NEED TO KNOW
What is it? A stealthy platform narrative Lord Of The Rings adventure.
Release date May 25, 2023
Expect to pay $50 / £43
Developer Daedalic Entertainment
Publisher In-house, Nacon
Reviewed on Nvidia 2080 Ti, Intel i9-9900k @ 4.9ghz, 32gb RAM
Steam Deck N/A
Link Official site
Despite my nature (a sun-averse hermit hoarding shiny treasures) giving me a certain affinity for Gollum, I’ve been a bit skeptical about Daedalic’s much-delayed Lord Of The Rings game, as early footage left me uninspired and unsure whether there was even a coherent game here. The good news is that Gollum (the game) does have some interesting ideas. Unfortunately, like its fragmented protagonist, its ideas fall into two distinct camps, and one is significantly nicer than the other.
Gollum straddles two action genres, and neither holds up to scrutiny. At heart, it’s a cinematic but basic stealth platformer. Think halfway between Uncharted’s wall-clambering navigation and Splinter Cell creeping. Not being the finest of physical specimens, Gollum is a little awkward at both, in-character and out.
On the platforming front, there’s usually a single route through each area, involving some mixture of highlighted grabbable ledges, brightly colored rope or vines to scramble across walls and the occasional bar to swing across. The environments are often gorgeous and very vertical, providing a fun excuse to make death-defying leaps. Still, Gollum is fragile and longer drops kill him instantly, ragdolling spectacularly for half a second before abruptly snapping back to the last checkpoint.
Despite frequent deaths, the path is usually clear and checkpoints generous. When intuition fails, there’s a button to engage Gollum Vision™ (Sméagoggles, perhaps) and see usable objects, enemies and hinted paths highlighted. Helpful, but unreliable, only providing useful hints sometimes. More info comes in the use of Gollum arguing with himself, calling out paths and guidance unprompted. I feel it’s a thematically excellent excuse for a much-criticized feature.
The other action element is stealth, interwoven with the jumping. Even more linear than the platforming, It’s an instant game over if Gollum gets grabbed by a guard, and there’s little margin for error. Fortunately, the sneaky bits are quite easy to navigate, with deep shadows and long grass easy to spot and the patrol routes of guards obvious. There’s also no combat. Orcs without helmets can be strangled if caught alone, but this is so infrequent that you get an achievement—“Murderer”—for offing just ten.
(Image credit: Daedalic Entertainment)
Despite the foregone conclusion of the story (Gollum lives to cause Frodo endless grief), I invested in its personal stakes.
These two story halves didn’t quite mesh in the middle as cleanly as I’d have liked, but both held my attention. Despite the foregone conclusion of the story (Gollum lives to cause Frodo endless grief), I invested in its personal stakes. Gollum is broken, equally wanting to help or backstab depending on which personality is in the driving seat. He struggles to make friends or trust, and his strange behavior leads characters to question him and deepen those gaps.
While wonky as a platformer or a stealth game, I’m happy to find such a strong story told here, distinct from Jackson and Bakshi’s visions of Middle-Earth. Much like its boggle-eyed protagonist, one half is pragmatic but prickly and sometimes cruel, the other starry-eyed and eager to please. The gestalt is, thankfully, more than the sum of its parts.