The Lord of the Rings Gollum is a game out of time. Middle-Earth is full of pretty environments, it’s very atmospheric, and there’s a sense of an art team that really let their hair down with the world of the Lord of the Rings, but once we got a chance to actually play it, what’s there from a gameplay perspective left us cold.
The game, which is set in the time period between The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, looks to fill out some chapters of the story that haven’t been put to film or page yet. With full approval from Middle-earth Enterprises, the game bridges a gap in the lore that still allows for known characters from the main series to appear, such as Gandalf who made a cameo appearance in our demo.
While the team was very keen to stress that Gollum isn’t a stealth game, we’re not entirely convinced, largely because one of the levels we played saw Gollum sneak away from elves by swimming underwater, hiding in shadows, and distracting guards. This section, which would instantly fail if you were discovered, contributed further to the feeling of a game out of time.
The second half of the level was focused on Gollum’s mobility. This is largely, running, jumping, and wall-climbing. While doing these actions felt fine, where exactly we were supposed to go was so profoundly telegraphed that it felt mindless. While there has to be a balance between being readable to the player and feeling like a natural part of the world, the direction in this section felt more like the game was dragging us by the hand.
While the gameplay didn’t thrill us, the attention to detail and love for the world of Middle-Earth is practically dripping off the walls. In some cases, literally, as with the portraits that line the corridors of Barad-dûr, featuring characters only mentioned in Tolkein’s most ancillary work. It’s an incredible amount of care and attention to detail that will likely elevate the game beyond the unspectacular gameplay for Tolkien devotees.
As with all Gollum media, Andy Serkis, or in this case, his absence, is the Mûmakil in the room. It’s not Daedelic’s fault that his performance is so iconic, or the voice itself has been impersonated by every excruciating colleague you’ve ever had, but the new performance plays it just close enough that you’re always reminded of it. If Gollum’s intonations annoy you, the game will likely be unplayable.
At a few points in our demo, we were asked whether we’d like to make a decision as Gollum or Smeagol. As with all morality systems placed upon pre-established characters, there’s a bit of a disconnect, because you know you’re playing as someone who’d murder every character in the room for his precious.
The Lord of the Rings Gollum feels like it would have gotten a much kinder reception in the era just prior to when licensed games made it big. Set against Shadow of Mordor, Spider-Man, Hogwarts Legacy, Batman Arkham et all, it feels like a very firm grade below that group.
The sheer love for Middle Earth and its lore that is dripping from the game is certainly a bright spark, and the team’s love for the world is infectious, it’s just a shame that from what we’ve played, the gameplay itself doesn’t match the admiration the developers have shown for the western canon’s seminal fantasy series.
Co-publishers Daedalic and Nacon have today announced a May release date for The Lord of the Rings: Gollum.
For more on the game, check out this week’s episode of the VGC podcast where we discuss it in greater depth, featuring some brand-new gameplay footage.