After hours of dodging orcs and ducking spiders, I discovered Shelob’s lair. I’m a slave in The Lord of the Rings: Gollum, performing duties like gathering tags and herding animals for perhaps a chew of rotted bread. I used to be aching to flee. Assembly Shelob appeared like the primary actual try at bargaining for freedom. So, I fed the spider queen a newly captured slave, considering the meal would humanize her arachnid coronary heart. I used to be improper. A cutscene triggered and, earlier than I even hit the bottom to start out her chase sequence, Shelob snatched me up, making me concurrently the sufferer of Tolkien’s fearsome spider and one of many recreation’s many bugs. I died twice: within the stealth-action recreation and in actual life, as I laughed on the ridiculousness.
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This incongruity between cutscene and gameplay is emblematic of Gollum, a narrative-adventure recreation in regards to the gangly, Ring-addled former hobbit’s experiences earlier than the occasions of The Fellowship of the Ring. It’s not sufficient to say that this recreation is busted. Gollum, like J.R.R. Tolkien’s character himself, is a depressing wretch. It’s directly thematically compelling and mechanically poor, all the time at conflict with itself to the purpose of self-defeat. If you wish to know what it’s prefer to be Gollum, developer Daedalic Leisure’s The Lord of the Rings: Gollum will completely provide you with that. However nobody, not even Gollum, desires to be Gollum, and this recreation is indicative of that.
The slavery of Gollum
Gollum is about between the 1937 novel The Hobbit and the primary quantity of The Lord of the Rings. The story, instructed by means of 10 vignettes the white wizard Gandalf teases out of him in some unusual remedy session inside a Mirkwood cell, follows the eponymous character throughout Center-earth as he mumbles about getting The Ring of Energy again into his slimy little fingers. You’ll encounter some iconic characters, together with Legolas’ dad Thranduil and the Mouth of Sauron, however most of who you’ll meet are new, non-canonical characters to the Tolkien universe. As such, Daedalic Leisure’s tackle Gollum is an unique narrative with an attention-grabbing conceit, one centered on the lengths one will go to for freedom. It culminates in a considerably choice-based, stealth-action recreation minimize from the identical fabric as Cyanide Studio’s Styx franchise.
This implies you’ll climb, bounce, run, and slither by means of Center-earth places, such because the darkish fortress Barad-dûr and the mountain go Cirith Ungol, whereas doing rote errands and plotting a number of escapes. I say this can be a stealth-action recreation, however surely, Gollum is way more of a “stealth” recreation than an “motion” recreation. It’s the kind of recreation that has prompt fail states when caught, whether or not in required stealth sections (like following a slow-walking noble with out being noticed) or not (as in some late-game platforming ranges the place enemies are aggroed the second it begins).
Gollum can choke an orc to loss of life right here and there out of stealth, however provided that stated orc isn’t carrying a helmet, a stipulation contradicted in a late-game cutscene the place he strangles a helmeted orc with no subject. Nevertheless, more often than not, whenever you’re not compelled into tediously repetitive stealth engagements with elves and spiders and orcs, you’re finishing vapid fetch quests and fixing banal environmental puzzles reminiscent of matching traces on a wall to open a door. Making issues worse, except for the tasteless UI and wax-looking character fashions, are the atrocious controls, which you’ll spend your entire recreation battling.
The Lord of the Rings: Gollum – 15 Minutes of Gameplay
Demise by a thousand bugs
Controlling Gollum is like driving a automobile on ice. He’s heavy and slippery, incapable of slowing his momentum. This sucks. The sport calls for precision platforming lest you fall to your loss of life. The central mechanic right here is Gollum’s unbelievable climbing talents. As somebody who’s lived in a cave for a lot of his life, the emo hobbit’s received some impeccable finger power that may really feel wildly inconsistent whereas enjoying. Generally he’ll snap onto a ledge, letting you simply clamber over obstacles to succeed in the following vantage level. Most instances, although, he’ll over- or under-shoot the bounce, plummeting you to an unceremonious (and continuously, oddly soundless) loss of life.
Within the latter state of affairs, it isn’t your fault; the sport simply doesn’t all the time register button presses. I’d often get into this stream state when issues labored, climbing up the facet of a viney wall in Barad-dûr, solely to out of the blue fall to the fiery pits beneath as a result of Gollum determined to let go as a substitute of leaping to the ledge behind him. Or I’d simply end some 10 or so minutes of platforming after fixing an environmental puzzle, solely to simply slide off a ledge as a result of Gollum couldn’t cease, forcing me to replay a few of what I’d already accomplished. Generally button prompts gained’t work whenever you want them to most, like whenever you’re making an attempt to throttle an enemy or desperately devour a therapeutic merchandise. And Gollum can’t take quite a lot of fall injury, all of which ends up in a number of the most infuriating deaths I’ve skilled in a recreation. And that is all earlier than the copious bugs.
