The Lord of the Rings Gollum Review: Butter spread on too much bread

The Lord of the Rings Gollum Review: Butter spread on too much bread
the lord of the rings gollum review: butter spread on

Gollum is anything but a treasure. Daedalic Entertainment’s game doesn’t do justice to one of the most fascinating characters in Tolkien’s work.

The Lord of the Rings Gollum
Review: PC

In a passage from the novel “The Lord of the Rings” by JRR Tolkien, Bilbo Baggins talks to the sorcerer Gandalf and confesses to him: “I feel all thin, tense […] like butter spread on too big a slice of bread“. After playing The Lord of the Rings: Gollum, the feeling we experienced is exactly the same. Unfortunately, the work has very few qualities, mostly inherited from the magnificence of the imagery it draws on and from the expressive power of its protagonist. The intensity of the fourth bearer of the One Ring has been “smeared” on an unnecessarily long narrative, forced into dated and derivative gameplay. The result is therefore a game that unfortunately does not honor the great license that supports it, also due to a very lame technical sector.

An unpublished story, with an already written ending

Sméagol, also known as Trahald, was born as a shy Hobbit of the Sturoi ethnic group, one of the three into which the race is divided. Tolkien has outlined his tragic story with great precision, from the discovery of the One Ring in 2463 of the Third Age, to the subsequent isolation in the Lonely Mountain, up to the birth of Gollum, his second distorted and selfish personality.

After meeting Bilbo Baggins, who in “The Hobbit” steals the ring from him, the creature chases him to get it back, but ends up wandering Mordor “like all creatures that serve evil”. What we are not told are the years spent in the fiery region, when Sméagol is imprisoned by the Eye. Sauron devastates the already fragile fragmented psyche, torturing him with unspeakable tortures, in order to trace what he calls “stolen treasure”. Everything that happens after that is known. Sméagol escapes Mordor and is captured by the Elves, who take him to the city of Thranduil. There Gandalf the Gray interrogates him into revealing what he had said to Sauron about the Ring, learning only that the Dark Lord snatched the words “Baggins” and “Shre” from his mouth. Lo Sturoi, traumatized by the tortures of the Orcs, doesn’t reveal anything else. Obsessed with the object of his desires, he manages to escape even from Thranduil. Meanwhile Frodo he had already set out with the Fellowship to reach Mordor and destroy the Ringpassing through the mines of Moria.

In about twenty hours and ten chapters, the developers of Daedalic Entertainment not only narrated some events contained in the books and films, but they also provided their own insight into the captivity in Moria. The undertaking was objectively difficult: how to represent tortures so atrocious as to be unmentionable even to Gandalf?

How to narrate what Tolkien himself had deliberately left shrouded in mystery, to increase its horror? What we experienced in the game, unfortunately, did not meet our expectations. Furthermore, the needs of the narration do not seem to move hand in hand with the strictly playful ones.

There are not few moments in which the missions that Gollum is called to perform they seem inserted more as a filler to lengthen the longevity, without revealing themselves to be particularly homogeneous with the unfolding of events. We therefore found ourselves immersed in a fairly diluted alternation of cinematics and gameplay, which does not contribute to the growth of the bond between the protagonist and the player. The result is a constant arrhythmia that deprives every situation, even the best described ones, of much of their epicity.

Smeagol’s personality

It’s a real shame to see the opportunity to exploit one of the most interesting characters in Tolkenian mythology so wasted. Even in the narrative interludes, the two personalities are imprisoned in a sequence of multiple-choice dialogues that end up being almost irrelevant. We can decide whether to answer one or the other, but without any concrete impact.

At most, a few intermission scenes, the fate of a secondary character, and the narrative tracks vary slightly, but only for a brief moment. Soon, on the other hand, the story returns to the expected track. The characterization of the two personalities is not always in focus. In Daedalic’s title, Sméagol is often too enterprising and not very compliant, and Gollum a lot less catchy than he should be. In this regard, even without the historic voice of Andy Serkis (who gave life to the sturoi in the Peter Jackson trilogy), the team has evidently chosen to ask the new voice actor to imitate his interpretation. The result is respectable, but it is still inferior to the original. The entire audio sector, from dubbing to the music, although it is overall of quality, suffers from the same problem: it “sounds” derivative with respect to that produced for the cinema, without however ever reaching its level. Not even on the aesthetic front The Lord of the Rings: Gollum manages to free itself from a comparison with the cinematographic sets and costumes.

The authors claimed to have turned to Tolkenian scholars to build settings, sounds and characters as close as possible to the books, yet they still haven’t given up on mentioning feature films.

However, there is a significant contrast between the pomposity of the architecture and the angularity of the visual component which, thanks to obsolete animations and questionable textures, fails to enhance the artistic direction as it should. Despite this, the overall glance appears well diversified and offers some satisfying and evocative glimpses, especially in the elven woods and in the dungeons of Mordor, illuminated by incandescent lava.

Woody platforming and ineffective Stealth

The Lord of the Rings: Gollum follows the rules of a classic platformer with important stealth elements. In addition to hiding from the sight of enemies, from time to time we will also have to solve some sporadic environmental puzzles, for which a little more effort is required than that necessary to overcome hostile patrols. However, none of the playful activities proposed has ever really put us to the test. Even when the scenario proposes a greater number of options available to achieve the same goal, the freedom of choice is extremely partial, and the paths to follow are always rather obvious and guided.

On the other hand, if the alternative routes always offer more or less the same type of obstacles, there is not a substantial incentive to take a detour. Not even who knows what precision in managing jumps and climbs is required. For example, Sméagol automatically grabs the surfaces with which to interact at a very permissive distance, not to mention that it is of little use to pay attention to the stamina bar, which empties on rare occasions, perhaps when hanging from a precipice or when out of breath during a chase. We can therefore define just a handful of puzzles and a few platform-like moments as satisfactory. The game offers its best around the middle of the adventure, with a progression that is certainly not the most forward-looking.

Unfortunately, the same discourse also applies to the sequences to be tackled surreptitiously, designed with extreme linearity and very little satisfying. Orcs, elves and patrolling spiders share a rather basic artificial intelligence, and our character’s invisibility in the dark is an all too effective weapon.

Almost all of the stealth missions can even be overcome by running among the enemies, with the awareness that it is enough to take refuge at the last moment under a table, or in a dark corner, to escape easily. Thus the desire and the need to study the (very robotic) movement patterns of the orcs and the design of the levels by heart, elements that in a self-respecting stealth game should represent the backbone of the play structure are lost.

Even when the options available during the adventure increase, the gameplay remains quite simplistic, not very flickering. In fact, from a certain point in the story onwards, we will obtain the ability to remotely maneuver some allies to activate otherwise unreachable switches, or to escort them between two distant points of a level. However, the system is slow, unresponsive and inaccurate. Three adjectives that, unfortunately, could describe the entire gaming experience. And not just for game design demerits. Even on the technical front, Gollum struggles.

Our test took place on a high-end PC, yet we were accompanied by frequent slowdowns and lag, delays in command response and interpenetration of all sorts. Obviously the inconsistent framerate was more annoying between jumps, during the platform phases. In the hope that the flaws of a technical nature will be resolved with one or more patches, we fear that the basic situation would not change radically. Gollum never really seems “fluid”: jumps, landings, climbing and in general all the animations of the creature appear unnatural and rough, as if they came from an old-time video game.

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Brian Adam
Professional Blogger, V logger, traveler and explorer of new horizons.