Black Pits of Barad-dûr, that you start to notice this game’s shortcomings.
For starters, the climbing parts are not as elaborate as those in Star Wars Jedi: Survivor or Horizon Forbidden West, in part because not only, as I said, does Gollum not have The Force like Cal in the former, but he also doesn’t have a grappling hook like Aloy in the latter. And while these moments do get a little more interesting when Gollum is hanging from a ledge but doesn’t have a foot hold, which causes his stamina to drain, these parts are still never complicated enough to be challenging or all that varied.
Though they can be frustrating. Like when Gollum crawls through a hole and, because of the camera, goes right off an edge. Sure, the game has a lot of checkpoints, so you’re never forced to redo whole sections because of one stupid mistake, but it’s still irritating when you can’t see where you’re going until you’re already falling.
It also doesn’t help…
that your enemies are glaringly inconsistent in their competence. While some are so hyper vigilant that you’ll wonder if their eyesight and hearing is magically enhanced, others are so unobservant they might as well be asleep.
It’s moments like these you’ll wish The Lord Of The Rings: Gollum had options when it comes to its difficulty…and that someone made sure said difficulty was balanced throughout.
This, of course, would be a good time to discuss The Lord Of The Rings: Gollum‘s distraction mechanics: rocks. While some stealth action games just have you using them to create a distracting noise, Gollum can use them to break lamps or to make large metal globes gong like bells.
Too bad it doesn’t always matter. The Lord Of The Rings: Gollum is so scripted, so tightly controlled, that you can’t always use rocks how or when you want. In the part with the large metal globe, for instance, hitting it with a rock does not actually attract the nearby guard. Neither does smacking it. Or throwing a rock next to him, and then another a little further off, in an attempt to lead him away from the hall he’s blocking. Turns out, you’re supposed to climb up a wall into the rafters, and no amount of metal globes and loose rocks will convince this gaame otherwise.
As if that wasn’t bad enough,
the rock throwing mechanic The Lord Of The Rings: Gollum is also rather inaccurate. Not bad or broken, but certainly not as intuitive or precise as we’ve seen in other games.
Now, you’re probably wondering why I didn’t just choke the guard blocking the hallway. To be honest, I didn’t think of it… But then, you can’t do that all the time anyway. First, they have to have their back to you; and second, they can’t be wearing a helmet. Gollum can’t choke someone if they’re wearing a helmet. Or, apparently, pull someone’s helmet off their head. Or smash it down so it covers their eyes.
I’m beginning to think he’s kind of crap at this stealth action stuff.
Even when The Lord Of The Rings: Gollum does mix things up a bit, as it does during the beginning of his prison sentence, it’s never for long or in an interesting way. On his first day of incarceration, for instance, he has to corral some beasts by making them chase him, something that lacks much of a challenge and any variety. Then there’s the part where he has to crawl through some narrow passageways to ignite explosives, and then escape, which fail to have any of the tension you’d expect. Well, that is once you realize you just have to push the right thumbstick up and hold it there for Gollum to navigate the twisty cave, as opposed to having to steer him.
Further undermining things,
The Lord Of The Rings: Gollum often solves problems for you by always telling you which buttons you can press. When you play Horizon Forbidden West, for instance, the game doesn’t tell you how to jump backwards every time you’re in a spot you should do that. Or when to do this. But Gollum does by changing the on-screen button prompt to include the one for “backwards jump.”
Then there’s how The Lord Of The Rings: Gollum handles his Dissociative Identity Disorder. At times, you have a choice if you want to answer a question like you’re Gollum or like you’re Sméagol. Y’know, like you’re playing Mass Effect. But there are also times when you have to decide whether to act like Gollum or Sméagol, and in these instances, you also have to convince your other half to do what you want. Which could’ve been interesting, at least the first couple times, except again, like with the button prompts, Gollum makes it really, really obvious what to do.
What comes of all these issues…
and shortcomings is that, after playing for a while — a short while — a malaise sets in. While the first chapter was interesting, and the second got better when Gollum made a break for it, the rest of the game continuously got redundant or annoying after every half hour or so. Which is why, despite having good intentions and some potentially interesting ideas, The Lord Of The Rings: Gollum ends up being an unexpectedly bad journey.