The Lord of the Rings: Gollum review – boil it, mash it, stick it in the bin | Games
This game never looked especially promising, and now it’s out, it’s about as riveting as listening to a huddle of ents discuss the finer points of deciduous shedding. It’s a technical disaster, at least on PC, and even when it does work, it feels like an extended forced stealth section from a game where stealth is just one of 50,000 other systems. It’s watery, janky, broken, alternately frustrating and frictionless, completely without tension or pathos, and squanders a great concept.
We are placed in the shoes – well, in the pallid, bare feet – of Gollum AKA Sméagol, the pre-pandemic blueprint for the trash goblin that now lives inside us all. At various points during the (too frequent, mostly boring, school play-tier) dialogue, you’ll be able to choose how he acts, in ways replete with such delicate moral nuance as “crush the harmless insect” or “don’t”, and so guide the creature down one path or another. I’m all for ambient dialogue in games, but here you are prevented from interacting with anything while a conversation is playing, which is a lot of the time.
Gollum moves like a less murderous Nathan Drake, able to climb, shimmy and hop up ledges and crevices. Incorporating challenge into this sort of traversal isn’t always a bad idea, as it can often feel too frictionless, but the solution here is to have such muddy art direction that you aren’t sure where you’re supposed to be going. He can throw stones, choke out the occasional helmetless orc, and perform a few other tricks that do little to expand what should have been a robust array of stealth options, considering that creeping around is basically all this game is about.
Occasionally, when playing any given PC port, you’ll experience disorienting frame drops when using a mouse to control a camera that clearly was designed to move only as fluidly as console thumbsticks would allow. Here, this never stopped being a problem, even when I switched to a controller. Most attempts to pan the camera to get a better view of the environment resulted in violent trembling. The whole game feels profoundly unstable, as if a stiff digital breeze would bring the entire thing down.
If you’ve played a third-person action-adventure game in the past decade, you’ve played Gollum. Minus Gollum himself, of course, but this is such an unconvincing rendition that it’s unlikely to scratch that particular itch. I will praise the animation work; Sméagol himself is as creepily fluid and nimble as you’d expect. But if you’re hungry for some Lord of the Rings in your gaming diet, pick up Shadow of War for a fiver in the next sale instead, and spend the savings on a second breakfast.
Lord of the Rings: Gollum is out 25 May; £42.99