Due to course, Gollum is riddled with bugs—actually and mechanically. Sure, there are bugs within the recreation the wretched hobbit can eat to heal himself up, however the recreation itself is so buggy that if the controls aren’t killing you, then it’s one of many glitches as a substitute. I kicked off this overview by mentioning an prompt loss of life I suffered on the legs of the spindly Shelob, however this predicament—dying instantly after a cutscene ends—occurred on a number of events all through my 24-hour playthrough.
I’ve sunken by means of platforms I simply landed on and died. I’ve gotten caught in leaping and swimming animations that someway killed me. I’ve died after throwing a rock to distract a patrolling enemy. Hell, I’ve even by chance slipped into impenetrable partitions, solely to nonetheless get grabbed by an orc like he’s punching by means of a rattling door. Nearly any manner you’d suppose a glitch might kill you has killed me. And whereas the checkpoint system is forgiving, usually spawning you simply 5 minutes again or so, the sport’s mechanics are so galling that it’s tough to really feel motivated to endure within the face of such frustration and tedium. I’ve joked with mates at latest events about this, however I’m being critical once I say Gollum has killed me extra instances than Elden Ring has. It’s such a disgrace, too, as a result of there’s one thing compelling cooking beneath Gollum’s damaged hood.
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Compelling themes, squandered potential
Gollum is a personality with a break up character, one caught in an inner tug-of-war between the moralities of fine and evil. Because the callous Gollum or the mild Sméagol, J.R.R. Tolkien’s conflicted character represents the devolution of a considerably pure soul, a metaphor for a way blind obsession can flip us into soiled little creatures. What this implies within the context of Daedalic Leisure’s recreation is a thought-provoking, if in the end inconsequential, decision-based mechanic by which you select how the character responds to sure conditions: vile like Gollum or sort like Sméagol. Perhaps, within the case of the primary alternative the sport presents, you choose to kill a innocent beetle. Or maybe, in a single late-game situation, you betray an elf who helped you escape the orcs. The choices the sport presents you with don’t actually matter, although, as the top result’s all the time the identical. Take the beetle state of affairs, by which you occur upon the flying insect on a spikey cliffside whereas working from orcs chasing you within the caverns of Mordor. You’re given two choices: kill the beetle and conceal (Gollum) or proceed observing it (Sméagol). In my playthrough, I made a decision to observe the beetle. This initiated a dialogue-focused minigame the place I argued with Gollum to persuade him that watching the beetle was completely protected. Failing right here would imply Gollum gained the argument and no matter that choice was—on this case, consuming the beetle—would play out. However I gained the argument. So, Sméagol had this fantastically mushy and quiet second with the beetle, letting it land on his finger earlier than it flew away, till an unannounced dragon startled me off the cliff, damn-near killing me. The identical conclusion occurs in case you determine to eat it, too, demonstrating simply how a lot of an phantasm the alternatives are inside Gollum.
That is maybe probably the most initially thrilling but in the end underwhelming facet of your entire recreation. There’s the potential for weighty decision-making right here à la Telltale Video games’ The Strolling Useless franchise, one by which your selections have actual implications on Gollum’s characters and world. And to be honest, there are perhaps one or two cases by which selections do have some semblance of an impression. However whether or not Gollum or Sméagol wins the argument, the result stays unchanged, and that phantasm of alternative leaves the sport feeling hole consequently. That bums me out. Gollum’s narrative, nevertheless predictable, humanizes the pitiful hobbit. It offers glimmers of Sméagol’s compassion buried beneath Gollum’s grime and distress, giving an evocative, nearly psychoanalytical window into the tortured thoughts of the character. However the cumbersome gameplay and weightless choices shroud the sport’s themes, cloaking them in the exact same grime and distress.
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That’s the actual drawback with Gollum: It’s a recreation of contradictions. It desires to be a precision platformer, however the platforming is imprecise and unpredictable. It desires to be a stealth recreation, however the sneaky mechanics are uninspired and enemy AI is simply too dumb to make it difficult. It desires to be an motion recreation, however Gollum doesn’t have the power to have interaction in any actual motion. And on high of those contradictions is the crushing weight of bugs that break the sport. There’s potential tucked deep inside the bones of Daedalic Leisure’s recreation, however The Lord of the Rings: Gollum is giving dangerous early-aughts 3D platformer within the worst manner conceivable, placing it within the working for 2023’s worst recreation.