Platforms: PS5, PS4, Xbox Series X|S, Xbox One, PC
Every so often, a game comes along that makes you put the controller down, dumbstruck in awe at its sheer majesty. That game is The Legend of Zelda: Tears Of The Kingdom. To be fair, The Lord Of The Rings: Gollum may also leave you awestruck, but only at how such a broken piece of software ever saw release.
Gollum was always an unlikely candidate for a video game starring role – no-one was exactly crying out for an adventure centred on Tolkien's fish-fancier, no matter how compelling Andy Serkis' performance in the Peter Jackson cinematic outings. Yet with early previews teasing a character-appropriate emphasis on stealth and a potentially interesting approach to the dual nature of the central figure, where key choices lean towards either Gollum or Sméagol's personalities, developer Daedalic Entertainment somehow managed to pique the curiosity of Lord Of The Rings fans. Could the studio, best known for point-and-click adventures, really deliver something of note with Gollum?
No, no it could not. That choice system is the most interesting aspect of the game, where Gollum will have to convince Sméagol of decisions made in his favour, or vice-versa. Yet even that smallest of positives is undermined by the fact that those decisions rarely seem to have any point. Kill a bug early on or let it live? Doesn't matter, you're getting captured by Nazgûl anyway.
This is a spectacularly awful release, and not one that even the most dedicated of Tolkien fans should be tempted by.
Beyond that faintest of hopeful glimmers, everything about Gollum fails. It's a ‘stealth’ game with despairingly few stealth sections, and where the mechanics to enable it – hide in shadows, throw rocks to distract guards, occasionally choke an orc from behind – are insultingly basic. Gollum himself moves like the worst Spider-sona you can possibly imagine Across The Spider-Verse introducing, an overly springy bundle of withered Hobbit flesh who can simultaneously leap over vast chasms and clamber up (very specifically marked) walls, but can't out-run an orc guard. Worse still, those meagre stealth mechanics aren't even well implemented: guards won't necessarily go where you fling a pebble, or they'll detect Gollum even when out of view. Worst of all, controls will randomly stop working – jumping or crouching cut out frequently, meaning the frequent deaths and detections at the hands of Sauron's minions. Checkpointing is, at least, mercifully frequent, as you'll be repeating sections often.
Well, maybe not that often, since Gollum also throws cutscene after cutscene after mandatory dialogue sequence at you, to the extent that it feels as though gameplay is some sort of unwanted interruption. Ironic, then, that the all-important story that we can't possibly be torn away from by silly considerations like "playing the game" is impenetrable. Sure, this is meant to be set between The Hobbit and The Fellowship Of The Ring, detailing Gollum's activities in that period, but you'd be hard pressed to pull out anything memorable as nothing makes sense. You'll jump from one activity to another with scarcely any connective tissue explaining why you're doing it; a section in a prison forces you through repetitive, rote tasks – more minigames than anything – before arbitrarily jumping the plot forward. Those interminable cutscenes are also terribly produced, either badly framed and cutting off whatever you're meant to see, or jarringly leaping between scenes and locations with no explanation.
Does it at least look good? No, no it does not. An opening cinematic sequence features a cave that looks like it's full of stalactites made of melted chocolate. Enemies often appear to lack faces. Gandalf – or, in a bizarre reverse spoiler, "Wizard", as the subtitles randomly switch to after already introducing him as Gandalf – looks like he's failed a make-up challenge on Drag Race. Environments are bland and uninspired, cobbled together from the Big Box Of Fantasy Tropes, and daubed in yellow CLIMB HERE lines that even Uncharted might think twice about.
This is a spectacularly awful release, and not one that even the most dedicated of Tolkien fans should be tempted by. If that's you and you are morbidly curious, expect to pay extra for a DLC pack if you want any Elves you encounter to speak Sindarin – one of the worst examples of bilking a fan base we've seem.
Is there anything good about The Lord Of The Rings: Gollum? Yes – the moment when you uninstall it and reclaim 19GB of precious storage space to be better used for literally any other game.