When The Lord Of The Rings: Gollum was revealed, it had more than a few people questioning who had asked for a game starring Gollum. It’s me. I’m that person who finds the idea of a game following the little weirdo quite appealing. He’s a strange little guy, sure, but his life has been utterly consumed by the Ring and the power it represents, and he’s instrumental in the overall narrative arc that is The Lord of the Rings.
I went in hoping that Gollum could be a window into this character that hadn’t been shown by film or game before. Disappointingly, The Lord of the Rings: Gollum really wasn’t that. It’s a game that feels precariously held together, lacks polish, feels horrible to play and is both technically and aesthetically dated.
The moment you gain control of Gollum you’ll probably notice his movements and actions feel strange. His repertoire consists of running around, sneaking, jumping and climbing using clearly marked handholds. I imagine the developers wanted him to play quite differently to the average athletic video game protagonist but rather than sneaky and agile, controlling Gollum feels clumsy and haphazard.
A majority of the game involves climbing to reach an objective. Sometimes you’ll latch to handholds like they’re magnetic, sometimes Gollum will fling himself with such ferocity that you overshoot the platform you wanted to land on and fall to the abyss below. I was fighting against the controls rather than using them to overcome a challenge, and as a result never felt accomplished once I got to where I wanted to go. Everything about moving through Gollum’s world is a slog.
So much of what the game asks you to do is utterly uninspired. I don’t know quite what I expected gameplay-wise from a Gollum title. A lot of sneaking, maybe some exploring. I certainly didn’t expect a game full of tailing missions and fetch quests – but that’s a lot of what I got. Seriously, the opening chapters are full of annoyingly-long fetch quests tasking Gollum to go and collect tags from corpses in a mine or herd a bunch of aggressive Mordor-cattle into cages.
Things don’t improve as the game goes on. There’s a little more variety, but lengthy insta-fail stealth sections that consist of mostly hiding in grass and waiting for enemies to turn around don’t exactly lift Gollum from gameplay tedium. It’s full of gameplay tropes that we’ve moved past for a good reason. It might be okay if somehow Gollum was a particularly great example of these tired game styles, but it’s definitively not.
A world that is exciting to explore and enjoyable to look at can elevate even the most mediocre of games. And yet, with all of Middle-Earth available as a possible environment, half of Gollum’s chapters are spent in a dull brown mine in Mordor doing prisoner work – every bit the dull brown trend that was tiresome in the Xbox 360 era. It makes the drudgeries you’re tasked with all the more mind-numbing.
Things do improve markedly in the latter half of the game, going from dull brown to a lush green palette. These later environments created occasional moments that had me stop to admire the view and made the still rather uninspired gameplay tasks a little more tolerable, but not by much.
The overall presentation here has more lows than highs. I do appreciate the voice work behind Gollum. The studio has managed to give him his own sound that does some justice to his warring personalities while avoiding sounding like an impression of Andy Serkis’ work in the franchise films. Gollum’s character design too is a high point, with his face being hugely expressive. There are also occasional musical moments that help to elevate the experience.
The same can’t be said for the game’s overall visuals which are hugely lacking in polish. Character models wouldn’t look out of place in a game from 2007, animations are very strange, and things like faces reverting to a default state in an instant after a character stops talking are minor in the grand scheme but make a rough looking game look even rougher. Gollum has a suite of graphics options on PS5 – performance, quality, quality with ray tracing, and the most interestingly-named option I’ve seen in a while, “Gollum Hair Simulation.”
The ray tracing option makes puddles and such ultra reflective, but strangely didn’t apply to an actual mirror I found in the game. Performance mode is where I spent most of my time and somehow despite looking like an early-generation PS4 game it still had plenty of hitches and performance hiccups while running on a PS5.
The one possible saving grace for a franchise like this could have been the story. Gollum is a hugely important character in The Lord of the Rings and his role outside of accompanying other characters has been rarely explored in film and games. Disappointingly, the story here is pretty threadbare. Nothing of great consequence happens across the game’s overall story arc and things finish with Gollum in a position to take his role in the established story. Gollum’s story could have made for something compelling, but what we get instead is a narrative justifying a smattering of video game tasks that does nothing for his character or the world he inhabits.
Early previews didn’t show it in the best light, but I still had some hope for this game to deliver some good moments for fans. Gollum is a compelling character and the world of Middle-Earth has so many interesting possible places to explore, but instead we spend most of our time enclosed in mines and woodland cities. Environments are devoid of life and full of unpolished, sharp edges. It looks like an average game from another era, and learns none of the gameplay lessons from then either.
I struggle to think of a positive experience over the thirteen-odd hours I spent playing this game. Gollum is uninspired and dated and The Lord of the Rings fans deserve better than this.
Late-game environments are occasionally nice to look at